TAN SRI Tony Fernandes may be trying very hard to look cool like Virgin Air owner and British business magnate Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson.
However, compared to the 73-year-old British business magnate, the AirAsia co-founder lacks the class and style that set Branson apart from other business owners.
At first sight, the photograph of Fernandes posing bare-chested appeared more like the caveman cartoon character Flintstone having a jolly relaxing massage in Bali.
It would have been different if it had been the world’s strongest man, super heavyweight weightlifter Georgian Lasha Talakhadze appearing with six packs but his bulging belly makes one wonder when was the last time the AirAsia owner visited the gym.
Fernandes is no body-builder
On one hand, Branson projects an image of being informal and “cool” at all times. Coming from a music label background, it is understandable why the former Warner Music executive in Malaysia also wants to project a cool image.
For most times, Fernandes posing “cool” with his AirAsia red baseball cap was well-received by most people. It was a positive image that has given AirAsia a brand uplifting for many years.
However, what Fernandes failed to realise in his most recent pose is that he is operating in an Asian culture – and his bare chest and shirtless pose during a corporate meeting can prove to be a costly lesson.
His photograph has received strong reactions from a number of news portals around the world – from USA Today and India Today to South China Morning Post, Business Insider India, Bloomberg, CNBC TV, Gulf News and Channel News Asia (CNA).
Most have ostracised his action which also brings to the forefront what he meant when he suggested that having an Indonesian massage shirtless is “AirAsia culture”.
One can only wonder whether the airline has deteriorated to such an extent that it is no longer concerned about what people think—either about the way its CEO conducts himself or about its frequent delays in flights.
Fernandes should not have stepped out of the norms to do things that people least expected from the head honcho of a public listed company. Someone with better common sense would have turned off the camera instead of going all out to pose bare-chested in front of millions on social media.
Among those who criticised Fernandes is Rebecca Nadillo who is a strategy and branding executive with previous stints at Meta and ad agency BBDO. She opined that women in AirAsia “would not feel comfortable or safe in this context – and given you’re the boss – they likely won’t challenge you or say anything”.
This brings to mind the fable of the emperor who was parading himself nude in his best “magical” gown, not knowing that he had been conned by the tailor. No one even dared to tell Fernandes what he did would receive lots of flak.
The next time Fernandes thinks that his staff are proud of his latest fashion parade, he should think twice. It could be because of what Nadillo suggested—that no one dared to challenge him. – Oct 18, 2023