Wednesday 22 May 2019

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary: 'I'm not sure I want to run this company for another five years'

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has insisted that he's unlikely to stay running the airline for another five years after his current contract expires in 2019.

A wide-ranging interview with media this morning following the airline's annual general meeting in Co Meath was the outspoken airline boss' first major engagement with Irish press since the airline suffered a major pilot rostering failure last year. That saw it cancel thousands of flights. The airline also recognised trade unions last December.

"I have no idea when I'll have had enough," said Mr O'Leary. "I like this company. I like working for this company. I don't do it for the pay I get. But as long as it remains interesting and fun and challenging, I see no reason not to continue to try to lead it and lead it forward positively."

However he said he wasn't sure he wanted to be leading it for five more years after his existing contract expires.

He said there are a number of internal candidates who could replace him, but said the company should, when the time comes to replace him, also look for external successors.

He agreed it has been fun running the company over the past year, as Ryanair faced labour strife across Europe and tortuous negotiations with unions that still haven't been fully resolved.

"Why wouldn't it be?" he said. "We're growing to 142 million customers. We've bought LaudaMotion, we've added another 50 aircraft. Yes, there's been challenges. The rostering thing last September was a balls-up. That was painful. We recovered very quickly from it. Recognising unions was not one of my best days in Ryanair, but it was inevitable at some point in time."

Mr O'Leary was re-elected a director of Ryanair at the annual general meeting, with 98.5pc of votes cast in his favour. All its directors up for election were re-elected.

He joked to shareholders during the AGM that extending his tenure at Ryanair would be subject to "painful negotiations" with his wife.

He added that his contract had been discussed at the airline's board meeting yesterday.

Read more: Ryanair chairman reappointed as airline lifts media ban at AGM

"I'm very happy to go on to a rolling 12-month contract," he said. "I own 4pc of the company. It's not like I'm going to go anywhere. They want me to sign up another contract for a period of years. I'm not sure whether I want to sign up for another five years. That would take me to 62. I'm not sure Mrs O'Leary would be very happy if I agree to sign up for another five years."

Three major shareholder advisory groups had recommended to Ryanair shareholders that they not vote to re-elect Ryanair chairman, billionaire David Bonderman. He's been chairman for 22 years.

Mr Bonderman (75) was re-elected, however, with 70.5pc of shares cast in his favour.

Speaking after the AGM, Mr Bonderman said that he was pleased to have been re-elected.

"We always want to listen to what shareholders have to say," he said. "They may be right, they may be wrong, but we want to consider it. It's a point of view. For a variety of reasons, those of us on the board think they're barking up the wrong tree, but we'll listen."

He declined to say how long he might remain on the Ryanair board.

"I think we'll reserve on that question."

Mr O'Leary said that Mr Bonderman would not be chairman "forever".

"We have been very fortunate to have David Bonderman as chairman for the last 22 years," he said. "He knows it won't go on forever. We know it won't go on forever. But frankly, if we could encourage him to continue to run the company for another couple of years, I would personally encourage him to do so. I don't think he will. This is a man who travels the world., runs a multi-billion private equity house. He chairs Ryanair as a favour to us."

Mr Bonderman personally owns shares worth about €100m in Ryanair.

Ryanair had originally banned media from its AGM this morning. But The Irish Independent, RTE and the Financial Times gained legitimate access to the meeting. The airline subsequently relented and permitted all media to attend.

Mr O'Leary also said that the airline has been lobbying the government to change tax law here so that Ryanair can offer all its workers around Europe contracts based on local law, where they would also pay their taxes locally, rather than to the Irish Exchequer.

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