EDITORIAL: Entrepreneur who turns the air blue

EDITORIAL: Entrepreneur who turns the air blue - There are more people out there who loathe Michael O'Leary than love him. The Ryanair boss is such a man of extremes - a ball of violent opinions and a derisive abuser of his competitors - that he comes over like a character from a Warner Brothers cartoon: all stretch and bounce. When this month's cover article arrived from Alan Ruddock in Dublin, I'd never seen so many four-letter words inside a seven-page feature. It is, as they say, a rollicking good read.

by Matthew Gwyther, editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There are more people out there who loathe Michael O'Leary than love him. The Ryanair boss is such a man of extremes - a ball of violent opinions and a derisive abuser of his competitors - that he comes over like a character from a Warner Brothers cartoon: all stretch and bounce. When this month's cover article arrived from Alan Ruddock in Dublin, I'd never seen so many four-letter words inside a seven-page feature. It is, as they say, a rollicking good read.

O'Leary says simply that he is the customer's friend. (Until he loses your bags or leaves you stranded overnight at some far-flung airport and refuses point-blank to pay for your hotel.) Ryanair may be a merciless organisation to deal with, but it does deliver very low fares, and 93% of its flights were on time in August.

I have to say that I'm a fan. As a regular customer of Ryanair, I accept O'Leary's view that short-haul is just like getting on a bus. The carrier's web site works a treat and I don't need a Club Class cradle seat or a synthetic, eau de cologne-soaked hot towel on a two-hour European hop.

I'm also quite happy to buy a prawn sandwich at Stansted Boots before I board the plane. What I like the most, however, is the fact that I managed to fly on several occasions to Italy and back last winter for a couple of pence - at least, before Gordon Brown had trousered nigh-on pounds 20 worth of taxes from me.

What worries me about O'Leary is his lack of friends in high places. There cannot be anyone in aviation he hasn't seriously rubbed up the wrong way, and the Schadenfreude will be enjoyed all over the Continent if he experiences a fall. (His 737s into Germany currently have 'Auf wiedersehen, Lufthansa' tattooed on the side.) Ryanair's next proposed growth spurt - he is, amazingly, talking to another 70-plus airports - will be tricky to achieve now that he has got the EU cops on his back, sniffing around the sweetener deals that he does with small-scale regional airports desperate to get his wheels on their tarmac and his customers across their threshold.

I wonder what he thinks of himself as a manager? The Chartered Management Institute this month is launching its new Chartered Manager qualification, which will aim to recognise 'ability and professionalism across the full range of management skills through continuing self-development and positive impact in the workplace'.

Some of Ryanair's hard-pressed employees might welcome such an initiative, but O'Leary's retort to it would probably be unprintable without the asterisks.

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