Dream the Unbelievable

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Photo credit: richestcelebrities.org

In what is perhaps the highlight for many shapers, was a private meet the leader session with Tony Fernandes of Airasia and his team of top executives.

Tony was of course a charismatic leader and storyteller as he shared with the shapers some of his perspective, life story and motivation that drove him to eventually buy and turnaround an airline, own an F1 Team, and buy over Queens Park Rangers.

Based on Tony’s recount of his recent experience in opening up a childhood memory box from his boarding school days in the UK, his achievements to date have been pretty close to what he envisioned and dreamed about as a kid, which might have appeared quite impossible at that time of dreaming because he had on the inside of that box, three stickers – with one of which was an airplane, another of the Williams F1 Car and a third of West Ham United.

He recounted that one phone call he had with his mother when he was in boarding school in London where he asked his mother if he could fly back for the summer and was told that he was better off staying in London for the summer because ‘airplane tickets were too expensive,’ he remembers telling his mother that, ‘one day, I will make it cheap to fly.’

There were naturally a lot of quotable quotes that came out of that session, and these quotes include:

• ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do’
• ‘You only live once and you don’t want to live with regret wishing that I wish I did that’
• ‘Dream the unbelievable – you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it’
• ‘Never take no for an answer’
• ‘Don’t do something just for the money, do it because you want to build things, do better and treat people better and give them a better career’
• ‘Do what you are passionate about. If you hate your boss, that is a good start’

The Culture of an Organisation
The manner in which the recent QZ8501 incident was handled certainly underlined Tony’s leadership style and how cohesive his AirAsia team was.

Every employee had the direct phone number and means to contact either Tony or any of their CEOs if they wish to voice out any concern or issues they might have about work, it is an organisation with a near flat organisational structure, where there are no doors and offices.

Its airline crew members are encouraged to bring their personality to work and do their own makeup which makes them feel good about themselves instead of having to conform to a certain standard type of look.

The culture is owned by the people but with leaders setting the tone and example of what it means to be working at Airasia. Culture cannot be mechanised and if leaders live it and breathe it, the rest will follow.

Most remarkably, for a company that has grown in its operations and its number of employees, there are no unions within the firm and there is a strong sense of belonging where employees genuinely feel like ‘Anyone can do anything in AirAsia’ and there is no shortage of stories of people who have gone from Baggage handlers to Pilots or from AirAsia employees to entrepreneurs with the support of Tony and his team (as long as they don’t start another budget airline).

If anyone of you is interested in knowing what kind of people they look for when hiring someone, they are most interested in people with passion, people who are different and willing to colour outside the lines as opposed to inside it.

They also look for people who are great communicators, disruptors and more importantly, people who are bored in their own companies and have the hunger and desire to do a lot more than what they are currently allowed to do in their own companies.

In conclusion to the session with Tony Fernandes and the AirAsia team, there is nothing greater than controlling your own destiny and being able to shape the destiny of others. Too many people talk, not many people end up doing.

Don’t care about what people think or might say, have fun, do it even if you are scared and dream the unbelievable.

Oh yes, what else did I learn from the session? A timely reminder to act fast without hesitation when life presents you with an opportunity – I could very well have been watching QPR’s last game of the season if I was a little faster, but life is too short for regrets.

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!


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Hongjun Wang is an Innovation and Internal Communications Consultant with Edvantedge, based out of Singapore. His area of focus and interest is in End User Discovery, Visual Storytelling and Ideation and his portfolio of clients include Government Agencies, Education institutes along with SME and MNC clients. As a Global Shaper with the Singapore Hub, he has initiated the We Are ASEAN project in collaboration with shapers from other ASEAN based hubs to understand and define the current state of ASEAN identity and to explore opportunities for greater engagement of ASEAN as a community on a people level across the region.