Business Irish

Thursday 18 January 2018

Aer Lingus: unlikely incubator for business talent

It is not often that semi-state companies become the breeding ground for entrepreneurs and go-getters. But Aer Lingus has had more than its fair share of employees who went on to have enormous success outside the airline. As one union official said a couple of years ago: "When it comes to Aer Lingus the cream rarely rose to the top and our brightest stars had to go elsewhere."

Aidan Heavey, who was an accountant at its former Blueskies Holidays subsidiary, is one of a group of former workers at the group who have excelled outside it. Others include:

1 Tony Ryan: Co-founder Ryanair and founder GPA: the late Tony Ryan spent about 20 years working for Aer Lingus from 1955, joining as a member of its Shannon ground staff. He went on to work on the operations side for the airline in the United States, where he evolved into a hard-nosed executive. He left, setting up aircraft leasing firm Guinness Peat Aviation in 1975 and later Ryanair, making a fortune for himself and his family.

2 Willie Walsh: CEO, IAG: he joined Aer Lingus almost by accident, signing up for a pilot cadetship in 1979 when he was 17. A little more than a decade later he was a captain, and spent six years as a negotiator for the pilots' union. He went on to become chief executive and left the airline in 2004. He was appointed CEO of British Airways and now heads the enlarged group that includes BA and Spain's Iberia.

3 Alan Joyce, CEO Qantas: the Dublin native studied at TCD and joined Aer Lingus in the 1980s, aged 22, engaged in operations research and then fleet planning. He had applied to become a pilot but failed the eyesight test. By 1996, he was headhunted to run the now defunct Australian airline, Ansett. In 2003, he went on to run JetStar, the low-cost subsidiary owned by Qantas. He took over as its CEO in 2008.

4 Conor McCarthy, MD, Dublin Aerospace: he worked alongside Alan Joyce at Aer Lingus and at one stage was the chief executive of the airline's Aer Lingus Commuter division. He then joined Ryanair, serving as its director of group operations between 1996 and 2000. In 2001, he set up his own consultancy and helped launch low-cost airlines around the world, including JetStar and Malaysia-based AirAsia. He established aircraft maintenance firm Dublin Aerospace in 2009.

Other leading business figures who once worked for Aer Lingus include former Kerry Group CEO Hugh Friel; its former chief financial officer, Brian Dunne, who went on to be finance boss at the aviation group that included Air Canada; and Seamus Kearney, the boss at food group Valeo, who was previously the chief operations officer at Aer Lingus.

Irish Independent

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