The leadership style of Michael O’Leary

 

Icarus Ascending The leadership style of Michael O’Leary The leadership style of Michael O’Leary the CEO of Ryanair always repays careful scrutiny. His success appears to owe everything to doing the opposite of what they teach you in business school.

Added on 12 March 2012 by Erika Lucas

Icarus Ascending

The leadership style of Michael O’Leary

The leadership style of Michael O’Leary the CEO of Ryanair always repays careful scrutiny. His success appears to owe everything to doing the opposite of what they teach you in business school.

He is famously rude to passengers with disabilities his staff and regulators. His language is the litany of the anti-hero the self-styled champion of no frills service with low cost fares. His entrepreneurial model is by his own proud admission an unashamed copy (of Southwest Airlines) and delivered with a culture of iconoclasm to beat the traditional airline model. By any measure he has succeeded and delivered wealth to his shareholders beyond their wildest dreams.

His leadership model is a clever one. The rhetoric is totally unconventional. As a leader Michael O’Leary (Icarus Ascending as Management Today once called him) is a risk taker a hands-on day-to-day decision maker.

He is never short of a soundbite to challenge conventional wisdom with the odd expletive deleted. He loves to denounce competitors regulators and even customers alike in forthright language the Economist described his ‘cavalier treatment of passengers’ a ‘deserved reputation for nastiness’ and a ‘ byword for appalling customer service … and jeering rudeness’.

Not that he will be worried. He presses on. Time and again we have to admire his chutzpah. To beat the Dublin traffic he bought a taxi firm so he could use the bus lanes and beat the morning queues. He called the British civil aviation regulator a ‘half wit’ – but that was a compliment – the Irish regulator was a ‘quarter wit’. We grit our teeth when we read about this poor behaviour but can’t resist a smile at the sheer cheek of it all.

The business disciplines of RyanAir

In reality there are lots of traditional cool calm business disciplines in Ryanair including:

  • STRATEGIC VISION.
  • SWEAT THE ASSETS.
  • CUSTOMER OFFER.
  • TEAM EFFORT.
  • GROWTH AND VALUE.

To be a low cost a ‘no frills’ brand an airline with a distinctive edge.

As for any airline and then some – accelerating turnaround times maximising loads pricing competitively: expanding the route network minimising the cost base paperless ticketing totally unafraid to use unfashionable airports.

Famously by charging a low basic with surcharges for all the non-essentials beyond minimal ground services and in your face – planes painted with Ryanair phone number and logo.

He is VERY demanding of his staff – no trade unions crew members dressed in plain uniforms pilots pay for their own training and uniforms – but there is no real hierarchy with highly interchangeable teamworking and customer service between cabin crew check-in and ground staff whilst maintaining safety.

Launched in 1985 floated on NASDAQ in 1997 and joined the NASDAQ Top 100 in 2002 a profit of €339m in 2010 reflected Ryanair’s growing value. Today Ryanair has 50 bases and 275 aircraft covering 165 destinations with 72m customers.

So good luck to Mr O’Leary you might dislike his gratuitous rudeness and we would hate it if all firms were like this but his leadership is fun to teach always stimulates debate – no neutrals here – and maybe just maybe most of his leadership is what they do teach you in Business School after all: find out what they want deliver it with great value build a brand with some panache and you won’t go far wrong.