Aireen Omar has been named as the new CEO and Executive Director of AirAsia Berhad, and will assume her post on July 1, 2012. Aireen will report directly to Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of AirAsia.
“I am delighted with the appointment of Aireen, who has consistently demonstrated her capabilities and commitment in propelling AirAsia to new heights. She has long been an invaluable part of the senior management team of AirAsia and possesses the vision and leadership qualities crucial for the company’s growth in its second decade,” Fernandes said.
Aireen’s appointment follows the announcement last week by Fernandes on the Group’s new regional strategy as it enters its second decade. Fernandes will be focusing on the broader expansion of AirAsia. AirAsia is eyeing more joint ventures in Asean, where the airline is based and where it now has affiliates in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is also looking to expand beyond Asean, including in Northeast Asia, where AirAsia Japan was recently set up, and South Asia.
Fernandes said that it had become abundantly clear that as AirAsia enters its second decade, there needs to be a major shift in the Group’s perspective, strategy and operations to sustain its trajectory.
“In short, we need to pivot to a wider, regional lens from the first decade’s focus, which was largely domestic. The enormous potential in an underserved market of 3 billion people spread across Asean, Northeast Asia and South Asia offers huge opportunities – and AirAsia, we are convinced, is ideally positioned to reap huge dividends by serving this market,” he said.
In line with this shift in the focus, the Group has established a regional base in Jakarta. Called AirAsia asean, the office will be located far enough, physically as well as psychologically, from AirAsia’s airline offices in each of the countries it operates in.
“As the Group CEO of AirAsia, I will be leading the regional team in Jakarta. We have appointed few key individuals to join the team and will be announcing few more appointments soon. Ideally, AirAsia asean will provide us with an environment free of the pressures of day-to-day operations and the necessary ‘firefighting’ that accompanies these endeavors, and allow our senior managers the space, the time and the interaction so vital to keep us flying higher in our second decade,” he had said.
Asean has a population of 600 million and a rapidly growing middle class, and is gearing for the implementation of Open Skies and a single ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. Asean, Northeast Asia and South Asia have a combined population of 3 billion people.
As a CEO of AirAsia Malaysia, Aireen joins a dynamic team which already includes Tassapon Bijleveld, CEO of AirAsia Thailand; Capt. Dharmadi, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia; Marianne Hontiveros, CEO of AirAsia Philippines; and Kazuyuki Iwakata, CEO of AirAsia Japan – all of whom directly report to Group CEO Tony Fernandes.
“We are proud to be probably the first Asean Group with two female CEO’s. Aireen’s appointment is testament of the strength and depth of AirAsia Group’s senior management team. It is also an affirmation of our management philosophy of meritocracy in the company’s operations,” Fernandes said.
Prior to her appointment as CEO, Aireen was Regional Head of Corporate Finance, Treasury and Investor Relations. She joined AirAsia in January 2006 as Director of Corporate Finance. Aireen was, among others, instrumental in securing the financing for AirAsia’s fleet expansion, a vital component of AirAsia’s success. Her role included handling the negotiations with Airbus for the record purchase of 200 Airbus A320neo aircraft that was announced at the Paris Airshow in 2011.
In early 2009, Treasury functions were added to Aireen’s portfolio. She took on this portfolio at the time of the global financial crisis, when credit lines dried up and uncertainty and volatility ruled the markets.
AirAsia co-founder and Deputy Group CEO Dato’ Kamarudin Meranun, who is also president of Group Finance, Treasury, Corporate Finance and Legal of AirAsia, commended Aireen’s performance during the difficult period.
“During the credit crisis, Aireen kept AirAsia ahead of the curve. While other companies fell into trouble securing any financing at all, Aireen was able to lock up financing at very competitive rates for two years for the purchase of aircraft for AirAsia. This allowed AirAsia to pull ahead of competitors and reinforce its strategic advantage. She also played an instrumental role in leading the team responsible for the equity private placement that raised more than half a billion ringgit in 2009,” Kamarudin said.
Dato’ Kamarudin also highlighted Aireen’s role as the catalyst for innovative financing structures, including the Islamic French Single Investor Ijarah, which earned AirAsia global recognition for its leadership in the finance world. Aireen was also responsible for raising funding for the entire AirAsia Group to facilitate its growth, and she assisted in the setting up of AirAsia’s various joint ventures.
In late 2009, Investor Relations and Fuel Procurement were further added to Aireen’s responsibilities. Under her leadership, Investor Relations was restructured to facilitate greater transparency and improved engagement with the investment community.
Her portfolio allowed Aireen to get a deeper understanding of the complexities of operating an airline, especially during the turbulent times. Her wide range of responsibilities and her years with AirAsia have allowed her to be fully immersed in the AirAsia culture. They have also given her a firm footing in continuing the founders’ tradition of establishing a “people company.”
Prior to joining AirAsia, Aireen worked for around nine years in the financial industry. She began her career at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc in New York. Upon returning to Malaysia in 2001, she worked in several major local financial institutions, including Maybank Group.
Aireen holds an economics degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a masters in economics degree from New York University.
In accepting the appointment as CEO of AirAsia Malaysia, Aireen said, “I am honored and humbled by the trust and confidence placed in me by AirAsia co-founders Tony, Kamarudin and the Board of Directors. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with and learned from two of the best entrepreneurs in Asean. These are certainly big shoes to fill, but with the passion, hard work and creativity of the AirAsia Allstars, a management team that has proven its leadership across the industry, and AirAsia’s consummate belief in Malaysia and the region, we move onwards with confidence.”
Speaking on behalf of the board of directors, AirAsia Chairman Dato’ Aziz Bakar said, “We welcome the appointment of Aireen as CEO of AirAsia Berhad. Aireen has long been a member of the AirAsia family, and we are confident that with her credentials, she will lead the company to even greater growth and maintain its market leadership.”