Early Sunday morning, an AirAsia passenger plane with 162 people on board lost contact with airport officials en route from Indonesia to Singapore. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said via Twitter the flight’s disappearance was his “worst nightmare.”
Here’s what you need to know about AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes:
1. He’s Credited with Turning AirAsia Around
Thirteen years ago, Malaysia-based AirAsia was government-linked and heavily in debt. Fernandes bought the company in 2001 for a token sum, one Malaysian ringgit, which was worth about an American quarter at the time, taking on $11 million in debt and mortgaging his home to get the airline into shape.
Changing the company’s motto to “Now everyone can fly” and starting with only two planes, Fernandes turned the airline in a low-cost carrier with much success and acclaim. In 2007, The New York Times, called AirAsia a “pioneer” in low-cost Asian air travel — it is now the fourth-largest carrier in the region — and Fernandes himself has received several awards.
2. He’s a Former Music Industry Executive
Fernandes was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1964. Following his education at the London School of Economics, he worked first with Virgin Atlantic as an auditor and then as financial controller for Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
Fernandes later became managing director of Warner Music’s Malaysian arm, and the South East Asian regional vice-president for Warner Music Group until 2001 when he took over AirAsia.
3. He Owns the Queens Park Rangers
News emerged in August, 2011, that Fernandes was the majority share holder in the English football club, owning 66 percent of the shares. At the time, Fernandes said “QPR is a raw diamond and hopefully I can contribute into turning it into a diamond.”
He does not hide the fact, however, that as a fan he roots for another team, telling the BBC that “Everyone knows I’ve followed West Ham all my life but I’ve always had a soft spot for QPR.”
Fernandes even attempted to take over West Ham, months before being revealed as the Queens Park Rangers’ new owner. West Ham owners David Sullivan and David Gold said at the time that Fernandes’ offer wasn’t up to par.
“He wanted 51 percent of the club for two bob,” Sullivan said of Fernandes in June, 2011. The AsiaAir CEO shot back immediately over Twitter.
“It was a good offer with good money and brought in good people,” he wrote. “Gold and Sullivan can say whatever they want. I have been a lifelong fan and would have brought good money, good ideas, new people and a new belief.
4. He’s Also into Formula One Racing
Though sold earlier this year, Fernandes is the founder of the Caterham F1 Formula One team, which raced under the names of Lotus Racing and Team Lotus in 2010 and 2011.
In 2009, fellow airline mogul and Formula One owner Richard Branson challenged Fernandes to see whose Formula One team would finish higher, with the loser dressing up as female cabin staff on the winner’s airline.
“After having my legs shaved the night before, a delightful assistant helped put on my lipstick and red shoes before I got a lift (and a kiss) from my new boss Tony,” Branson wrote. “Having got some funny looks carrying my tights and dress around Australia for the past week, it was great to finally pull them on.”
5. He’s One of the Richest Men in Asia
Forbes listed Ferndandes’ as the 28th richest an in Asia, as of Feb., 2014, with a net worth of $650 million.
The Telegraph recently placed Fernandes in the 17th spot on its list of the richest people in travel, ntoing that in addition to airlines, Fernandes is also founder of the Tune Hotels chain, with properties in Britain, Australia and the Far East.