This CEO was inspired by a TV character to become a success

  • People
  • Friday, 24 Mar 2017

Aireen Omar says anyone can achieve their dreams if they work towards it. Photo: The Star/Ricky Lai

International Women’s Day is a global day to celebrate women’s achievements and it takes place on March 8 each year.

This year, Star Media Group is marking the whole month of March as “International Women’s Month”. will be paying tribute to women through our WOW-Women Do Wonders campaign and we want you to join us by sending in stories and pictures of the women in your lives.

It was a go-getter character from an American sitcom who inspired AirAsia Bhd CEO Aireen Omar to pursue a degree in economics.

Alex Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, in Family Ties, was a college student who loved economics, Wall Street and pressed suits – and the teenage Aireen was a fan.

“I thought he was witty and quite cute too. He inspired me to study economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and work in Wall Street, New York. Coupled with books on finance, bond traders and corporate raiders given by my father, economics seemed like the right career path,” recalls Aireen, 44, during an interview recently.

Her parents encouraged her to explore her interests. As a child, she wanted to be a ballerina. In her early teens, she aspired to be a doctor and later, an architect.

“Although my ambitions kept changing, my parents gave me the freedom to have tall ambitions. They allowed me think out of the box. Never did they expect me to venture into jobs more suited to women such as the legal line, marketing or finance,” says Aireen, the only girl among four siblings.

Her parents were broad-minded and believed a well-rounded education was important for all their children.

“When I was younger, I went for ballet and music classes, explored art galleries and read story books by authors like Enid Blyton and Alfred Hitchcock. My brothers and I were given the free hand to build a tree house in the garden and even paint the tree bark,” she recalls fondly.

Through life lessons, Aireen learnt the importance of creativity, confidence and being the best. She never felt being a woman was a disadvantage.

“My parents made me realise that I could do anything, regardless of gender. They encouraged me to look at my capabilities as an individual and achieve my dreams,” says the former student og Assunta Secondary School in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Aireen has soared high in her career. As CEO of AirAsia Bhd, she leads a staff of 7,000, located across 16 hubs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. The airline serves over 62 destinations across the region with a fleet of 77 Airbus A320.

“Helming the organisation boils down to being task-driven, not gender-driven. It is all about focus, perseverence and determination. When I took on the role as head of the company, I was entrusted with the task of ensuring the airline’s success,” says Aireen who clocks in about 10 hours at work each day.

The secret to success is knowing your subject matter and being the best, she asserts.

“In any profession, it’s important to know your subject matter. Nobody can challenge you if you know your facts,” says Aireen, who holds a masters degree in economics from New York University. Prior to AirAsia, she worked in Deutsche Bank Securities Inc in New York and Maybank Group.

“Always stay focused. One has to take the bull by the horns and face the challenges. Find ways to beat expectations. To solve a problem, try different avenues and you will discover new paths and opportunities that could lead to better outcomes. Never be complacent.”

Aireeen applauds International Women’s Day which honours women and celebrates progress towards greater gender equality.

“Women play an important role and their contributions shouldn’t be taken for granted. As an integral part of society, women should stand united and support each other in pursuing their dreams. It is equally important to promote gender equality and awareness among the younger generation.”

Aireen will be sharing her story and insights on the theme #GirlsCanDoAnything on March 26 at the WOW-Women do Wonders Talk & Bazaar. Chairman of AirAsia X Bhd Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz will also be speaking on that theme.

There will also be a panel discussion on trailblazing women with CIMB Investment Bank CEO Datuk Kong Sooi Lin, actress and producer Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina, health and wellness portal Purely B co-founder Jesrina Arshad and Caring Moms co-founder Major Shera Ann Bosco, which will be moderated by WOMEN:girls founder Low Ngai Yuen.

The talk will be at SEGi University, Kota Damansara in Selangor.

AirAsia is Star Media Group’s partner for WOW-Women do Wonders, a campaign celebrating women.

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