The power of simple

This edition you are holding in your hands is very special to all of us at The Smart CEO. The mandate we had for the cover story was to feature a CEO who was under the age of 40, leading a high-profile company. As we researched away to find our pick, the choice was unanimous. 

Mittu Chandilya, CEO, AirAsia India, has been on the front page of the business press more than anyone else has in the last few months. The fact that he’s leading a high-profile company in a challenging industry with the backing of the flamboyant Tony Fernandes (and Tata Sons as investor) was enough for the media world to take notice. Being a former model certainly helped; the ability to answer questions genuinely, with clarity, made sure journalists kept going back. Not to forget, his spontaneity and wit, which make a conversation with him interesting. 

For people who knew AirAsia’s and specifically Tony Fernandes’ management style, the decision was not surprising at all. Several others wondered how the company picked someone who was all of only 33-years-old, with no hands-on aviation experience, to lead a company in a fairly complex industry. The answer to this really lies in the fact that belief is at the core of the company’s operational style. While interviewing with us, Chandilya said: “We truly believe everything is possible. It is a very unique and powerful trait to have.” 

I understand that during Chandilya’s job interview, Fernandes saw in him someone whose ambitions matched that of AirAsia’s. His skills, experiences at a fairly young age and the ideas he had for AirAsia in India worked in his favour. But, was it a call made purely based on belief and gut? Obviously not. I am just speculating here but I think my interview with Chandilya gave away the reason. For one of my questions on operational processes adopted at the company, Chandilya said and I quote here: “The reason why AirAsia has been successful globally is that we treat this like a non-high asset company. While there are specific teams managing the asset-high part of the operations, the rest of the company moves and executes really fast.” 

That quote showcases the genius of Fernandes to simplify things. While for a layman, aviation seems extremely complex, Fernandes’ ability to break it down into two distinct parts of the business might just be AirAsia’s secret sauce. Chandilya understands that distinction very well. On one hand, he’s working with experts to deal with the complex, asset-high part of the operations and on the other, his dynamic management style comes to the fore while managing the rest of the operations. Of course, Chandilya is also advised by S. Ramadorai, Vice Chairman of TCS, who is also the Chairman of AirAsia India. 

In this edition’s cover story, Chandilya speaks to us about the unique DNA of AirAsia, his thoughts on the future of Indian aviation and his experience of working with Ramadorai and Fernandes. 

Hope you enjoy reading The Smart CEO.