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AirAsia CEO says he has no regrets over viral topless photo

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Months after drawing backlash for posting a shirtless image of himself while getting a massage, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes says he has no regrets about it, adding that it helped with publicity.

About the viral photo: Fernandes, 59, posted the controversial image on his own LinkedIn account in October 2023. In the caption, he wrote, “Got to love Indonesia and AirAsia culture that I can have a massage and do a management meeting.” This sparked both jokes and outrage on social media, with many accusing him of unprofessionalism. He subsequently apologized “if anyone took offense” and claimed that his effort to demonstrate multitasking had been “taken out of context.”

What he’s saying now: In a new interview with CNBC, Fernandes expressed no regrets over his actions and pointed out how they helped him instead. “Do I regret it? No. Got me a lot of publicity,” he said.

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Fernandes also doubled down in defending his actions as a result of a “flexible” company culture. At the time, the AirAsia chief noted that he just had a “stressful week.” He said everyone in the room had agreed to seeing him get the massage.

“My famous topless sports massage was all about showing our culture, to be honest, that we had such a flexible culture. Of course, I got permission from everyone in the room to say, are you okay?” he told CNBC.

He continued, “Initially I asked whether we could delay the meeting so that I could have a massage, I was in a lot of pain from a lot of flying. But the team said, we’re okay, you know, nothing to hide. We’d rather not delay it. So I was actually posting to say, what an amazing culture we have.”

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The big picture: Fernandes’ approach to social media mirrors a broader trend among business executives to manage their online presence personally. Last year, Elon Musk said CEOs should “speak authentically” and write their own tweets, as per Business Insider.

Fernandes says his posts are never reviewed by his PR team. Still, some have questioned his authenticity in the past, notably when he shared that he was traveling with rival carrier Singapore Airlines because AirAsia flights had no more seats.

 

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