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My guilty secret – I like Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

There I’ve said it.  That’s a weight off my mind. 

For years the “customer service industry” has been saying what a poor airline company he runs; that they are shifty and deceitful, that they offer terrible customer service  and indeed that CEO Michael O’Leary himself is the service industry’s bogeyman.  He is the monster under the bed who will get us and draw us into his evil ways if ever we let our service standards drop.  Instead, we are told,  what we should be is more like that nice Sir Richard Branson.

So why after 20 years of writing about customer service have I recently felt drawn to Mr O’Leary – not in a physical way, perhaps I should add –  I have never met him personally, I think I’ve only flown Ryanair once (when Bournemouth Airport was a shack next to a grass runway), and despite my lifelong love of the Irish (well, Phil Lynott mainly) it’s not a nationalistic thing either. 

I think it is for two reasons.  Firstly he puts customer service in its proper context.  Service is a means to end and that end is enhancing shareholder value – simple as that.  It is not all the fluffy bunny, cuddly stuff that you pay through the nose for at other airlines (anyone for a £30 TV dinner?).  It’s about having an identified customer segment and providing what they want at a price they want to pay.  Cheap, safe, low cost,  reliable, inexpensive, convenient, cost effective  air travel. 

The second reason is because everyone else seems to hate him – he appeals to an iconoclast and rebellious spirit.   Read some of his quotes some of them are gold dust. He takes on the mean-spirited industry giants and kicks butt.   He is synonymous with his own brand, keeps it in the limelight by force of character rather increasingly deperate media stunts – this BBC interview is typical.  And he hasn’t grown a ridiculous hippy beard yet.  He is what he says he is – someone who runs an airline because he wants to make money. 

The fact that his service policy is a little off beat should be celebrated.  Instead of criticising because he may want to charge people to have ice in their drinks, we should celebrate the fact that he is offering choice and that if you don’t want that particular service you don’t have to pay for it which you do with all other airlines. In fact you don’t have to fly Ryanair at all but some 67 million times last year people decided they wanted to.    He is criticised for driving hard bargains with suppliers – nowadays managers should be criticised for not driving hard bargains.

I am not saying the company is perfect so please don’t post your stories about how your luggage ended up in Uzbekistan or how the check in staff were not as deferential and subservient as you felt service people should be.   

I like him and we need more like him.