Friday, September 29, 2017

Amar Abrol: Firmly in the cockpit

It was perhaps the most momentous day of his career, and yet Amar Abrol, 49, can’t recall the exact date. He does remember, though, that it was on a Friday in December 2015 that he was summoned by his boss, and AirAsia Group CEO, Tony Fernandes.

Abrol, born and schooled in New Delhi, was then the CEO of Tune Money (now called Big Paay), part of the AirAsia Group. He had joined as chief of the eight-year-old Malaysia-based financial services firm in 2013 after a 19-year career with American Express in Hong Kong and Singapore. Tune Money’s core business comprised remittance services and pre-paid, multi-currency cards, only 8,000 of which had been sold by the time Abrol joined. But by December 2015, he had grown the business to 100,000 cards and had even started to expand the company to the Philippines.

Fernandes’s call, however, had riled Abrol, who was winding down for the day to meet with family. “I wanted to go home [to Singapore] for the weekend and he [Fernandes] had already seen, and even approved, my business plans a week before,” Abrol says.

Nevertheless, he grudgingly took the already-approved plans to Fernandes. “He thanked me for it saying, ‘You have done your work, and now I want you to do something bigger’,” recalls Abrol. He imagined Fernandes was going to ask him to expand Tune Money’s business to Japan or China. But what came was a bolt from the blue.

Fernandes asked Abrol to take charge as CEO of the fledgling AirAsia India. Abrol’s surprise was evident from his reaction: “I said, ‘You got to be kidding me’.” His surprise vanished just as quickly when Fernandes asked him if he needed time to think about the offer. After all, it required Abrol to move to India, from where he had migrated to Hong Kong in 1993. “Where in the world would I have got an opportunity to run an airline? My instant reply was yes,” says Abrol.
29/09/17 Anshul Dhamija/Forbes India