LE BOURGET, France (Reuters) - Valentine’s Day 2011 in a bar in France, and a deal for the world’s largest civil aircraft order rests on whether an Airbus executive will get on the dance floor.
AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes told Airbus CEO Tom Enders and sales chief John Leahy that night he would not sign a draft deal to buy 200 Airbus planes until midnight, saying: “I don’t sign contracts on Tuesdays.”
“At 12am, John nudged me and said ‘Tony, can we sign?’,” Fernandes said as he told the story behind the signing of the deal at the Paris Air Show. “I said ‘no, you haven’t danced’.”
When Leahy refused to dance, it took the “authoritarian German voice” of former paratrooper Enders to get him on the dancefloor, Fernandes said.
Flanked by a row of air stewardesses dressed in the bright red AirAsia cabin crew outfits, some of whom were there that night, Fernandes added that once he was on the dance floor, Leahy almost did not want to leave.
“The great secret is that he didn’t stop dancing, and after three dances, we went over to the bar and signed the deal,” said Fernandes, who along with running Formula 1’s Team Lotus has now transformed a small low-cost airline into Airbus’ largest customer.
Exuberant at having signed the draft deal, the executives even got one of the women present to “seal” it with a lipstick mark, he said.
The final purchase agreement for 200 of Airbus’ revamped and fuel-saving A320neo aircraft was signed in Paris following late-night negotiations on Wednesday.
“This is what we like about Airbus — they stay out with us until 3am,” Fernandes added. Speaking of Leahy’s role in negotiating a raft of orders for Airbus at the Paris Air Show, eclipsing arch rival Boeing, Fernandes suggested Enders should pay him a bit more.
“John is a terrier — he never gives up, never gives in and he’s a pain in the ass at times,” Fernandes added.
Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Tim Hepher and Matthias Blamont; Editing by David Holmes