Friday 14 December 2018

Michael O'Leary (56) had arguably the most difficult year of his career after Ryanair's employees demanded better pay and working conditions. An apparent oversight about staff holidays also caused the cancellation of 700 flights last autumn. Pilots especially seized their chance to exercise their power: there is a global shortage of them. As a result, the airline decided in December that it will now recognise unions.

At one stage, O'Leary owned almost 25pc of Ryanair, but sold much of the stock over the last 20 years. His stake of about 4.1pc is now worth around €700m after he sold €72m worth of shares in June, though the shares had risen by over 20pc up to that point. The December issue with the unions then dealt the share price a severe blow, with O'Leary's stake tumbling by about €150m in value.

Before Brexit, Ryanair's success in a PR turnaround that portrayed it as a lot more customer and family-friendly seemed to be paying off, as it attempted to win over some of the 100 million passengers who refused to travel with it. The cancelled flights debacle was a setback to this, however, as was a controversy over splitting up people who wanted to sit together unless they paid to reserve a seat. Still, it provided much fuel for the media here and in Britain, and for the callers to RTE's Joe Duffy.

The Clongowes-educated former accountant has a large UK commercial property portfolio, owning two office blocks in the centre of London as well as other buildings in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester.

At home, he, his wife Anita and their four children live in an extensive renovated country pile at Gigginstown in Westmeath. There are also several houses in Ballsbridge and a Newmarket stud farm. O'Leary has also spent heavily to become the biggest national hunt horse owner in the country. He owns over 160 horses, who have won over €15m over the past five years, and half of the runners in last year's Irish Grand National were his.

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