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Michael O' Leary, CEO of Ryanair

Ryanair CEO discovers “being nice” is actually a winning strategy

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With prices this cheap, shut the f*** up,” has long been the mantra that has kept European budget-airline Ryanair in business.

It’s a rare business that disagrees with the universally believed “the customer is always right” philosophy, but CEO Michael O’Leary hasn’t exactly been your regular boss.

The famously outspoken CEO has been criticised for being blunt and rude numerous times in the past decade.

For example, this letter as part of a marketing campaign, reinforcing the airline’s one-bag policy in response to complaints, in which he stated: “Next time you fly with us, we’ll make sure to leave extra room for your important bags in the Important Compartment, as well as a seat in the Important Chair, which is the most coveted and most important chair available on our airline.”

The company has also always been unapologetic for its tough stance on consumers, justifying it with low fares and on-time flights.

“Our customer service used to be fairly narrowly defined as the lowest fares, an on-time flight and we didn’t lose your bag. But if it was anything more than that we would tell you politely to go away,” The Guardian quoted him saying.

As a result, it has been voted the worst airline (many times), and the worst brand for customer satisfaction.

But in the past year, Ryanair seems to have changed its tune. It’s becoming “nice”.

Yep, O’Leary may have joined the party a little late, but he’s realised the best way to boost profits might be to be nice and show strong, genuine leadership that doesn’t offend and alienate his customers and employees.

He said he’s decided to stop “unnecessarily pissing people off,” which, funnily enough, has helped the company boost its traffic as well as net profit in the half-year results at September 2014.

“If I had known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I would have started many years ago,” he told The Guardian.

“We’re listening to you. We’re responding to your needs, God help me. The Robin Hood f****** stuff does need to change. We need to move away from making noise and actually start communicating with people.”

The Ryanair website, which many bloggers previously cited as hard-to-use and designed to hide contact numbers, has also been improved, making it easier to locate and book low fares.

It’s a long way to come from the “what part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?” guy to the O’Leary presented today, and it will be interesting to see how this new and improved “nice guy” thing will work out for the airline.

Image: Ryanair website

Leverage on technology to improve your HR operations and process at HR Tech Interactive. Happening in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in August.
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