Monday, August 24, 2009

Up close and personal

15 August 2009

AZRAN Osman-Rani unabashedly confesses that he gets distracted and bored quite easily, which he has self diagnosed as ADD (attention deficit disorder)! It’s a mighty challenge, he admits, to focus on anything for long and he constantly needs to be occupied to keep him going. And by that, he means he persistently craves new challenges. Indefatigable, indeed.

“I am more at ease when I have many things to do. If you do not give me anything to do, I can become very edgy and restless … I will go crazy,” Azran says.

It’s little wonder then that the AirAsia X chief executive officer revels in the high-paced, high-pressure airline industry.

“There is enough challenge here,” he says.

“In the first year, it was all about starting the company, then it was about getting new planes, then expanding the fleet size and routes. It’s been crazy.”

His career path in the turbulent sector began two years ago with a phone call, not just from anyone but from Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, founder of low cost carrier AirAsia, whose triumphs in the industry are only too well documented.

Azran was then a senior director at Astro All Asia Networks plc. Suffice to say he got an earful of Tony’s pitch about AirAsia X; he wanted Azran to head the airline, which at that point, had only one aircraft and a bold business plan.

“The one thing that got me hooked was when Tony said ‘people think this cannot be done’. I thought – ‘wow, everyone in the world says this model can’t work’. That made me want to do it even more. I jumped at the opportunity and took a huge pay cut to join the team,” he recalls.

Despite the past year being one of the global airline industry’s worst times, the low cost long haul carrier has steadily increased its routes over that period. It’s not done yet of course.

Sports is Azran's past time when he's not working

“We are flying into new markets to secure more routes,” he says.

It has not been smooth sailing all the way. More recently, temperatures flared when the airline was denied the rights to fly to Sydney and Seoul.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Azran. But there’s no time to sulk. The company is moving on and as Azran says, there are many other opportunities out there.

When the StarBizWeek interviewed him recently, he had just returned from the Middle East. Sporting a red T-shirt and jeans, he enthuses that AirAsia X is keen on the Mid-East market and expects to launch some routes to the region by year-end.

How does a guy like Azran, with an insatiable thirst for the get-go, pass time when he’s not working? Why, sports of course.

“It’s important to release stress. Otherwise, the stress can build up and you will explode,” he says.

Azran is passionate about running marathons. When he can, he runs a 5km circuit around the Klang Valley on Sunday mornings.

He takes pride in having managed to complete the 42km Gold Coast Airport Marathon in Australia last month. He has also signed up to run in several international marathons in the months ahead, namely the Borneo International Marathon and Melbourne Marathon in October and Hangzhou Marathon in November.

In high school, he was a serious field hockey player. But when he went to the United States for his tertiary education, he discovered that field hockey was regarded as a “girl’s game” and that “real men played ice hockey.”

Soon, he found a new passion – the ultimate frisbee. Ultimate frisbee is relatively new to Malaysians but Azran is keen to build its following. He spends Saturday mornings at Kolej Bandar Utama coaching students in the sport.

Besides, spending time with youths makes him “feel young and sane”, says the father of three boys. Azran is married to Azreen Pharmy, a former news anchor with Astro.

Azran’s background in engineering comes handy at work, as he says it is not easy for the engineers to fool him by giving excuses for any technical problem that crop up in the aircraft.

“I get very upset when people don’t know what they are doing. When someone tells me something is wrong, I will keep on asking them why. This is how we figure out the root cause of the problem,” he explains.

Azran considers himself to be an accessible and engaging boss.

“I am open to new ideas. I do not have as much experience in the aviation industry to claim to be an expert. I also want to create opportunities for our staff.”

“Look at our team. It is small, but it’s diverse,” he says.

Azran says he learnt about the value of diversity from Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan while working under the latter in Astro.

“We should actively seek to form a diverse team that cuts across racial and gender barriers. We have way too many monotonous companies. Just look at the top 50 listed companies, open their annual reports and take note of their management team. Most of the time, they are either very Malay, or very Chinese,” Azran says.

The two gadgets he never leaves home without – his Blackberry and laptop. And this – he’s got a “bucket list”.

“In my laptop, I have a list of things to do before I die,” Azran says, such as personal goals, and those in relation to health, finance and family.

Not surprisingly, one of the things in the list is to fly a plane. With that in mind. Azran is currently trying out the flight simulator.

And surprisingly, Azran wants to be a stand up comedian, to be on stage in front of thousands and make them laugh.

Clearly, an optimist, he says: “The best things have yet to happen.”

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