Tony Fernandes Is Refusing To Let His Worst Nightmare Bring Him And His Team Down

Critics are singing praises of AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes' excellent management of the airline's biggest crisis yet.

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Tony Fernandes seems to be hitting all the right notes with critics and analysts as he faces his first major crisis as an airline boss

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As soon as news broke that QZ8501 was missing, Tony has put himself in the front and centre of the crisis

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Ever since AirAsia Flight 8501 went missing Sunday, CEO Tony Fernandes has been a constant presence — both physically and digitally — amid the crisis, with a response that appears to be hitting the right notes.

The stakes are even higher for him as his identity as a celebrity CEO is tightly woven with the airline's image

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When a crisis of this enormity occurs, it's important for any CEO to be present — visibly comforting families, providing transparent and frequent updates, and offering apologies as well as promises that those suffering will be compensated. Yet when a CEO is as tied to the company's image as Fernandes is, it's even more critically urgent that the leader be front and center. If an executive cultivates himself as part of the brand's image in good times, there's an even greater void if he's absent in bad times. So far, Fernandes seems to understand that towering responsibility.

Within hours after the confirmation that the plane was missing, Tony flew to Surabaya, Indonesia to be with families of the passengers

He traveled to Surabaya, Indonesia, where families gathered and where the plane had departed, within hours of the news that the plane had gone missing. There, he removed his trademark red baseball cap and met with relatives of the passengers.

He removed his red cap and was an image of calm, ensuring the affected families that he, as the group CEO, would go through the ordeal together with them

Fernandes maintained an image of calm on Sunday even as his company plunged into its first major crisis after an Indonesia AirAsia passenger jet went missing in bad weather en route from Indonesia to Singapore.

When AirAsia Indonesia confirmed that they had found the wreckage in the Java Sea on Tuesday, Tony rushed to Surabaya again to be at the epicentre of the crisis

He traveled to Surabaya, Indonesia, where families gathered and where the plane had departed, within hours of the news that the plane had gone missing. There, he removed his trademark red baseball cap and met with relatives of the passengers. On Tuesday, when the airline confirmed that wreckage found in the Java Sea was from the plane, he said on Twitter he was again "rushing to Surabaya" to be at the epicenter of the crisis.

At a time when team morale was low, he rallied his team in Indonesia and praised them for being "strong, brave and committed"

Tony has been constantly present in the crisis, both physically and digitally. His Twitter feed has been filled with regular updates on his whereabouts, fresh information, and heartfelt messages.

The social media platform has been a powerful tool for him in reaching out to important stakeholders, as he sought to stem the fallout from this tragedy.

The Washington Post notes that the typos in his Twitter posts signify that the tweets were rushed, and therefore appear trustworthy, transparent, and genuine

His constant updates shared his whereabouts, provided new information on the search, and reiterated his focus on the passengers' families ("my heart bleeds for the relatives of my crew and our passangers"). That misspelling of "passengers" was just one of many typos that made the tweets come off as rushed and genuine — and therefore, credible and authentic.

Tony takes full responsibility of the crash with a public apology

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"I apologize profusely for what they are going through," he said at a press conference, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. "I am the leader of this company; I take responsibility. That is why I am here. I am not running away from my obligations even though we don't know what's wrong [in causing the crash]. The passengers were on my aircraft, and I have to take responsibility for that."

Refusing to let the crisis bring himself, his staff, nor the families down, Tony repeatedly reminded people to be strong

But in all, he sent out at least 17 tweets regarding the missing plane in three days. He repeatedly talked about "strength" - how he gained strength from the outpouring of support and the importance of "staying strong" amid the crisis.

After a frustrating experience with the MH370 tragedies, journalists are impressed by AirAsia's handling of information flow

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The human face Tony adds in handling the crisis has made all the difference. Although AirAsia's share prices may have plunged, his reassurance and personal touch has gained him the support and trust of the people.

His positive tone may not have stopped AirAsia's share price from plunging 8.5 per cent on Monday, the first day of trading after the disaster, but it has lent a human face to the airline and created an air of reassurance during a tough time, which has resulted in generally positive feedback among the public.

"Good luck with this difficult time," Twitter user Vicki Rothman tweeted in reply to Mr Fernandes yesterday. "And well done for being personally involved and 'on the ground'. #goodboss"

Tony is living his worst nightmare, but aviation analyst Shukor Yusof says his entrepreneurial spirit will survive the tragedy

Endau Analytics aviation analyst Shukor Yusof said his entrepreneurial spirit would survive today’s apparent tragedy. “This incident will not dampen Fernandes’ business spirit. This is such an unfortunate incident. AirAsia remains a strong budget carrier. I think the people will rally behind AirAsia,” he told AFP.

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