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PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY
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INTERVIEW Tony Fernandes, group CEO of Air Asia, talks about turning a judge on TV reality show The Apprentice Asia

Driven by successTony Fernandes
Driven by successTony Fernandes

When Tony Fernandes was a little boy, he received a tiffin box as a gift. On that he stuck stickers of an aeroplane, a Ferrari and a football. Little did anybody know what was to happen decades later.

“I have all three as my business now — Air Asia, a Formula One racing team and a football team. I believe there is no short cut to success, it is sheer hard work,” says Tony Fernandes, group Chief Executive Officer — Air Asia, in a telephonic interview.

The revolutionary business magnate will soon be on air — of a different kind. The small screen will see him take over the role of Donald Trump in The Apprentice Asia . It’s an adapted version of the U.S.-based reality show.Challenging the mind

“The producers were looking for diversity. They studied the background of the candidates to see if they had the desire to be an apprentice and if they could face the physical and mental challenges the show had to offer. It’s heavy on the brain and intellect. There were 20,000 candidates that applied. The application form was gruelling. I would have lasted about 10 seconds filling it up. It’s incredibly impressive,” says Fernandes. 

This is the first pan-regional show of The Apprentice , which has always been region-specific.

There are 12 contestants from Thailand, Singapore, India, The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia battling it out for the top slot. The winner will get to work under Tony Fernandes for a year.

From diverse backgrounds, a few have apparently delayed their weddings, quit their jobs, and even put their businesses on hold only to work for him. “I have not really thought of a particular post for them. It all depends on the background of the contestant. What may be offered initially might not be what the winner might end up doing. There is a lot to do in Air Asia and there is so much that he / she will be learning in a year,” he says. So, what’s he looking for in his apprentice? “Great communication skills, humility, the ability to innovate and think on his / her feet and fierce determination to win. The airline business is tough and it’s very easy to give up. In these 11 years, I have fought and fought to ensure that we are the best.” He adds that while planning is important, they should have the ability to change it mid-way when it’s not going as planned. Emphasis is also on leadership qualities because it cannot be taught.

His corporate schedule is chock-a-block, and he’s now following a rather heavy-duty time-table shooting for the reality show.

How does he do the balancing act? “It’s a short period — one month. I do get irritated sometimes. But the way it’s scheduled, I am able to have my breaks, my meetings and Blackberry sessions. I have a good team. I am a delegator. I believe in my staff. If you set them tasks they do it. Air Asia is doing well and it shows that the company is not about one person.”

As for the ones who don’t make it, they will still go home rich in experience and probably adopting Fernandes’ success mantra: “Believe the unbelievable. Never take no for an answer. Dream the impossible.”

( The Apprentice Asia will premiere on AXN this May)

PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY

Believe the unbelievable. Never take no for an answer. Dream the impossible

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