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AirAsia CEO: ‘We Need to Get Our Ass Kicked’

Tony Fernandes sees huge potential in a region where discount air travel is still a novelty.

The following is a condensed and edited interview with Tony Fernandes, CEO, AirAsia Group.

When you were a kid in Kuala Lumpur, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own an airline. I said that to my father. He said, “You make it past the doorman at the Hilton Hotel, I will be pleased.” Those were the exact words. I still remember that.
What motivated you to enter the business?
I saw Ryanair and EasyJet—it was a no-brainer. If I could bring the low-fare product here to Asia, why not? I always say there’s a fine line between brilliance and stupidity. But to me it was an unbeatable product to make travel cheaper. There was one statistic that stuck in my mind when I started doing research: Only 6 percent of Malaysians flew. So I thought I had a 94 percent market.