CNN Talk Asia interview - Air Asia CEO, Tony Fernandes. Interviewer Andrew Stevens [September 20th 2007]:
A: You actually have pictures of some of the Man U stars on your planes. How much of this was based on the fact that you're a fan of Man U?
Tony Fernandes, CEO Air Asia:
Actually I hate Manchester United.
It was a very painful decision to sponsor them. But we all have to be a prostitute once in a while. I sort of side for West Am United which is a great training ground for adversity, 'cause they're always doing badly. But you know, hey, they're the biggest football club and the biggest brand...'
A: Have you seen an impact on the bottom line?
Without a doubt. You can't measure it. This is why Asian companies don't spend enough on branding, 'cause they want to see an immediate return. There are a lot more companies that are successful, but I think the aura of our brand has attracted a lot of partnerships, Citibank credit card, Tie ups with Royal Bank of Scotland, etc. etc., so the intangible value of the brand is huge. And the Manchester United relationship was the start of that.
Would the real Tony please stand up, please stand up!
“Manchester United stands for creativity, passion and the best of football. The partnership signifies our determination to be the best, and have the highest quality product. As AirAsia continues to grow it will stand for all that Manchester is, in becoming the best quality and value for money airline in the world. Now Everyone Can Fly… including all the Greats”.
– YBhg. Dato Tony Fernandes, Group CEO AirAsia Berhad.
Now, I've got to admit I had a great deal of respect for Mr Fernandes. I thought he was a brilliant entrepreneur and a down to earth type of guy, but if he treats his number one passenger in Manchester United like that, is it any wonder his airline sucks? Ironically, the other 'partner' he mentions is Citibank - and the very credit card that was declined by Air Asia - not by Citibank - costing me half a dozen promotional flights. Ms Nawaporn from 'Guest Support' said emphatically, '... we don't accept that card.' She probably doesn't barrack for Manchester United either. Ahhh, the aura of the brand. And if you toss in the Sir Frank Williams branding blooper, you'd have to wonder how Air Asia managed to get airborne at all.
Tony loves the media .... You would want to sell a fair few caps and crusty donuts to justify sponsoring the Williams F1 Team. Considering Air Asia's flights are purportedly as good as 'free' most of the time - there can't be much left in the kitty. So, besides hiring out wheelchairs, you have to beat the drum a bit. Wearing in his famous red cap, Tony got some primo facetime on the Williams team's BBC documentary recently. But for the fact that the Beeb doesn't accept ads and the former champ has retired, I'd have sworn Schumaker was on Shopping Channel.
Our Tony drew a very long bow. Sounding relatively unscripted as he said that Williams and Air Asia weren't all that different. I'm watching this thinking the seating is incredibly cramped and the cabin kind of smells of body odor by journey's end - but he's not going to say that. The bright red Air Asia livery - like I said, if you were sponsoring Ferrari. Then there was the cut-away shot to crew picking up lolly wrappers and airsick baggies - but that's more McDonald's than McLaren. Anyway, that's a tonne of Euros wisely spent.
And there's Manchester United too. But he's been caught out there. Our Tony certainly works the media, doesn't he? The man almost looks pained trying look genuine when he's greeting the ragtag army of passengers clogging the gangplank. He looks slightly more at ease with his staff. I always enjoy watching him helping the crew cleaning the aircraft, carrying luggage with the ground-staff; Tony's rolled up sleeves and 'we're at the coalface together' attitude is well documented. And I'm not buying it. Look at his HR practices - where pilots have to pay their way entirely, and repay their tuition over the next fifteen years - and PR bluster about promoting skills and Malaysia. Take a pound of flesh and their first-born child!
And lastly, his attitude towards the disabled pretty much bursts that bubble. So, our inaugural gong goes to Air Asia's constantly conflicted - but never misquoted -
Tony Fernandes .....
The Annus 2007 Corporate Conscience Award winner
Photo thanks go to: Gird Beilfuss