AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes has created a firestorm on social media after sharing a photo of himself receiving a massage topless during a management meeting.
The co-founder of the Malaysian budget airline posted the image this week on LinkedIn, where he praised the culture of his company but received blowback for fostering what some saw as an inappropriate work environment.
In his post, the business mogul said he’d had “a stressful week,” so a colleague suggested he get a massage. The photo depicted him sitting in an office conference room, having his shoulder rubbed by a masked worker.
“Got to love Indonesia and AirAsia culture that I can have a massage and do a management meeting,” Fernandes wrote.
The post was deleted days later after a wave of criticism, with many LinkedIn users saying his behavior was unprofessional. One critic noted it could make other people in the workplace feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t think the women in your company would feel comfortable or safe in this context, and given you’re the boss, they likely won’t challenge you or say anything,” the user commented. “You are clearly a smart leader that cares about culture but this isn’t the way to create a supportive, safe one.”
The executive declined to comment when reached by CNN.
Fernandes earlier told Bloomberg that he’d just endured an 18-hour flight and was in pain, so he took up the suggestion of the massage.
“You can never really explain the thought process behind a post, so I deleted it,” he was quoted as saying. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
Fernandes is best known for relaunching AirAsia, the region’s first low-cost carrier. He now serves as CEO of the airline’s parent company, Capital A.
The entrepreneur has been dubbed by some as the “Richard Branson of Asia,” after starting his career with the Virgin Group founder in the United Kingdom, where they became friends.
Fernandes then went on to oversee Warner Music Group’s Southeast Asia business, before famously buying AirAsia, a bankrupt Malaysian carrier, for just 26 cents in 2001. The carrier was relaunched and remains one of the region’s leading low-cost travel providers.
AirAsia Group rebranded to Capital A last year, in efforts to show how AirAsia was becoming “more than just an airline,” according to a company statement at the time.
Outside of aviation, the group runs what it describes as a “super app,” or platform intended to serve as a one-stop shop for users to do everything from ordering food delivery to booking flights.
Fernandes has long been vocal about his desire to foster an open work culture, telling CNN in a 2007 interview: “I want people to be themselves.”
“I think a hierarchy can be very damaging to an organization,” he said at the time.
“I want to show the world that Malaysia can have a great company, and I want to be remembered for [creating] a great place to work at.”
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