Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has committed to stay on for at least another couple of years and said he is unfazed by the departure of two of his most senior executives.
O’Leary, who has headed Ryanair since January 1994, brought his entire management team to Ryanair’s 1Q results conference in London. This move was to introduce his new board members to London-based analysts following the departure of deputy CEO and COO Michael Cawley, and the resignation of CFO and deputy CEO Howard Miller.
Cawley, who had been with the budget carrier since 1997, stepped down in March and has been replaced as COO by David O’Brien, who has been with Ryanair since 1992. Miller, who has been with Ryanair for 23 years, leaves in October. He will be succeeded by his deputy, Neil Sorahan, who has racked up 12 years with the airline. Both Cawley and Miller have been given nonexecutive director’s roles.
“We’ve had a very stable team since we floated [in 1997]. I am very sorry to see Michael and Howard leave, but I understand their reasons,” O’Leary said. The Ryanair chief, who has a 12-month rolling notice period, added that he has committed to the airline for another couple of years.
“I have always said that, from my point of view, I would be very happy to stay here for as long as what we’re doing is interesting. Over the last few years, that included resolving Aer Lingus, along with the Stansted and Dublin [airport] issues and the aircraft order. But I think the whole digital transformation and new growth at primary airports makes it a very interesting place to work for the next number of years, so I hope the board will keep me on,” he said.
O’Leary previously indicated that once Ryanair became more corporate and friendly, it would be time for him to step down.
“There was a view of Ryanair that we were cheap and nasty; I think that was a byproduct of my personality. I think we have to demonstrate that we have got the message in the last year—which we have—and that we are now genuinely committed to really improve the customer experience. This is not some PR stunt. Everything you’re seeing from the allocated seating, to the second bag, new mobile phone app and the dramatically improved website demonstrates that this is real. This transformation runs right the way through the airline.”
Crawley and Millar would have been obvious successors for O’Leary, so does their dual departure put Ryanair’s succession plan in jeopardy?
“At board level, we’ve always had policy within in Ryanair of having a succession plan for every space. Largely speaking, it has been our policy over the last few years to promote from within, but the board has taken a decision to look internally and externally when they are looking for a successor for me. I have very great confidence if anything untoward happens to me, there would be a very stable and talented management team.”
O’Leary flagged Ryanair’s 1Q performance and its aircraft order as foundations for “a period of very strong growth” over the next five years. “We’re doing things very differently to the way we’ve done them and there is a team beneath them [the top management] as well, delivering on that.”
Other new Ryanair recruits include head of sales and marketing Kenny Jacobs, who joined in February 2014, and chief technology officer John Hurley, who will take on his new role this month. Both Jacobs and Hurley have been hired from other companies.