Tony Fernandes
AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes speaks during a group news conference in Tokyo July 1, 2014Reuters

As a major search operation is underway, AirAsia CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has headed to Surabaya in Indonesia, in the backdrop of the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

"On my way to Surabaya where most of the passengers are from, with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it," he posted on his Twitter handle, @tonyfernandes.

Born in Kuala Lumpur to an Indian father and Kristang mother, Tan Sri Anthony Francis "Tony" Fernandes is the perfect example of a man who leaves behind a secure job to pursue his dream.

Before heading towards building what AirAsia is at present, Fernandes was working as the South East Asian regional vice-president for Warner Music Group. While Fernandes was still with the music company, Time Warner Inc decided to merge with America Online Inc.

Noticing that the music industry was not able to adapt quickly to the internet, Fernandes quit the job and went on to give shape to his childhood dream of setting up Asia's first low-cost airline company.

"When the music business failed to embrace the internet, I thought it was game, set and match for the industry and I quit," Fernandes told BBC in an interview in 2010.

He might have started an airline company from scratch, but Malaysia's then-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad advised him to buy an existing airline and revive it.

He bought AirAsia – the heavily indebted subsidiary of Malaysian government-owned company DRB-Hicom – in September 2001 at an unbelievable price of just 25 pence.

In the past, he had worked with Virgin Atlantic in the financial sector for a brief period of time. But he didn't have substantial amount of experience of running an airline.

"It really was a little bit of stick your finger in the air and hope for the best. But we were good marketing people from the music business... we just went out there and felt the market and said if you halve the fare, there's a huge enormous untapped market," he added.

Fernandes tried to reform the airline as a short-haul low-cost carrier. This idea was inspired by the strategy used in Western countries.

Soon, the company, which was flying just two planes in the year 2002, now has a fleet of 86 aircrafts flying over 30 million people across the world. Over time, the company expanded to long-haul low-cost flights with a new airline – Air Asia X.

Fernandes attributes the success of AirAsia to "culture, focus and discipline."

He hopes the company keeps growing. "I'm very, very confident that when I do go, and my sell-by date does come, the company will still grow from strength to strength and then I would have said I've succeeded."

The incident of Singapore-bound AirAsia flight QZ8501, which went missing less than an hour after taking off from Indonesia, is definitely unfortunate; but Fernandes is trying hard to remain positive.

In a Twitter post, he also urged people to stay strong on Sunday.

He tweeted: "We will be putting out another statement soon. Thank you for all your thoughts and prays. We must stay strong." The tweet was re-tweeted around 5,000 times.

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