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Jason Lo-From Musician to CEO
10 April, 2013

A father of three, this still-boyish 38-year-old lives his life with a drive and energy that belies the importance of his job. Then again, it’s not every day that you meet a musician-turned-DJ-turned-talk show host-turnedproducer-turned-CEO. As a musician, Jason Lo is something of a local celebrity, but these days, he spends more of his time in the boardroom than onstage, as he’s the CEO of Tune Talk, Malaysia’s fastest-growing mobile operator.

Jason is something of a hybrid expat. Born to a Chinese Malaysian father and an Irish mother who met in London – and who, incidentally, are also both musicians – Jason grew up in Kuching, and though he has fond and vivid memories of his time in Sarawak, when it came time for college, he headed across the South China Sea to Singapore, then made the jump to the UK. “My father was the traditional Chinese dad,” he recounted, “so naturally that meant there were only five acceptable things for his son to study: accounting, law, medicine, engineering, or architecture. I chose accounting, though of course my first love was music.”

As a college student, Jason parlayed that love for music into a long-running band where he sang and played guitar. As his studies came to an end, he found he wasn’t quite ready to leave London, so he enrolled in an MBA programme: according to Jason, “It was more a matter of me doing whatever I could do to stay in London.”

Ultimately, of course, Jason did return to Malaysia, but it was to pursue a solo career in music rather than money. With three albums to his credit, he found success as a recording artist and later, as a popular morning DJ on the radio, a gig he stayed with for nearly four years. He also got out in front of the camera as the host of a talk show on 8TV, created an ongoing “Rock the World” music festival – “Malaysia’s Woodstock,” he explained – and in 2004, put together an ambitious football-based reality show called My Team. The show chronicled the progress of a group of boys from humble backgrounds as they trained and improved at football. The team even flew to the UK to train with Manchester United, and ultimately played against Malaysia’s national team. “The first goal of the match was scored by a housekeeping boy from Kuantan,” Jason explained proudly. “It was such a rewarding experience for all of us involved.” Eight of the team’s players are now with the Malaysian Professional League, two represented Malaysia in the recent Olympics, and one is currently playing for the National Team.

All of this served to bring Jason to the right place at the right time for his current role, and it wasn’t long before everything clicked. AirAsia had agreed to sponsor the flight for Jason’s ragtag football team to the UK, and Jason, who had had previous dealings with Tony Fernades – also an accomplished musician, it must be noted – from when he was with Warner Music Group, still maintained close ties with the inimitable entrepreneur. In 2001, Tony left Warner to pursue his dream of launching a low-cost airline, which of course became the wildly successful AirAsia venture, and ultimately created the Tune Group, comprising Tune Hotels, Tune Money, and Tune Talk.

Jason remembers the moment in 2007 when everything came together. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I met with Tony, and he looked at me and simply said, ‘I need a CEO to help me start my mobile business. Interested?’ It was really that straightforward. I told Tony that I didn’t really know anything about mobile network operations, and his reply was, ‘That’s okay. I didn’t know anything about airlines once, either.’” Jason paused, “Let’s be honest, when someone like Tony Fernades gives you an opportunity like that, you just don’t turn it down.”

The job offer was accepted, the contract signed, and suddenly, there was Jason’s photo, guitar in hand, splashed across the front page of the local paper with the headline, “Local rocker turned CEO!” To say the hire wasn’t popular in the business community is something of an understatement. “Oh, there was quite a bit of scorn and ridicule,” Jason said breezily. “Many thought it was a joke or a publicity stunt.”

Today, nobody is laughing, but lots of people are smiling. Jason has learned his business well, and Tune Talk is fast becoming a major player in Malaysia’s mobile operator industry, offering its prepaid-plan customers low cost – a hallmark of all Tune brands – and excellent service. In fact, Tune Talk recently earned top marks in four out of five service-related categories in a government-backed study.

Amazingly the common thread in the whole story is music. Jason’s mom is a nurse, his father a businessman, he himself has an MBA in finance, and of course Tony comes from a finance background, as well. But under all the layers of business acumen, financial savvy, and corporate polish, they’re all musicians at heart, and that the entire group is named Tune is a testament to the power and importance of music. If you ever doubt it, just ask Jason Lo, the finger-snapping, melody-humming CEO of Tune Talk.

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Source: The Expat March 2013

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Chad manages the editorial team and has been heading up the myriad publications of The Expat Group since joining in February 2012. He occasionally writes for the magazines, though not as often as he'd like. A lifelong writer and English langua...
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