Now for an interview that I did last year with Tony Fernandes, the man behind Air Asia and Team Lotus F1!
ON FORMULA 1 AND RACING
Q: If Proton were to sell Lotus one day, what would you do?
Fernandes: It’ll be a funny situation, but we are already contributing to the sales of Lotus so whoever buys over Lotus from Proton, we can probably work with them.
Q: When did you first think of starting an F1 team?
Fernandes: About one to two years ago, I was talking to Frank Williams about investing in F1. But it was somewhere in June 2009 when I seriously thought of starting up a team. One of my guys proposed this idea of re-starting Lotus and I just went for it.
Q: Lotus Racing has positioned itself as a Malaysian F1 team, hence attracting Malaysian funds. But in the future, would you position the team as an Asian team so as to attract the best of funding opportunities and also talent from the region?
Fernandes: Oh very much yes. Just like my airline – it started as a Malaysian airline, but we really are an Asian brand. Lotus Racing is only six months old, but soon we will be marketing ourselves to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand. I don’t think there will be a Singaporean or an Indonesian F1 team any time soon so this would be the closest team for them to support. I’m a big believer of ASEAN; I built my airline around it!
Q: What is the Lotus Racing youth development programme about?
Fernandes: The idea is to build an academy as it’s important to invest in the future. I want to develop talent; you can’t get talent like that (snap of fingers), you have to invest early and that’s what I’m doing. For me, this is a long-term project and we’ll be recruiting young drivers from the region.
Q: How far is Asia in terms of motorsports compared to Europe?
Fernandes: I don’t think it’s as far as people think. One of the biggest advantages is that we have physique on our side. As Asians, we are naturally small – apart from myself – and we just need to strengthen the mental aspect and gain the experience. Right now you do have to go to Europe if u want to succeed in motor racing because that’s where the competition is. But soon there’ll be more and more Asians racing.
Q: What are some of the challenges of being a new team?
Fernandes: Raising money, everyone saying that we’re mad, that we won’t survive. But we’ve built the cars, we’ve built the brand, we’ve got a great set-up, and we look as good as everyone else. The hard work now is to build some credibility. We all have a beginning; Ferrari had a beginning, McLaren had a beginning. No one came in as world champions straightaway, so we should embrace that and support the start-ups.
ON DOING BUSINESS AND BEING YOUR OWN BOSS
Q: What do you have to say to people who think that you are stretching yourself too thin?
Fernandes: Everyone has been saying I’m stretching myself too thin from day one, haven’t they? They thought I was mad with AirAsia, that I was growing too fast. You know, my bandwidth may be different from another person’s bandwidth – what they can’t do may not necessarily be what I can’t do. I’ve always grown aggressively, but within my means. For example, I took my time (seven years) to expand to India with AirAsia as I wanted to make sure we were ready for it. We are aggressive, but we are sensible and I know what my bandwidth is. Ultimately, I’m the chairman of this all – I bring the ideas, I bring the motivation, and there’ll be a team to run it.
Q: Your priority business is AirAsia, but how do the rest of your businesses complement each other?
Fernandes: I’ve built a lifestyle with all my businesses. Just think: how much time you spend on a plane; when you get off a plane you need a hotel (Tune Hotels), you generally use your credit card (Tune Money) and you need mobile phones (Tune Talk). Those are all my businesses. On top of that, you go to sporting events. I’m involved in basketball and F1, which are under Tune Sport.
Q: What do you look for when you take on a business?
Fernandes: I look for undervalued brands; I look for opportunities where there are inefficiencies in the business. F1 is grossly inefficient – costs are very high, revenue hasn’t been fully exploited and the maximum potential of the Lotus brand hasn’t been fully explored.
Q: Any future businesses you are looking to go into?
Fernandes: I might start a Tune Hospital, a low-cost hospital, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get half a bandage.
Q: What does it mean to be your own boss?
Fernandes: As an entrepreneur, the downside is you risk losing everything. There’s a security in working for others – every month you take home a salary and you can go home at the same time every day. You don’t have to work 18 to 19 hours every day, but I still think being your own boss is better. If anyone asked me, overall it’s much better to be your own boss. You set your own goals, set your own priorities; you just get on and do it. I don’t think there’s any downside, I really don’t. I encourage everyone to be their own entrepreneur.
Q: What general advice can you give to all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Fernandes: Number one, believe in your heart and don’t worry about failure. If you are afraid of failure, then you’ll never try. I don’t want to be 60 and saying I wish I had tried. The worst thing about life is not failing, it’s not trying. So far, I’ve had no failures but I’m sure there will be. The other thing about having your own business is to make sure you have a marketing budget. There’s no point in developing an excellent product and having no one know about it.
Dato’ Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes (Tony Fernandes)
- Founder of Tune Air Sdn Bhd
- Group CEO of AirAsia Bhd
- Team Principal of Lotus Racing
- President of ASEAN Basketball League
Birth Place: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Birth Date: 30 April 1964
Marital Status: Married with two children
Education: London School of Economics (Accounting & Finance, 1987); Honorary Doctorate of Business Innovation, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia