Can Tony Fernandes really do magic? Two years ago at the F1 circuit in Singapore, when Proton hadn't even thought of staking a claim on Lotus, I sat down for a chicken rice with Tony to talk about his Formula One foray using the Lotus brand-name and the backing of young tsar SM Nasa of the Naza auto empire. I told him I knew where he was going with Lotus and F1. He was attacking the chicken in front of him and entertaining the "hellos' from the fans in the restaurant, and listening to my rambling. This guy can multitask, I tell you.
I told him that I was speculating that his ultimate aim would be be involved in the auto manufacturing industry. Perhaps a slice of the national car market. Or the national car project(s)?
"Whoa, you getting into my head, Rocky!" he exclaimed.
He set aside his nasi ayam and told me how he wished that would be true, that yes he wished he could offer his ideas, contribute in some ways (to the national car and the industry), that of course it would have been the ideal next-phase after investing in the F1.
He was humoring me, I thought.
And then he threw me that famous grin.
Or maybe he was serious!
You can never tell for sure with Tony F, sometimes.
And so the talk about the MAS-Air Asia "merger" talks did not surprise me. Or anyone else who'd known Tony, for that matter. It certainly did not floor Ganesh Sahathevan, the Malaysian journalist in Australia who has been more than a little critical and skeptical of Tony. (see link to his 2008 posting below)
Personally, it saddens me, of course. I have always been partial to Malaysia Airlines except for a brief spell when I thought they were bullying Tony. That was when Air Asia was new and MAS was still flying quite high. I was heading the Malay Mail and the Business Times at the time, and both newspapers fought for Air Asia. This was before Abdullah Badawi became PM and Kalimullah became very close to Tony, but that's a different story for another time.
Tony has done pretty well with Air Asia, now everyone can see it. On the other hand, MAS has been through a lot. Too much. It was doing well until around the 1998 crisis and because of that many blamed Dr Mahathir and Tajudin Ramli, the man who "owned" MAS then. But what Nor Mohamed Yakcop and his young wizards tried to do to help MAS have not helped. In fact, the slide became steeper after that and during Pak Lah's regime, doom drew nearer for the national carrier.
Perhaps, yes perhaps, Tony is what MAS needs right now.
But I'm not done yet, this is to be continued, for sure.
PRIVATIZE AIR ASIA, TAKE OVER MALAYSIA AIRLINES; ANOTHER AVENUE ASSET-ECM LIBRA IN THE MAKING by Ganesh Sahathevan