Friday 18 October 2019

O'Leary loosens the reins as family take priority

Family: Michael and Anita O'Leary pictured in 2016 with two of their children, Tiana (8) and Zach (6). Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Family: Michael and Anita O'Leary pictured in 2016 with two of their children, Tiana (8) and Zach (6). Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Usually when top executives say they want to ease back on the throttle to spend more time with family, there's more to it than that.

Except, it seems, in the case of Michael O'Leary.

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The Ryanair boss - synonymous with the airline for nearly three decades - dramatically revealed this week that he's planning to exit his horseracing "hobby" to spend more time with his wife and children.

He's been a huge financial backer of national hunt in Ireland, ploughing vast sums of money into buying horses and sponsoring races under the Ryanair brand. His loss to the industry - including his money and his profile - will be keenly felt.

But as his four children ("three colts and a filly", as he once referred to them) have grown older, it seems they've become a lot more fun and interesting to be around.

He has often said that the nappy phase held little allure for him.

"This bonding stuff is rubbish," he said in 2013. "Men tend to bond with their children when they are walking, talking, following football - then we have something to say to them."

A Manchester City supporter, O'Leary takes his now older kids to matches in the UK, while he has also been involved as a trainer with the local rugby club just down the road from his Gigginstown House pile outside Mullingar, where he coaches under-11s.

Usually the first to arrive (typically around 7.30am) and the last to leave Ryanair's headquarters during the working week, weekends are usually set aside for horses and family.

For a man who seems to have little room for downtime, he has professed in the past a keen interest in military history, and still managed to escape for summer holidays to Portugal and taken winter ski trips.

It's frequently said he's intensely private about his home life, but O'Leary has often waxed lyrical about domestic duties, routines and holidays.

In one revealing interview with the 'Daily Telegraph' in 2014 - when all his children were under the age of eight - the airline chief confessed the annual two-week summer holiday to the Pine Cliffs Resort on the Algarve were usually spent "trying not to murder" them.

"All I can look for is peace and quiet - which is a forlorn hope," he said. "I'll try to run the children off their feet and hope they're so exhausted by about five or six o'clock that I can put them to bed.

"Then I grab some dinner with Mrs O'Leary and it all starts again the following day. I come back to work for a rest."

In the past, he's visited famous battlefields, including the WWI sites around Ypres in Belgium. But it's Wellington and Napoleon that really stir his interest, he said.

Meanwhile, his children - even at their relatively young ages - are understood to be involved in the daily farm and racing life at the family's sprawling, 1,000-acre estate.

O'Leary is spotted at local shops in the town and even stops in occasionally to the Mullingar Park Hotel for a bite to eat with the family.

He has enthused how Mullingar is a "great place" for his children to grow up.

But always bear another thing in mind: O'Leary, who turned 58 this year, has at times too many to count said his reign at Ryanair was coming to an end.

But he has just signed up for another five years at the airline.

From later this year, he'll transition to being the group chief executive (Ryanair owns Austria-based airline Laudamotion as well as Poland-based charter operation Ryanair Sun, which will be renamed Buzz from the autumn). A new chief executive will, ostensibly, take over the day-to-day running of Ryanair.

So will his postponed departure be mirrored in his plan to exit horse racing?

Unlikely.

It seems O'Leary's going to have plenty of time to perfect everything from dad-dancing to dad jokes.

Irish Independent

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