"STILL without a doubt the best place I've ever worked," Charlie Clifton says of Ryanair. Indeed he might not mind running it, if there was ever a vacancy.
Meanwhile, he has just successfully replicated the no-frills model in Brazil, making a few million in the process.
Clifton was one of half a dozen staff in Ryanair's start-up days in 1986 -- in fact, he sold the airline's very first ticket. He was director of ground operations by the time he left in 2002. Then he ran the Ryan family's Tiger Airways in South East Asia. Next he had a stab at doing the low-cost carrier thing in the US via Skybus, but the world economy crash and soaring fuel costs grounded the venture.
He went back to work with the Ryans as a partner at their Irelandia investment vehicle. He joined Webjet, a struggling Brazilian airline owned by a local aviation dynasty, at the start of 2010. He shadowed the CEO, slashed costs by 35 per cent and created a lean budget carrier with revenues of $45.7m and profits of $11m. Gol Airlines last month paid about $125m for Webjet, in which Clifton had "a few per cent equity".
What next? "I'd be happy to give anything a shot except going back to Ryanair -- no-one wants to go back to school! Unless Michael leaves -- then I'll have a crack at his job. I'll be waiting for the call," he jokes. Or half jokes.
He has a home in Dalkey, Co Dublin and in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro.
Sunday Indo Business