Friday 16 November 2018

Michael O'Leary - from puppy love to no more Mr Nice(r) Guy

Business Traveller

Michael O'Leary
Michael O'Leary
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Three years ago, Ryanair had a change of heart that put St Paul's conversion in the shade. In a push to put more, happier bums on seats, it launched its Always Getting Better campaign - cheap flights with a focus on the customer, offering second bags onboard and assigned seats to do away with stampedes up the airplane stairs.

Corporate rottweiler Michael O'Leary was pictured clutching a puppy.

Profits soared - and a year later O'Leary told an interviewer: "If I'd only known that being nice to customers was going to be so good for my business I would have done it years ago."

Ryanair's always been good at turnaround times, but it seems it's taken a few years for the ceo to do an about-turn. A truce with former foes at the Dublin Airport Authority broke down in recent times, when Ryanair questioned the DAA's charges, and cut capacity at Dublin by 3pc.

And O'Leary was full of praise for his team for coming up with an off-colour 'Immigrants fly Aer Lingus' Twitter post following a Garda investigation at Dublin Airport.

"If we can upset that many snowflakes through Twitter and on social media as well as entertain probably an equal number of somewhat less snowflakey people, I intend to give our social media team a well-done note and probably a pay rise," he said.

Now the second bag perk is under threat due to customer "abuse", as jet turnaround times - and bottom line - are hit. Ryanair finance chief Neil Sorahan said last week that the airline was a "victim" of its own "niceness". Profits are high. Just not high enough.

To top it off, O'Leary has just committed the taboo of saying the world should give Donald Trump a chance, arguing: "If he implements some of his stated policies - reducing taxes, promoting fracking, lowering the price of oil - it would be very good not just for the US economy but for the world economy generally."

One aviation veteran observed that O'Leary is that corporate rarity - someone who has a mind of his own, and reveals it to the world.

"He's like the mad uncle at the wedding - you try to keep him off the dance floor, but he keeps going back on."

Whatever the style, rival airline bosses would probably sell the family puppy to be at an airline that's still forecasting profits of £1.35bn this year. And a media veteran admitted that in a world of corporate spin and marketing smugness "we love him" for his straight talking.

So Michael might be best going full-on Barry White and Don't Go Changing next time he hits the dance floor.

■ While Aer Lingus has been in the wars with Irish executives in recent times over the AerClub furore, IAG sister company British Airways is taking even more serious flak from some of the toughest cookies in the business world. Few come less ferocious than The Apprentice star Claude Littner - the man who tears CVs to shreds and crushes the delusions of adequacy of the reality show's candidates. A loyal customer of BA, he took to Twitter to complain about its response to a complaint - which remains unspecified - he had concerning his travels.

And pity the poor customer services team as the successful tycoon thundered: "Over some 40+ years of flying with @British_Airways this is 1st time they have failed to behave correctly with me. I await their response." And "I am not the least bit interested in British_Airways 'great twitter team'. It is their customer services team that concern me."

Falling foul of tough-talking Claude is bad, but it's worse when his good pal Alan Sugar jumps into the ring too: "Dear @British_Airways will you solve the problem of my man @claudelittner. You can DM me."

Sugar, a bulldog of the boardroom, has reduced many a TV contestant to a quivering wreck, and the sparring pair's combination of Twitter punches has done the trick, with Claude tweeting: "Further call from @British_Airways with a full apology. Now agreed to full restitution. That puts an end to the matter. Thanks @Lord_Sugar."

Meanwhile, BA has suffered another storm in a teacup - served by Costa Express founder Scott Martin. You know you're going to be served some guff about the power of digital marketing (or a diatribe) when a boardroom boss takes to essay writing on LinkedIn.

In this instance it was the latter as Martin thundered: 'Have British Airways lost the plot...?' He wrote: "I'm a 20-year loyal customer of British Airways and a member of the Executive Club for longer than I can remember. Over that time I've generally been satisfied with my relationship with British Airways and have, where possible, made it my preferred carrier. I'm afraid though that this loyal relationship may soon be coming to an end as the airline is most certainly changing for the worst."

He had a list of gripes including "the fleet seems sluggish at best", and a recent long haul trip was "on the oldest and most tired 747 I have ever had the misfortune to board. It actually leaked on take-off, a matter the CSD [chief cabin crew member] appeared to dismiss off hand - most rudely I would add." And he doesn't let up: "The Executive Club has become worthless to very frequent flyers like myself. Almost every passenger on short haul appears to qualify for fast track boarding meaning boarding is usually a chaotic bun fight", while "the ability to use and spend air miles is almost impossible. I used to regularly upgrade to first when booked Business."

Add to that a flight running out of Diet Coke, "no Earl Grey!" and £2.30 for a cup of tea.

So it's round one of the bean baron versus the BA beancounters. But not everyone agrees with his views - and BA was recently voted the world's sixth best by, saying it had "stormed into the top 10 at number six following the introduction of its 787s and A380s while rolling out cabin enhancements".

■ Amid all the Brexit talk, air connectivity hasn't got much of a look-in - and Irish Aviation Authority boss Eamonn Brennan issued a timely reminder on this issue. He warned "once the UK leaves the EU a new Air Service Agreement will have to be put in place between the EU27 and the UK. If that agreement constraints the ability to fly easily between Ireland and the UK, then that will be bad for Irish economy in general".

He emphasised that aviation needs to be a top priority from an Irish perspective "as the rest of the EU might not share the same view as us".

Sunday Indo Business

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