Monday, June 11, 2018

Even as AirAsia execs face bribery charges in India, Tony Fernandes' doctorates drive controversy

Samsonite International SA Chief Executive Officer Ramesh Tainwala resigned this month after a short seller highlighted issues with how he’d presented his educational history. Investors in AirAsia Bhd. should take notice. After all, co-founder Tony Fernandes is another notable Asian CEO who’s not been shy of boasting academic credentials that are less than they first appear.
At a time when AirAsia officials are facing bribery allegations in India – claims vigorously denied by the company – and the company is trying to tempt the market with a spin-off of its digital businesses, the famously casual dresser Tan Sri (Dr.) Anthony Frances Fernandes  should decide this is one formality he can dispense with.

While Fernandes has received no fewer than four doctorates, each was an honorary degree – first from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia or UiTM in 2010, then from Binary University in 2014, and then from both Kuala Lumpur-based MAHSA University and Phnom Penh’s University of Cambodia last year. The title has been used in every one of AirAsia’s annual reports since his first honorary degree was conferred, with the “(Dr.)” placed in parentheses in the two most recent editions.

To be sure, Fernandes has never suggested these degrees were anything other than honorary. In response to a query from Bloomberg Opinion, an AirAsia spokeswoman said it had used the title “(Dr.)” in parentheses in accordance with guidelines from Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education, but would discontinue the practice altogether in future annual reports. That’s the right approach. In most countries, the use of “Dr.” with or without parentheses in relation to an honorary degree is frowned upon. In Malaysia, it’s more of a gray area – but a fraught one too, given recent scandals around the misuse and even fraudulent use of academic titles.

Different institutions take different approaches. “It should always be made clear that the degree is honorary by adding "honorary" after the degree title,” UiTM corporate affairs director Zaleha binti Abdullah said by e-mail. A spokeswoman for MAHSA University said that recipients of honorary doctorates don’t add the prefix “Dr.” to their names. “In all cases where we award honorary doctorates, the recipients know of this,” she wrote. In a subsequent e-mail after being asked about Fernandes’s specific case, she said some recipients, like the AirAsia boss, use “(Dr.)”, in brackets.
10/06/18 ZeeBiz