Business Irish

Monday 27 February 2017

Family man would prefer to run a major airline than change a nappy

Christmas Day is certain to be a busy one in the O'Leary household at Gigginstown House in Mullingar.

The Co Westmeath homestead of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary and his wife Anita just six weeks ago welcomed a new arrival -- the couple's fourth child, a boy, to bring their brood to "three colts and a filly", as Mr O'Leary recently described it.

"What normally happens on Christmas Day is that I get dispatched with the screwdriver and operating manuals," says the airline chief in an unusually candid interview with the Irish Independent that offers some rare insight into his family life.

Tankers and trailers for their pedal tractors, as well as computers and surprises are just some of the items on lists for Santa this year, he adds. "Hopefully they'll get looked after."

He also says that Christmas is the only time of year he really takes off.

"Thankfully it's the only day of the year the airline doesn't work, so we don't have to worry about it. I'm generally off Christmas Eve and I take the week off until New Year's Day, meaning don't call me, I don't bloody want to know," he adds.

The notion of Mr O'Leary cosying up in front of the fire over Christmas is an unlikely one though, and turning 50 next March and having a family hasn't obviously mellowed him or transformed him into a more typical doting dad.

"Give me football with a five-year-old, swing a three-year-old, no problem. But don't ask me to be there goo-gooing or ga-gaaing. I don't have that baby gene. I like them walking, talking, even if all they're doing is giving me cheek."

He also points out that his home life is a world away from his day job.

"I do a kind of public persona in Ryanair and it's very much confined to Ryanair. In Ryanair I'm the boss and people generally do what I say. At home, my wife tells me what to do and the kids ignore what I say."

Between tales of frustrating two-hour games of hide an seek involving his eldest son and Thomas the Tank Engine, as well as being "up to his tits" in sandcastles on the beach in Portugal while on holidays, he says he's unable to relax on summer breaks and work follows him.

"You can't avoid it and I can't switch off either. Some people have that ability and I can't do it."

There's little doubt that even after he leaves Ryanair, Mr O'Leary will remain driven. He's also adamant that his wealth -- he's worth an estimated €400m, or more -- will not make life too easy for his children.

"It's always tough if you're rich," he says. "It's always tough on your kids because you can't help yourself protecting them even though you know you shouldn't. You can't help yourself. I mean you've got to fight that, but ultimately I take the view that when they're teenagers they getting a summer job whether they f**king like it or not."

Mullingar, he adds, is a "great place" for his children to grow up, but he wants them, as he did, to go to boarding school, even though he urges people to "fight for free education".

"The boys, certainly, I would send to boarding school because I went there and I thought it was a great grounding," he explains. "I had a great time in boarding school and I think it gives kids a great advantage, particularly going off to college afterwards." Nothing is set in stone, however, and he admits that it may not suit one or more of his children.

He adds that he hopes he "won't be anybody" by the time his children head for boarding school, saying that he doesn't want their peers knowing them just for being the kids of Michael O'Leary of Ryanair.

"Once I leave Ryanair I'll be much more low-profile."

Meanwhile, the bias against Dublin is well rooted in the Cork native. "I might be wrong, but I think the fact I don't live in Dublin 4 will be helpful," says the aviation boss. "That doesn't mean that everyone is perfect in the countryside either.

"I have four kids. I think you do your best and hope that they'll come right. And the chances are that one or two probably will and one or two probably won't. There are no guarantees, but I think that they will grow up much the better in Ireland over the next 10 years, where I think there is a return to the culture where kids are working hard in school. They're not going to get things on a plate."

Meanwhile, the domestic chores are far from an equal partnership in the O'Leary household.

"I was very careful to do the first nappies," he explains. "I do the meconium nappies, the dirty ones and after that I can say 'I did the worst ones'."

Does he still change nappies? "Can I change nappies? Yes I can. Do I volunteer? No, I don't. Do I do night feeds? No, I don't. I work hard and Anita looks after the kids generally, but if I need to do something, I just do it," he continues. "Am I volunteering? No, I'm not made to be minding children."

He's also keen on the fact that his children are beginning to enter a new age bracket.

"Thankfully when they get to five they're a bit more interested in what else is going on. My eldest is five and that stage between five aand 12 is a very nice age," he says. "They want to spend time with you. Once they get past 12 they just think you're some old fart that produces pocket money."

Irish Independent

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