Tony Fernandes Delays Retirement To Ensure ‘Survival’ of AirAsia Operator

Skift Take

Fernandes is taking on the challenge of transforming AirAsia’s parent company as it tries to shake off its pandemic-era problems. 

Capital A CEO Tony Fernandes said Wednesday he will stay on as the company’s top executive for another five years, putting aside his retirement plans. 

Fernandes, who has led the company and its predecessors since 2001, said in January he would retire in the next five years, but the board persuaded him otherwise.

Capital A is based in Malaysia and operates AirAsia, a low-cost carrier that is one of the region’s largest airlines. The company was previously known as the AirAsia Group.

“Retirement plans had to be put on hold to ensure we survive,” Fernandes told reporters, according to Reuters.

In a statement, Capital A said its board of directors approved an incentive package for Fernandes that is “designed to align the CEO’s interests with those of the shareholders, and [ensure] a shared commitment to drive the long-term success and sustainability of Capital A.”

An extraordinary general meeting will be held to rubber stamp the proposals.

The Tony Fernandes Story

Fernandes is legendary in aviation circles. He has been described as Asia’s answer to Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher and Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary. 

He took charge of AirAsia in 2001, buying the carrier from the Malaysian government for just 1 ringgit ($0.30) with business partner Kamarudin Meranun. 

The company started with just two planes. Today, it has more than 200 aircraft, with hundreds more on order.

While it’s best known for the AirAsia budget airline, Capital A is an investment holding company with big ambitions. 

Executives have previously expressed an interest in extending its reach beyond the travel sector. In February, the company said new industries, categories, and geographies through in-house ventures or joint ventures were on its radar.

However, it has faced well-documented financial problems. In 2021, the company had to undergo a debt restructuring scheme to avoid filing for bankruptcy. Earlier this year, Capital A announced plans to list in the U.S. public markets.

Alongside his Capital A role, it was also announced on Wednesday that Fernandes will become a strategic advisor to the AirAsia Aviation Group. He said the move would allow him to oversee the aviation leadership team while “ensuring maximum leverage opportunities with our digital ecosystems.”

Capital A’s other major investments include MOVE Digital, fintech platform BigPay, and logistics venture Teleport.

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