MGT 822 Business Entrepreneurship
Name: Dominic Chang Min Yew
Student ID: 2018002152
Assignment No.: 3
Total pages : 16
Submission Date: 26 October 2018
Tutor: David Wooley
Tony Fernandes – Founder of Air Asia
One of Malaysia’s pride, a low-cost no-frills airlines formerly owned by a Malaysian government-owned conglomerate, was in high debt, bought over by Tony Fernandes and he turned it into the world’s best low-cost airlines for 10 successive years from 2009 till 2018 CITATION Air18 l 1033 (AirAsia is world’s best low-cost airline for 10th straight year, 2018). Air Asia Berhad with its headquarters at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, it was established in 1993, changed hands in 2001 and currently running with a total fleet of 205 airbuses, 19,314 employees serving 293 routes to 119 domestic and international destinations CITATION Air17 l 1033 (Air Asia Group Berhad AR2017, 2017).
Tan Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes, or more commonly known as Tony Fernandes was born on 30 April 1964 is a prominent figure amongst many successful entrepreneurs in Malaysia. After he has graduated from the London School of Economics in 1987, he worked with Richard Branson at Virgin Communications. He then returned to Malaysia in 1992 where he became the managing director of Warner Music, Malaysia. In 2001, Fernandes wanted to pursue his childhood dreams, that is to own an airline company. He mortgaged his house to purchase Air Asia for only RM1.00 or US$0.26 which at that time has a debt of US$11 million, including two aged Boeing 737 jets with 200 employees CITATION The13 l 1033 (The story of Tony Fernandes and AirAsia, 2013). He remodelled Air Asia into a low-cost carrier with a tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly” to make air travel more affordable and its first flight took off in January 2002 CITATION Ann05 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2005, 2005).
Within the first few years of operations, a lot of work needed to be carried out to rebrand Air Asia’s image. Fernandes needed to settle the US$11 million debt, create marketing strategies and brand image to promote the airline, reposition in the market and cost-cutting strategies. What is worse for Fernandes was that he purchased the airline carrier on September 8, 2001, that was just three days before the horrific attack of 9/11 that brought down New York’s World Trade Center CITATION Ste15 l 1033 (Stevenson ; Gough, 2015). It has a big global impact in the airline industry where global passenger traffic declined by 2.7%, global airline revenues declined by $23 billion in 2001 from the year 2000, airlines lost $13 billion in 2001, oil prices rose 13% and airline carriers that were financially weak such as Swissair and Sabena went bankrupt (The Impact of September 11 2001 on Aviation, n.d.). While many may have doubted if Air Asia would survive in such an untimely crisis, Fernandes turned this threat into an opportunity where he took advantage of the low prices of planes that he needed to purchase. Fernandes quoted in a press conference pertaining to 9/11, “It was a silver lining because the price of planes just collapsed, and we could afford a better plane than we originally had hoped” CITATION Ste15 l 1033 (Stevenson ; Gough, 2015).
Fernandes focused on establishing the airline within the domestic market by building local allies with the government and local banks. Cost-cutting strategies contributed to much of the airline’s success where there is no free food, faster turnarounds at airports to reduce parking fees, flight crews cleaning the planes instead contracting to cleaning agencies and purchased new fuel-efficient aircraft CITATION Jos05 l 1033 (Joshi, 2005).
As part of the efforts to reduce cost, Air Asia implemented various methods to simplify its process and services for the convenience of its customers. In April 2002, it has implemented a ticketless approach where passengers will no longer be issued with physical air tickets, instead, they will be issued a booking number when payment is made CITATION Ann05 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2005, 2005). Fernandes has also established a partnership with Alliance Bank Malaysia Berhad to provide easy payment methods for customers after they have made their bookings with Air Asia CITATION Air02 l 1033 (Air Asia Goes Ticketless and Launches “EASY TO PAY” Channels, 2002). In the following month, Air Asia introduced online bookings, another step that has reduced costs by minimizing the number of reservation offices and administrative manpower.
Air Asia soars from day one of operations. With all the efforts put in, the debt was paid off within a few months where revenue was recorded at RM310 million or US$119 million and generating a net profit of RM30 million or US$11 million in June 2001 CITATION Fer04 l 1033 (Fernandes: Man of the moment, 2004). In November 2004, Air Asia has successfully being listed in the Main Board of the Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad (Malaysia Stock Exchange) and managed to raise RM717 million or US$239 from the initial public offering exercise CITATION Ann05 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2005, 2005). Apart from being visionary, ambitious and courageous risk taker, one of the driving forces of Fernandes that led him to succeed in such a short time was his determination to prove his critics wrong. His success does not stop here as he continues to innovate and expand with his team.
“To be the largest low-cost airline in Asia serving the 3 billion people who currently are underserved with poor connectivity and high fares” CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007). This is the vision set by Tony Fernandes for his company to inspire and motivate his team. In line with this vision, he and his team have successfully established five hubs outside Malaysia from 2004 till 2014, and have three upcoming hubs in the pipeline (Airasia Group, n.d.).
While in a conference in Malaysia in 2003, Fernandes announced that there is a definite possibility that he will expand his business in the foreign market CITATION Lee03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). Thai Airways has expressed intentions to set up a low-cost airline of its own. Fernandes saw the opportunity to step in and propose a joint venture business. In September 2003, Air Asia sealed the joint venture deal with Asia Aviation which is a public listed company in the Stock Exchange of Thailand, owning 49% of its share (TAA Background, n.d.). With this, Air Asia Thailand was established in Bangkok, being its first hub outside Malaysia and its inaugural commercial flight took off on 4 February 2004 from Bangkok to Hat Yai (Airasia Group, n.d.). As of to date, Air Asia has established additional hubs in Thailand which includes Phuket, Chiang Mai, Krabi, U-Tapao and Hat Yai (Airasia Group, n.d.).
December 2004 was another opportunity for Fernandes to purchase 49% share of AWAIR (Air Wagon International) when it was suspended in 2002 and changed its name to Air Asia Indonesia, thus establishing another hub outside Malaysia CITATION Air04 l 1033 (AirAsia moves into Indonesia, 2004). It commenced its first flight to Bali and Surabaya in January 2005. Apart from its first hub in Jakarta, it currently has established additional hubs in Bali, Surabaya and Medan (Airasia Group, n.d.).
In 2010, Fernandes met with the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino and he was inspired by the president’s sincerity and goal to level the playing field. Fernandes met up with a group for Filipino entrepreneurs and established a joint venture with them, owning 40% share CITATION Sua12 l 1033 (Suarez, 2012). Although the government was in favour with the joint venture, it was a long wait for the government-issued certificate before they can start operating as they are the first airline in the Philippines to obtain approval from the new requirements instituted in 2008 CITATION Sua12 l 1033 (Suarez, 2012). It was a long wait and Fernandes his team’s patience paid off in March 2012 where the first flight of Air Asia Philippines took off at Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, Clark, Pampanga. CITATION Sua12 l 1033 (Suarez, 2012). It has expanded its hubs in Manila, Cebu and Kalibo (Airasia Group, n.d.).
Fernandes has his eyes on India over a number of years and has been evaluating the country’s development. Came 2013 where he believed it was the perfect time to introduce Air Asia to stimulate its market growth through travel where he proposed a joint venture deal with Tata Sons and Arun Bhatia of Telestra Tradeplace, owning 49% of its share CITATION Air13 l 1033 (AirAsia, Tata Sons form joint venture to launch airline, 2013). However, there were hurdles to overcome with the government regulations in India. While the aviation ministry welcomes the proposal, there were complications with the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy where it will take time to process the approval. After over one year of waiting, the approval finally came to establish the joint venture where Air Asia India will be based in Chennai serving mainly the smaller cities. CITATION Kot14 l 1033 (Kotoky ; Jagtiani, 2014). It also mentioned that Fernandes planned to attract around one million people who take trains every day in India. Currently, it has established hubs in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata (Airasia Group, n.d.).
Despite experiencing challenges mainly due to government policies and procedures in most countries that Air Asia has entered, Fernandes and his team faced new and tough challenges in Japan due to management and business culture differences CITATION The131 l 1033 (The AirAsia Japan joint venture stumbles. Can LCCs survive in Japan?, 2013). Air Asia signed a joint venture deal with All Nippon Airways (ANA) in July 2011, owning 49% stake where it will serve the domestic market, South Korea, Taiwan and China CITATION Koh11 l 1033 (Koh, 2011). Operations commenced in August 2012 with its hub at Tokyo Narita with its first two domestic flights going to Sapporo and Fukuoka with a load factor of 80% CITATION Air12 l 1033 (AirAsia Japan commences operations on 01-Aug-2012, 2012).
The business relationship between Air Asia Japan and ANA met with a stumbling block. ANA mentioned in a formal statement that since its launch in 2012, Air Asia Japan was not able to manage cost which has caused its failure to stay in line with its proposed business plan CITATION Air131 l 1033 (AirAsia Japan collapses after AirAsia Group was too bearish while ANA lacked experience, 2013). It also reported that Air Asia Japan lacked the structural decision to apply its system according to cultural needs. In another report from the Financial Times, ANA executive vice-president mentioned that Japanese expects attentive care and meticulous service, even from a budget airline CITATION Gra13 l 1033 (Grant, 2013). This contradicted one of Air Asia’s strategies which is cost cutting as Fernandes believed by cutting cost, he is able to provide lower airfares to customers. Fernandes insisted that it should be run as a true low-cost carrier and it is best to part ways if ANA couldn’t come to an agreement and eventually, Air Asia Japan was grounded in October 2013 CITATION Gra13 l 1033 (Grant, 2013).
One year later, Air Asia made a comeback to Japan. This time, the joint venture is with a group of entrepreneurs, Rakuten Inc., Noevir Holdings Co. and Alpen Co, with Air Asia taking a 49% stake CITATION Air14 l 1033 (AirAsia teams up with Rakuten in return to Japanese market, 2014). Fernandes mentioned that this group of entrepreneurs share the same vision, thus the decision-making process would be much more efficient. It is also an advantage that they are not an airline partner, unlike with ANA where they were involved in many operational matters. This venture took some time before it started its operation due to regulatory matters. It launched its first flight in October 2017 from Nagoya to Sapporo, with Nagoya being its hub CITATION Air171 l 1033 (AirAsia Japan to launch Nagoya-Sapporo route Oct 29, 2017).
Fernandes continues to thrive in line with his vision and expand its hubs to more countries where they will be able to provide low-cost fares to its population. Three hubs are in the pipeline which includes Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka (Airasia Group, n.d.).
Over a period of 16 years, Air Asia has established a large number of other subsidiaries locally and internationally. Air Asia X was established in 2007, to serve as a long-haul low-cost airline with its first flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Gold Coast, Australia, and eventually now serving 29 destinations across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and the United States (Corporate Profile, n.d.). The same concept was established in Thailand and Indonesia, adding Air Asia X Indonesia and Air Asia X Thailand in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Other subsidiaries that are not directly but inter-related to the airline industry include hotels, tourism, financial services, telecommunications, sports and social media.
Jet fuel prices form 40% of the operating cost in the airline industry CITATION Cor11 l 1033 (Corporate: AirAsia leads the way in mitigating rising fuel prices, 2011). In 2011, jet fuel prices have started to rise which will hit the bottom line of most airline industries and many airlines have either planned or started to impose fuel surcharge on airline tickets. This was the last option for Fernandes as he didn’t want to put that burden on his customers. He has already built a model that helps to overcome short-term fuel shocks and he was comfortable with the fuel prices of up to US$150 per barrel before imposing fuel surcharge as compare to Malaysian Airlines of US$130 per barrel CITATION Cor11 l 1033 (Corporate: AirAsia leads the way in mitigating rising fuel prices, 2011). Eventually, the persistent rise in jet fuel prices forced Air Asia to impose fuel surcharge in 2011 which lasted till 2015 CITATION Air151 l 1033 (AirAsia removes fuel surcharges effective Monday , 2015). When Fernandes saw declining global oil prices, he announced that fuel surcharge will be abolished, making Air Asia the first airline to do so.
28 December 2014, the year that Tony Fernandes had his worst nightmare. Air Asia Indonesia flight QZ8501 took off from Surabaya, bound for Singapore, carrying 162 people crashed into the Java Sea with no survivors CITATION Fli15 l 1033 (Flight QZ8501: What we know about the AirAsia plane crash, 2015). It also reported that wreckage and bodies were floating around 16km from the plane’s last known coordinates and only managed to find 106 bodies with the remaining unaccounted for. Fernandes responded immediately and travelled to Surabaya within hours of the incident, setting up a crisis centre and engaging with the family members of the crews and passengers CITATION Teo14 l 1033 (Teo, 2014). He also rallied his team and praised them for being strong, brave and committed. His was present and reachable physically and digitally by constantly updating events of the incident, his whereabouts and expressing his condolences on his Twitter account CITATION McG14 l 1033 (McGregor, 2014). Fernandes’ leadership in managing this crisis has earned international praise for being in the centre of the crisis and hands-on in front of the people. He quoted in a forum few months after the crash, “……it would have been wrong not to have gone and my staff needed me and most importantly, it had to be seen by the relatives that the very top was there” CITATION Air15 l 1033 (Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes cried after last year’s plane crash, 2015)Corporate Social Responsibilities ; Sustainability Initiatives
Air Asia Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Air Asia Group which is designed to help social change through entrepreneurship in seven ASEAN countries (About Us, n.d.). It provides guidance, mentorship and even grants to any start-up social entrepreneur that provides beneficial cause to the society through workshops and training programs. They have also set-up a team who focuses on humanitarian activities by providing any form of aids when disaster strikes. Air Asia and Air Asia X came out top at the CSR Malaysia Awards 2017 for their extensive projects for the community CITATION Les17 l 1033 (Lesley, 2017).
The ongoing success of Air Asia has been consistent in focusing on these two factors: staying true to the low-cost business model and sincerely value people CITATION Air172 l 1033 (AirAsia Group Berhad AR2017, 2017). These two factors are the driving force behind the sustainability of the company. The elements that contributed to the success of its sustainability program are safety ; health, stakeholder engagement, talent attraction ; retention, operational efficiency, service efficiency, energy consumption ; fuel management, and risk ; crisis management CITATION Air17 l 1033 (Air Asia Group Berhad AR2017, 2017). Annual report on all these activities are reviewed by the board and the board will deliberate and make a decision on a suitable governance structure to drive the company’s sustainability agenda.
Strategic Management Plan
Air Asia’s success is developed from a set of strategies that are built on a solid foundation guided by its vision. Its vision and goal are to continue to be the lowest cost airline worldwide and achieve long-term sustainable profit growth. The purpose of this strategy is to maintain a strong long-term relationship with customers, managing the operations efficiently for business growth, which in turns increase cash flow from operations; and to implement this, it needs to focus on minimising cost, efficient utilisation of assets and managing market risk by stimulating new markets through introducing innovative products and services CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007).
237490635Figure 1: Air Asia Corporate Strategy (Strategy, n.d.)
The company’s business model has always been based upon a low-cost philosophy, requiring its operations to be lean, simple and efficient. High frequency and fast turnaround flights provide convenience to the customer with more choices of flight times and greater cost efficiencies with shorter parking time, with a record time of 25 minutes which is the fastest in the region CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007).
Providing low fares and no-frills have given the opportunity for most people to fly within their budget. Those who wish to have additional products such as meals, beverages, seat choices or lounge access still have the ability to purchase separately when they make the reservation CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007).
One of its practice to streamline the operations is having a single aircraft fleet; this results in the easy stocking of the aircrafts maintenance parts and a standard operating procedure that applies to all the aircraft CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007). It also has only one class where passengers are free to choose their seat.
It has a lean distribution system where it offers a wide range of innovative distribution channels for airline reservations to make it simpler and easier CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007). It has also created self-check-in kiosks at some of the terminals to reduce manpower.
Point to point network diminish the need for human resource, physical infrastructure and facility costs at most transit airports; where it aims to get a person directly to the intended destination CITATION Ann07 l 1033 (Annual Report Corporate 2007, 2007).
Innovative New Strategies
One of Air Asia’s success is its growth that is consistent with the demands of the market. Fernandes doesn’t just stop there and enjoy the fruits of his success but constantly strive to stay ahead of the competition while staying true to his vision. His research and development team constantly come up with new and innovative ways to stay competitive.
Tony Fernandes’ new venture is looking into e-commerce operation by selling duty-free goods online. It offers convenience to the customer to purchase duty-free items when purchasing online tickets where the customer is able to pick up the purchased items either at the airport or on the plane; and at the same time, it also creates a logistics business to transport the goods purchased to the destination using the airline’s fleet CITATION Zha17 l 1033 (Zhang, 2017).
Handling cash for any in-flight purchases is troublesome for the cabin crew especially when it comes to foreign currencies. It also creates a temptation for possible mishandling of cash and fraud, which is why Fernandes is looking into the financial technology business. A new payment platform called BigPay is launched which allows airline customers to purchase products using their smartphones CITATION Zha17 l 1033 (Zhang, 2017). A foreign currency exchange will be featured in it as well.
Nelson Mandela once quoted, “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world” CITATION AlO13 l 1033 (AlOlaimy, 2013). Tony Fernandes had a childhood dream of owning his own airline and he did just that. He turned his dream into a vision with action, and he has changed the world. He followed his dream despite his mentor, Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson advised against it. He purchased Air Asia that was high in debt and at the worse time for the airline industry. His positive and optimistic attitude has given him the ability to turn threats into opportunities and create strategies that were beneficial to all stakeholders. He is a people-oriented person where he puts a lot of efforts in building a relationship with his team from top to bottom. He quoted in an interview, “…..the key is transparency and being humble. There is very little gap between me and any staff. And all of my 17,000 staffs have the ability to text me, call, give me an idea. My style is for everyone to have the ability to contribute to the growth of the company. It is how Air Asia has grown” CITATION Air152 l 1033 (AirAsia CEO: Positive thinker, unusual leader, 2015).
As Fernandes expanded his business overseas, he experienced various challenges in different countries that he ventured into. After venturing into four countries, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and India, with the experiences gained, it should be easier for the next venture. However, dealing with Japanese is different where Fernandes decided to ground its operations one year later due to culture and differences of opinion within the management team. His persistence in the Japanese market made him stronger where he has successfully re-established Air Asia in Japan with a different strategy a year later. Fernandes’ leadership qualities in his venture show that he is ambitious, courageous, patient, and persistent.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”, quoted by Martin Luther King Jr (Brainy Quote, n.d.). Fernandes has displayed great leadership by taking full accountability when one of his aircraft crashed in Indonesia. He showed compassion by being present at the crash site to provide words of comfort and strength to the families of the victims.
Air Asia Foundation and The Green Team with all its sustainability initiatives are close to Fernandes’ heart as he believes in giving back to the community CITATION Wei17 l 1033 (Weiner, 2017).
“Triple bottom line” is where a company’s success is measured by its financials, positive social and environmental impact on the world, or known as “Balancing the three Ps – Profit, People and Planet CITATION Mul17 l 1033 (Mullich, 2017). Tony Fernandes’ leadership has led his team to engage in all the three Ps in his entrepreneurial journey. He has received many local and international awards for his passionate work to deliver what he has promised, to serve 3 billion people who are currently underserved with poor connectivity and high fares. He has always been consistent and stayed focus in his vision from day one of its operations till now, and for years to come.
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