In June 2020, AirAsia laid off over 300 employees to cut costs during the pandemic. That same month, it launched an agriculture e-commerce platform called Ourfarm, where F&B businesses can buy fresh produce in bulk straight from its network of farmers.
When we spoke to its CEO, Lalitha after its launch, we learnt that all 8 Ourfarm staff then were existing internal staff, with the exception of co-founders Nadhir of TheLorry and Radzi of Hi HOME. Ourfarm has since expanded to a team of 12, and what surprised us was that the new staff were ex-AirAsia talents who had just been laid off.
An unexpected return
Hazree (Erry) had been with AirAsia X as a senior cabin crew member for almost 12 years, so he was shocked and sad when he received news of his retrenchment in June.
“I believe my record was good, but maybe there were areas where I didn’t meet KPIs and a few years back, I wasn’t working for a few months because I fell sick and was admitted,” Erry shared when we asked whether he knew why he had been retrenched.
On a brighter note, however, he is once again with AirAsia as a Business Development Executive for Ourfarm after getting rehired about 3 weeks ago. There he does sales, contacting buyers to understand their needs then submitting their requests to the pricing department to follow up.
Some of his biggest challenges so far include trying to convince potential clients to sign on with Ourfarm, and having to use the new tech involved in his job. Despite knowing that he’d have a lot to learn in his new role, Erry agreed to take it on as he still had a lot of love for AirAsia.
“I’m very happy with what I’m doing now,” he shared. “Of course, I still miss flying, but for the time being, I’m just going with the flow and I think I can do it.”
Skills to pay the bills
Ourfarm hadn’t even launched when they first called to recruit Erry. He also had no idea why they had picked him and never asked, though he had his own hypothesis.
“Maybe people always say that as cabin crew, you have to work extra hours and be committed to the job. The other thing is how well you communicate with people, like in an aircraft during flights, we try to sell our products too,” he said.
In our interview with Lalitha later, she affirmed this. “The energy levels that [cabin crew] have is remarkable, and they’re trained to be very polite, they can create a calm yet fun environment in the aircraft. So, that’s the sort of characteristics that they display that our farmers as well as the businesses tend to resonate very well with.”
Lalitha also shared how the skillsets of ex-cabin crew matched with Ourfarm’s roles.
“Obviously the first key requirement of their past jobs in flights was to ensure the safety of passengers, but in addition to that, something that I also didn’t know of was that they had to go for food handling certifications, they have all the required jabs too. So with all the certifications they’ve gone through, they actually understand the food industry very well, so when they’re in the F&B industry, they know what to do,” Lalitha said.
Growing the family
For those wondering how AirAsia is now rehiring again when it was previously laying off staff to cut costs, here’s what Lalitha had to say.
“But the other parts of the company that are actually working, growing and expanding—these are where we can reskill and upscale our talent, motivate them and give them a new opportunity to grow,” she added.
So affordability wasn’t really the question, but it was about how they could utilize their staff, be they ex or current ones.
“We’re hiring based on the scope we had originally decided upon and are still hiring from within,” she said, with ex-cabin crew still considered as internal staff. “A pressing need to get more people in now is because the demand is fairly large and a bit overwhelming for the initial 8 of us to manage.”
Ourfarm is planning to grow into a team of 20 as they begin expanding operations to East Malaysia too, beginning with Sabah in August.
Besides their new hires, Ourfarm was also glad to share that they had served their first customer, a restaurant called Tres Pollos Charcoal Chicken in Nilai. And to our surprise too, the restaurant’s 3 co-founders are current cabin crew. They are Irawan (14 years at AirAsia X), Carlo (9 years at AirAsia X) and Noel (7 years at AirAsia).
A familiar first customer
Tres Pollos was started in February 2020, just before the MCO began. They had hired and trained some staff to take over for them when they had flights, back when travel was still allowed. During the MCO, Tres Pollos cut their prices by 50% and focused on deliveries, which worked out in their favor when customers returned to dine-in during the RMCO.
Switching over to getting their chickens from Ourfarm after Erry contacted them was an easy choice for several reasons.
“When we heard Tony Fernandes was supporting local farmers through Ourfarm, because AirAsia has given us a long good career as cabin crew, we thought of giving back to the company,” Carlo said. “Our current supplier is short of chickens too, and Ourfarm is making it possible to deliver for our needs on a weekly basis, and sometimes they are ahead of time,” Noel supplied.
Ourfarm already has almost 200 other customers on their waiting list to serve, which the team is gradually going through, and more are reaching out to them by the day. Once they’ve gathered enough manpower, they’ll be able to operate in full force.
This article was first published by Vulcan Post.