AirAsia adds  extra ‘bump factor’ on the rooftop for its 2,000 staff 
Published on: Sunday, May 12, 2019

Thinking out of the box or on his feet is second nature to AirAsia co-founder and Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. At the recent launch of RedDeck, the 7th floor roof top rendezvous of sorts that he created for his 2,000 staff at its Red Q headquarters – a 10-minute walk from KLIA’s Terminal 2 – Tony was asked to pick lucky draw numbers for several prizes.

Initially he obliged but soon decided there had to be a better way of doing it with the same result. “I’m not going to stand here all night picking numbers one at a time,” the “godfather” told them, as AirAsia planes took off and landed in the distance.

So he decided to fold the lucky draw slips into – yes, paper planes – and whizzed them into the air with whoever getting their hands on them having the right to claim the prizes.


The Red Q head-quarters (below).Tony and Kamarudin launching the RedDeck. 

“Oops, that crashed,” he said when one of the paper planes went down, instead of soaring above their heads. “Must belong to our rival,” he quipped, to roars of approval.

It was a common-sense approach in making a task less burdensome but which provided an insight into how he thinks and acts. And which perhaps explains how he managed to transform an airline that was making losses under DRB-Hicom in the early 1990s into a global phenomenon armed only with whatever he gained at university plus some experience in the music business. From just two leased planes serving the Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu route, initially, it was bestowed the world’s best low-cost carrier title last year. 

Of course, he has said publicly that he owed it to the Sabah Government under then CM Tan Sri Musa Aman for having confidence in his plan for AirAsia by giving him the letter of guarantee he needed to convince sceptical banks. Tony has since said that he wished to repay that confidence by making Sabah the airline’s second hub in Malaysia. 


Tony with sidekick Kamarudin at the event.

Which was becoming a reality until the airport operator decided not to extend permission to AirAsia to continue using the Terminal Two in Tanjung Aru, which is now mostly idle.

Back to the event, Tony donning white tees and shorts and clutching a plastic water gun, said in his welcoming speech that it was “a kind of dream seeing so many people and activities (at the deck that was being launched).” The t-shirt had an imprint of US civil rights hero Dr Martin Luther King and the words ‘Don’t Let The Dream Die’.

“I came up when we first moved in here (in 2016) and it was wide with water tanks and nothing else,’ he said, explaining how he transformed the six floors – half of which is devoted to parking space – into what he described as one of the coolest offices in Asean. 


Communications team (L-R): Qastury, Daphne and Hamdan

It’s hard to disagree. 

Which office hq in the country, let alone in Asean, can boast of a running track, basketball court and futsal, putting green, fake beach, wishing pool, café, picnic area, yoga area, boot camp area and even get massaged on a roof top.


Tony promoting the advice of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King: ‘Don’t Let The Dream Die’. 

He explained the thought process that made him do it.

“I said let’s make this a fun place, full of life and be the life part of Red Q (the Airasia headquarters is referred to as the Red Quarters). Then we went about this process and really it turned out to be a lot better than I expected.”

His advice to the staff, who he refers to as his All Stars, was: “Make use of it, look after it, be fitter, have more fun and be more productive doing meetings and whatever. I hope you enjoy it…it’s a present from all of us at AirAsia.”


AirAsia staff at work.

At one point, looking at some staff who dressed that part for the occasion, he quipped “whoever said there are no gays in Malaysia should come here.”

If the Red Q building is a reflection of the success of Malaysia’s best brand, it is more so the KPI of the man who knows more than anyone else what the limits are in an industry that has seen many other airlines grounded. 

Though many like India’s Jet airways last month that put thousands out of work were corporate or full service fliers, the skies have not been too accommodating either to budget carriers like Tony’s. 


Accessibility from one section to another is in the form of aerobridges.

Iceland’s Wow Air last month became the 23rd budget carrier to fail to take off but Tony’s business model seems to be working perfectly, notwithstanding the frequent run-ins against MAHB that have resulted in suits and counter suits running into millions of ringgit.

The latest in a long list of differences is on providing airside connectivity for passengers transferring between the KLIA and KLIA2 (exclusively AirAsia’s). MAHB wants passengers to be able to move effortlessly without having to exit and re-enter Customs and Immigration, thus facilitating also baggage transfer and interlining between the various carriers.


Entrance to the office for staff requires ‘Immigration’ clearance, which also acts as punch card.

But Tony is against it, preferring instead the development of a dual-hub strategy with KLIA focussing on Malaysia Airlines and other full service carriers while AirAsia focussing on developing KLIA2 into the region’s LCC (Low Cost Carrier) hub. 

Tony feels the airport operator should be more appreciative of what AirAsia has done for the average Malaysian and the economy. Which cannot be downplayed as it is there for all to see.

The fact that AirAsia even has a building to house its All Stars of both AirAsia and AirAsiaX (long haul destinations) from ground handlers to pilots under one roof while the national carrier needs to be bailed out yearly – speaks volumes about what good management is about. In fact the financial cost of keeping the failed national carrier in the air for the sake of maruah (national pride) has been to the tune of billions of tax payers’ ringgit the past decade alone. It was even forced to sell its headquarters to offset the haemorrhaging.


View from one of the floors. 

A tour of the AirAsia building sprawling over almost five acres – if you are as lucky as this writer was – provides a peek into the genius of the man.

Here over 240,000 sq ft divided into three levels is where you will find every staff of AirAsia, whether belonging to the operational or administrative sections busy doing what makes the airline tick. 

For instance, it is where pilots and air hostesses have to report first before setting off to the Low Cost Carrier terminal for their respective flights. 


A meeting room named after a destination. 

There is a special fast lane in case they have to hurry for the flight and other staff must give way.

There is even a section manned by staff who will be informed which cabin crew will be unavailable due to emergency in say Indonesia or South Korea and take remedial measures to ensure no flight hiccup.

“Yes, all of it is decided right here in Kuala Lumpur long before the flight takes off so that there is no delay,” said Daphne, its Manager of Corporate communications.

A striking feature is the seamless nature of all the different sections no matter which of the three floors they are in as all the floors have no separations or barriers whatsoever. 

Hamdan Mohd, who handles communications dealings with the government, said this “open concept” means everyone is accessible at anytime, including Tony and his right hand man, co-founder-cum-Executive Chairman, CEO Datuk Kamarudin Meranun. 


Where Tony sits. Note there are no partitions. 

Both these two main bosses have no rooms and are visible and approachable to everyone, who can literally spot from a mile whether they are in.

“If there is a need to discuss anything important, all would adjourn to meeting rooms that have been named after AirAsia destinations,” he said. A meeting in the Bombay Room meant all staff are seated on the floor.

Of course there is also a VIP meeting room that is equipped with all the latest technology has to offer. But even here, Tony or Kamarudin take their seats around a circular table like everyone else instead of being at the head of the circular table.

Those wishing to get to the ground floor from the sixth within seconds instead of using the lift or stairs can chute down body flat on a winding slide similar to the ones you find at a theme park. No guessing that Tony uses it often.


The spiral chute. 


Work and having fun bring out the best in staff

 To Tony, both work and having fun should go together to bring out the best in an employee and this is noticed in the various facilities and right down to the floor layouts that compels staff to meet and mingle rather than work in isolation.

 Tony believes they should mingle and bump into each other often and the office has been so designed to accommodate this corporate culture, whether at their workstation or the cafeteria, coffee bar, salad bar or any of the many recreational spots within the building that includes a gym, in-house clinic, nursery or spot to have a quick massage.

 There are even sleeping pods where staff can snuggle into and pull the hood over their heads to have a power nap.

 “We found that most of those who frequent the massage room are the ground handlers because of the physical nature of their work,” said communications Executive Qastury.

 The cafeteria provides a wide range of Asian and western food and all the meals for the staff are subsidised to the tune of RM10 daily.

 Then there is an innovation lab, a sort of Research and Development centre where staff put their ideas to work to come up with ways to improve AirAsia’s services, one of which has been the check-in kiosk now available at airports.

 Finally, all staff leave and exit via scanners like going through an Immigration electronic checkpoint.

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December 20, 2014