O'Leary signs up for the next five years at Ryanair
OUTSPOKEN Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary intends to stay at the helm of the airline for at least another five years.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, the aviation chief confirmed that he has signed up to stay at the reinvented Ryanair until he's 58.
However, he insisted that he couldn't imagine himself still being there by the time he becomes eligible to draw the state pension.
"I'd go nuts if I thought I was going to be here for another 15 years," he said at the company's HQ near Dublin Airport, where he was helping to launch Ryanair's new booking app.
"What I've said all the time is that when it stops being interesting then I'll stop being here, because frankly, I wouldn't want to be around if it isn't going to be interesting," added Mr O'Leary, who commutes to work from near Mullingar.
"The whole digital platform, the way mobile technology is changing the business, has created a whole new opportunity here that's very exciting and I'm very interested in it."
His decision to stay comes after years of saying he would only remain chief executive of Ryanair for another couple of years at most. "I've said I plan to step down in two or three years' time, but it's kind of a rolling plan," he said.
Asked if he intended to remain beyond his current five-year commitment, he said it was "too early to say".
"A lot depends on what the business is doing and where it is at that point in time. There's no point in making too many plans that are set in stone in a fast-moving business," he said.
"I might not be the right CEO in five years' time. The board might want me to go. I wouldn't get too hung up on it."
Mr O'Leary has been taking more of a backseat as the face of Ryanair after decades of admonishing customers, politicians, civil servants, airports and rivals. "It was appropriate at the time. It's become a more sophisticated business now. We're the biggest airline in most countries in Europe. We're addressing the issues that pi** people off," he said.
"We didn't move quickly enough in the last 18 months when a lot of our competitors were improving their websites. That's an error and one we're eliminating very quickly."
Mr O'Leary is remaining in the driving seat despite two core members of his so-called 'Z Team' deciding that they're leaving the airline.
His two key lieutenants for over 20 years have decided to leave Ryanair. Former chief operations director Michael Cawley (60), who was also a deputy chief executive, left in March. He now sits on other company boards and is also chairman of Failte Ireland.
Last month, chief financial officer (CFO) Howard Millar said he would leave at the end of the year. He is also a deputy chief executive.
Mr Millar (52) is seeking a new job as a chief executive before he gets too old to take on such a new role. Both Mr Millar and Mr Cawley are remaining on the Ryanair board.
Mr O'Leary conceded that he tried to get Mr Millar to remain in a full-time role.
"He's done the CFO job now for more than 20 years. We can't offer him much more here that's exciting unless there's going to be a vacancy at the CEO level, and certainly for the next three to five years there doesn't appear to be one here."
Mr O'Leary said there were two reasons for having always said that he was planning to step down. "One was to convey the impression that this wasn't some one-man band. By talking about stepping down in two or three years' time, investors focused on the wider management team," he said.