The ultimate job interview and an Asian adaptation of the popular reality television show, “The Apprentice” is just about to air on AXN Asia. But weeks ahead of its release in May 2013, we speak to someone who has worked with and known aviation tycoon, Tony Fernandes for years. He tells us all there is to know about “The Apprentice Asia” host and give us insights on what it’s like to work with the AirAsia champ.
Meet Mark Lankester, the CEO of Tune Hotels Group.
You’ve worked with Tony Fernandes for some time now. How many years have you known him?
“I knew Tony from school so I don’t know..it must be when we were about five years old. But I can still remember when I was 13 and his mother was working for Tupperware – she was sorta like the regional managing director or something. She was very, very senior and she was traveling so much. So Tony actually said that one day he’s going to open an airlines company so that he can travel with her. And that’s taking it back all the way to a time when we were 13 years old. The man has really achieved his dreams. If you really think about it, he started AirAsia and now he has got six AirAsia companies all over six/seven countries, he has bought a Premier League football team, and he has started a Formula One team. He lives a dream that every boy has – he has done them all! So, we’ve known each other a long time. We actually worked in the same company and I worked directly for him for a period of time. We’ve always been friends and I’m godfather to his daughter.”
What do you think Tony Fernandes’ working ethics are like?
“The good thing there is that he drives people hard – and I say that in a good way. The great thing about the Tune Hotels Group is that..he will give you the platform and the support, then after that it’s entirely up to you. You’ve got to go out there and achieve because he’s not gonna do it for you. Because you’ve got the tools so go out and create whatever you need to create. How Tune hotels started was..when Tony had the time to go be a cabin crew and serve food and talk to people, one of the passengers on the flight actually told him, ‘Tony! Fantastic, I can take my whole family and I’ve got five or six of us and we can go wherever we want to! But hotels can be quite expensive when we go to our destination so why don’t you take the same modal from AirAsia and do a hotel like that?’. So Tony filed that and gave me a call one day and said, ‘Look, I don’t have time for this..why don’t you do it?’. And back then, what did I know about the hospitality business? I came from the music industry. But Tony said, ‘Even if you don’t know about this business, learn it and learn it fast. And see what you guys can do’. From that perspective, I think the best thing to know about Tony and his partners are that they will give you all the room to fail, they will give you the platform to go out there, but it’s all up to you at the end of the day.”
Tony mentioned that if you work for him, he will push you and push you and you either sink or swim, and that he’ll make you discover the qualities in yourself that even you didn’t know that you possess. What are the qualities that he has made you discover?
“I think one of the key things is real fortitude. When we first started, we started with that Tune hotel in Jalan Sultan Ismail – one hotel. We’re now in five countries, we’ve got 27 operating now, and we’ve got several others currently in construction, and we’re actually opening one now..today..in Pekan Baru (Indonesia). By the end of 2014, we’ll be in 10 countries. And this is really a Malaysian homegrown brand! So from really quite humble beginnings, we’re continuing to change. To answer your question, the key thing there is..I’ve always had drive. I’ve always tried to succeed in whatever we do but what Tony does is that he focuses it far more. He makes sure that you focus on one core thing. He allows you to fail in order to be able to succeed. Don’t fail too many times!”
Has filming for “The Apprentice Asia” already started?
“Yes, we’re midway through. I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be complete but I’ll tell you that it’s tough! I’ve done a commercial for ‘The Apprentice Asia’ – one commercial. I’ve never understood how difficult it was but, it’s tough man. It’s literally morning all the way till night nonstop for 31 days. See the bags under my eyes? That’s all production! And the camera crew, the cameras, they’re there all the time but they’re highly professional and they’ve really got their act together. I think we’re all excited to see the end product. It’s gonna be fun.”
Tell us, how does it work, really? What happens to the winner of “The Apprentice Asia”? Will he/she be tagging along to wherever Tony goes and if so, for a period of how long?
“Officially, it’s going to be a full year. I’d imagine after that, Tony then would understand the strengths of this person and probably pop him/her into a business, one of his many businesses. And if he/she is really good, then he/she can run that entire division or even an entirely new company. Tony’s really good with giving people opportunities so the world is their oyster. I can’t actually talk about the candidates but suffice to say, we’ve got people from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Philippines, Indonesia..it’s a really good and well-rounded representation of Asian talents, I think. We’ve got a bunch of entrepreneurs and we’ve got people with MBAs and people who are working for multinational companies doing really, really important jobs currently.”
“The Apprentice” was created by reality TV guru Mark Burnett (The Voice, Survivor) with multi-billionaire Donald Trump as host and co-executive producer. It has been a worldwide runaway success since its debut in the United States in 2004. The Asian adaptation of the mega hit reality series, “The Apprentice Asia” will be hosted by aviation tycoon Tony Fernandes; with the production helmed by Fremantlemedia Asia.
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