Fernandes was born in Kuala Lumpur to a Goan (Indian) father, and Kristang mother, Ena Dorothy Fernandes. At a young age, he used to follow his mother, a businesswoman, to Tupperwaredealer parties and conventions. He was educated at Epsom College from 1977 to 1983 and graduated from the London School of Economics in 1987. He worked very briefly with Virgin Atlantic as an auditor, subsequently becoming the financial controller for Richard Branson’s Virgin Records in London from 1987 to 1989. Tony was admitted as Associate Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in 1991 and became Fellow Member in 1996.
He is currently a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Upon his return to Malaysia, he became the youngest managing director of Warner Music (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd. As well as being an accountant, Fernandes is an amateur guitarist and also has achieved grade 8 piano which is where his musical inclination lies. He was responsible for revolutionising ethnic music, nasyid and dangdut, bringing them into the mainstream of contemporary Malaysian music.
 He subsequently became the South East Asian regional vice-president for Warner Music Group from 1992-2001. When Time Warner Inc announced its merger with America Online Inc., Fernandes left to pursue his dream of starting a budget no-frills airline. However, his application for a license from the Malaysian government was rejected
It was through Datuk Pahamin A. Rejab, the former secretary-general of the Malaysian Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry that Fernandes came to meet with then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in October 2001. Instead of starting from scratch, Mahathir advised Fernandes to buy an existing airline instead. AirAsia, the heavily-indebted subsidiary of the Malaysian government-owned conglomerate, DRB-Hicom, was quickly losing money. Fernandes mortgaged his home and used his personal savings to acquire the company, comprising two ageing Boeing 737-300 jets (9M-AAA and 9M-AAB) and US$11 million (RM40 million) worth of debts, for one ringgit (about 26 US cents), and transformed it into an industry player. Coming just after the September 11 attacks of 2001, everyone thought that Fernandes had gone “crazy”, predicting that the company would fail miserably.
Yet, just one year after his takeover, AirAsia had broken even and cleared all its debts. Its initial public offering (IPO) in November 2004 was oversubscribed by 130 per cent. Fernandes says his timing was in fact perfect: after 11 September 2001, aircraft leasing costs fell 40%. Also, airline lay-offs meant experienced staff were readily available. He believed Malaysian travellers would embrace a cut-rate air service that would save them time and money, especially in a tight economy. That was why he copied one of the world’s most successful no-frills carriers,Ireland’s Ryanair (which is in turn modelled after Southwest Airlines in the United States). Fernandes estimates about 50 per cent of the travellers on Asia’s budget airlines are first-time flyers. Before AirAsia, he estimated that only six per cent of Malaysians had ever travelled in a plane.
Achievements and awards
Fernandes’ biggest achievement has been to turn the AirAsia airline into an international carrier. Before the creation of AirAsia, countries in the region did not have open-skies agreements. In mid-2003, Fernandes’ lobbying pushed Dr Mahathir to raise the idea with the leaders of neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. As a result, those nations have granted landing rights to AirAsia and other discount carriers. Fernandes opened up the budget carrier sector in the region. Now, Southeast Asia hosts a number of low-price carriers such as:
* Malaysia’s Firefly (owned by Malaysia Airlines)
* Singapore’s Tiger Airways (owned by Singapore Airlines);
* Singapore’s Scoot (owned by Singapore Airlines);
* Singapore’s Valuair and Jetstar Asia (partly owned by Qantas Airways) (both airlines merged in 2005);
* Thailand’s Nok Air;
* Vietnam’s Jetstar Pacific (formerly Pacific Airlines), and
* Philippines’s Cebu Pacific.
In Thailand and Indonesia, AirAsia holds a minority stake in the respective local companies. Thai AirAsia, a joint venture with Shin Corporation, Thailand’s largest telecommunication conglomerate, took to the skies in Feb 2004 and has to date carried over 1 million passengers in its first year of operations. PT Awair, re-launched as a low fare airline on 8 December 2004 and subsequently renamed Indonesia AirAsia, presently serves 5 domestic destinations in Indonesia. Fernandes has received several awards for his achievements:
* International Herald Tribune Award for the “Visionaries & Leadership Series”, for his outstanding work in AirAsia; * “Malaysian CEO of the Year 2003” in December 2003 — so far awarded to only nine other recipients in the country, by American Express and Business Times. The award was an initiative to recognize entrepreneurial and managerial expertise and performance among leaders of Malaysian corporations. * Named the joint winner of the CEO of the Year 2003 award by American Express Corporate Services and Business Times. * “Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year” in the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards” in 2003; * Made the list of Business Week’s “25 Stars of Asia” in 2005. * Malaysian Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year 2006” * “Excellence In Leadership – Asia Pacific Leadership Awards 2009” * 2010 Forbes Asia businessman of the year
* 2011 No. 52, in FastCompany Top 100 Most Creative People in Business. Fernandes has also been honoured by the King of Malaysia with the title Tan Sri, Dato’ Sri and also by the government of France with the Legion d’Honneur Order. In 2011, according to a Team Lotus press release, Tony Fernandes was awarded a CBE or Commander of the Order of the British Empire “for services to promote commercial and educational links” between Malaysia and the UK