Interview with Jonathan Yabut, Chief of Staff, Air Asia

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Interview with Jonathan Yabut, Chief of Staff, Air Asia

How would you define the current momentum of the retail sector in Asia?

I see it to be robust and progressive heading towards the digital and mobile space. Companies will take advantage of lower retail cost via eCommerce and will find creative ways to overcome challenges in online payment schemes (i.e. lack of credit card or PayPal penetration) which I personally believe is a key barrier to realising a mature online market. Meanwhile, this doesn’t mean that physical retail will soon slow down. Real estate in Southeast Asia and India is booming. With this comes the explosion of a "mall mania" culture supported by the growing middle class. 

Where are the growth areas for your company? 

Ancillary business is the "future" of the airline industry for expanding growth. This refers to anything that can be sold to passengers apart from their airfare: food, souvenir items, gadgets, value-added services like wifi onboard and priority seating, duty-free items, holiday packages, etc. Airplane seats are fixed inventories but retail products are not. This is where the opportunity lies. Airline companies these days think of their passengers as any set of captured consumers who just happen to be 37,000 feet up in the air and are willing to spend on anything given the right product and price. 

What challenges and issues keep you awake at night? 

We want to excel in omnichannel marketing and selling. We're still getting there. OTA channels are always favourable to our costs but brick and mortar stores are also important to capture the traditional customers. A company like AirAsia is also affiliated with so many sister companies and we would be very pleased if we are able to think of creative and convenient ways to cross-sell seamlessly. Lastly, as mentioned above, we need better technologies and closer intra-industry collaboration on how to enable the masses to pay for items online. There have been creative examples I've seen so far: in the Philippines and Indonesia, consumers who frequent deal discount sites but don’t have credit cards can reserve their items online and pay them in cash via 7-11. The banking industry also needs to step up in enabling low-income population to access alternative online payment facilities. 


Jonathan Yabut is the Season 1 winner of the hit pan-Asian reality business TV show, The Apprentice Asia hosted by Malaysian business mogul Tony Fernandes. He was the youngest male contestant at the age of 27 and was popularly known in the show for his people skills, leadership and passionate speeches in the “boardroom”.

For 10 years, Jonathan has been serving his marketing career to a diverse portfolio of industries such as consumer goods, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and recently aviation. He started his career at Globe Telecom as Brand Manager for international calling, messaging, and Internet services. In GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), he served as a Marketing Manager handling the allergy, antibiotics and respiratory portfolio. In 2012, he was awarded by Mansmisth & Fielders, Inc. the 2012 Young Market Master Award for Brand Management for having achieved a world-record market share for GSK under the age of 35. This same success led him to be the chosen as an official Filipino ambassador to observe the 2012 London Olympic Games.

For having won The Apprentice Asia, Jonathan served as Mr. Tony Fernandes’ apprentice for 1 year under rotating positions such as Chief of Staff of AirAia Berhad in Malaysia, Chief Marketing Officer of AirAsia Philippines, and most recently, as a resident consultant for Third Base Ventures, a venture start-up company led by the Tune Group of Companies. Jonathan today is based in Kuala Lumpur as the Founder and Managing Director of JY Ventures & Consultancy, a marketing, sales and crisis management firm catering to needs of Southeast Asian entrepreneurs and start-up companies. His best-selling book, “From Grit To Great” which depicts his success in The Apprentice Asia, is now available in leading bookstores in Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines. 

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