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Page-turner on Ryanair is just the ticket

THE best thing that I can say about Siobhan Creaton's riveting account of the rise and rise of Ryanair is that I didn't want it to end.

I am a real anorak when it comes to business books, and I originally bought this book to learn more about the Ryanair success, and apply it to my own business - timber-frame manufacturing.

It didn't disappoint and delivered much more than a traditional business book. It is a real page-turner, and in some places reads like a novel. It gives a fascinating insight into how Tony Ryan and Michael O'Leary took on the vested interests in the aviation industry and won.

In the Ireland of 2007 it is easy to forget what the world was like before Ryanair. Less than 20 years ago, a flight to London cost IR£200 and you had two options - pay it and fly with Aer Lingus or go on the ferry.

Interestingly, Ms Creaton points out how former Aer Lingus chief executive Willie Walsh admitted in 2003 that the company had been ripping off customers for years.

Creaton's skilful narration shows how the Ryanair story acts as a mirror to the success of the Irish economy.

While Ryanair went from stuttering wreck to global business success, so did Ireland. Although the book is about Ryanair, it is also about the dominating presence of Michael O'Leary.

There is a chapter dedicated to how Ryan and O'Leary "borrowed" the successful low-cost airline model pioneered by Herb Kelleher's Southwest Airlines in the USA as a blueprint for Ryanair's European domination. But O'Leary didn't follow the Southwest ethos of embracing customers and the staff with kindness. He preferred to create an organisation in his own image, which is characterised by a basic low-cost product, and an unparalleled zest for growth and profit.

The Ryanair experience of tackling vested interests mirrors my own personal experience in business. When I set up timber-frame manufacturer Century Homes in 1990, I experienced a very similar set of difficulties to Tony Ryan.

That year, Ireland only built 180 timber-frame homes and everybody thought I was crazy advocating this new method of house manufacture.

But, like Ryanair, we persisted, by engaging in aggressive marketing and by challenging the Government and vested interests.

This book is a must-read for anybody who has ever rushed across the tarmac in Dublin Airport to try and get the best seat in the plane - or who has paid half a mortgage for a sandwich or a coffee and wondered why.

There is a false snobbery in business circles about Ryanair. The reason why the business is so successful is that everybody uses it. Many executives might not admit to flying Ryanair, but deep down they love it, because it is good for the bottom line.

Michael O'Leary knows first class, business class and even traditional club class travel is often too expensive. He knows most people would much rather be cramped for a few hours and receive $3,500 in cash for a good weekend, rather than pay for a first-class ticket.

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One of the golden rules of show business is to leave the audience wanting more, and Siobhan Creaton manages this feat spectacularly.

Thankfully, since the book was published there have been more than a few interesting developments in the world of Ryanair, and I'll be first in line for the next edition.

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