Michael O’Leary, the outrageous, colorful and arrogant (and very rich) chief executive of low-budget Irish air carrier Ryanair, is probably the most entertaining businessman in the world.
He's only 51 years old, but it seems like O’Leary has been around forever, sparking outrage and offense with his comments about the airline industry, about passengers and about the world itself.
While O’Leary is clearly a self-promoter who seeks to hog the spotlight as frequently as possible, almost every statement he makes has a kernel of truth at its core, which exacerbates the fury he often elicits.
He also consistently confounds expectations by criticizing and/or insulting the very institutions and individuals that have made him wealthy beyond imagination -- the Sunday Times of London valued his net worth at £355 million (about $573 million), making him the 20th richest person in Ireland.
He is, simultaneously, both infuriating and disarming – there are few, perhaps no, other chief executives who can remotely match his charismatic (and bizarre) personality and behavior.
In his most recent tirade, he claimed that he is “underpaid” and that holidays (i.e, the principal reason people fly on his airline) are a “waste of time.” He even bemoaned his own air carrier’s practice of charging substantial baggage fees (despite the fact that it was essentially he who imposed these levies to make up for the rather cheap fares).
Herewith follows a list of some of O’Leary’s choicest quotes compiled over the years.
*On his value as an executive:
“[I am Europe’s] most underpaid and underappreciated boss. I’m paid about 20 times more than the average employee [at Ryanair], and I think the gap should be wider. I was paid €1.2-million last year for carrying 80 million passengers. [Irish rival] Aer Lingus' boss [Christoph Mueller] got €1.3-million for carrying [only] 9 million passengers.”
*On why he takes holidays, though he considers them a “waste of time.”
“I do it because I have a wife and four children who insist that I have to go away every year otherwise they will be traumatized. Of course, I fly Ryanair, but it costs me a fortune in excess baggage.”
*On Suzy McLeod, the British woman who gained a tremendous amount of media attention and public sympathy after Ryanair charged more than €200 to print five boarding passes from a flight from Spain to UK (since she failed to print them out beforehand).
“As you know, there are no internet cafés in Alicante [Spain], there are no hotels in Alicante that would provide print-outs and no fax machines so that some friend or colleague at home could print them out and fax them down to you… To those who don't [print passes beforehand], we say quite politely: 'Bugger off”
*And yet more on Mrs. McLeod:
“Mother pays £200 for being an idiot and failing to comply with her agreement at the time of booking. We think Mrs. McLeod should pay €60 [just] for being so stupid... Thank you, Mrs. McLeod, but it was your f_ck-up. We're not changing our policy.”
*On obese airline passengers:
"Nobody wants to sit beside a really fat bastard on board. We have been frankly astonished at the number of customers who don't only want to tax fat people but torture them."
*On the merger between national carriers British Airways and Iberia.
“"It reminds me of two drunks leaning on each other."
*On how his underlings celebrate Ryanair’s success.
“I’m here with Howard Miller and Michael Cawley, our two deputy chief executives. But they’re presently making love in the gentleman’s toilets, such is their excitement at today’s results.”
*His view on refunds.
"You're not getting a refund, so f_ck off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?"
*On the rights of customers:
"People say the customer is always right, but you know what - they're not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so."
*On German airline customers:
"[Jurgen] Weber [Lufthansa’s chief executive] says Germans don't like low fares. How the f_ck does he know? He's never offered them any. The Germans will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get them.”
*On British liberals who pretend to be environmentalists:
“The chattering bloody classes, or what I call the liberal Guardian [newspaper] readers, they’re all buying SUVs to drive around London. I smile at these loons who drive their SUVs down to Sainsbury’s [supermarket] and buy kiwi fruit from New Zealand. They’re flown in from New Zealand for Christ sakes. They’re the equivalent of environmental nuclear bombs!”
On environmentalists in general:
“We want to annoy the f_ckers whenever we can. The best thing you can do with environmentalists is shoot them. These head-bangers want to make air travel the preserve of the rich. They are Luddites marching us back to the 18th century. If preserving the environment means stopping poor people flying so the rich can fly, then screw it.”
*On the possibility of charging airline passengers who want to use the toilet:
"One thing we have looked at is maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future. If someone wanted to pay £5 to go to the toilet I would carry them myself. I would wipe their bums for a fiver."
*On the onslaught of commercialism that Ryanair passengers are subjected to during the flight:
"Anyone who thinks Ryanair flights are some sort of bastion of sanctity where you can contemplate your navel is wrong. We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things."
*On the social status of Ryanair’s clientele:
"Do we carry rich people on our flights? Yes, I flew on one this morning and I'm very rich."
*On his image and the nature of the airline industry:
"I don't give a f_ck if no one likes me. I am not a cloud bunny, I am not an aerosexual. I don't like airplanes. I never wanted to be a pilot like those other platoons of goons who populate the airline industry… There’s a lot of big egos in this industry. Most chief executives got into this business because they want to travel for a living. Not me, I want to work.”
*On his political views:
"I think the most influential person in Europe in the last 20 to 30 years has been Margaret Thatcher, who has left a lasting legacy that has driven us towards lower taxes and greater efficiency. Without her we'd all be living in some French bloody unemployed republic."
*On the value of employees:
"MBA students come out with: "My staff is my most important asset." Bullsh_t! Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy [bastard] who needs a kick up the backside, but no one can bring themselves to admit it."
*On the ‘beneficial’ effects on recession:
“We need a recession. We have had 10 years of growth. A recession gets rid of crappy loss-making airlines and it means we can buy aircraft more cheaply.”
*More on his love of recession:
“We would welcome a good, deep, bloody recession for 12 to 18 months. We need one if we are going to see off some of this environmental nonsense that has become so popular among the chattering classes.”
*On what Ryanair's trans-Atlantic flights would be like:
“In economy, no frills; in business class it'll all be free - including the bl_wjobs.”
*On his views on regulators:
“We fight constantly with governments and idiot Brussels bureaucrats who want to put up the cost of air travel, or half-witted environmentalists who can't add two and two.”
“I believe hiring consultants is an abdication by management of their responsibilities. If the consultant is so good at managing change, then why not hire him to run the company and do it himself? Every idiot who gets fired in the industry shows up as a consultant somewhere. I would shoot any consultant who came through my door.”
*On Bertie Ahern, the former prime minister of Ireland:
“We have a Government of lemmings, led by the biggest lemming of all, who is incapable of making a long-term decision.”
*More on Ahern:
“I'm disrespectful towards authority. Like I think the prime minister of Ireland is a gobsh_te [do-nothing babbler].”
*His views on fellow airline executives:
*The problem with the airline business is it is mostly run by a bunch of spineless nincompoops who actually don't want to stand up to the environmentalists and call them the lying wankers that they are.”
*On how he has opened the skies to the poor.
“For years flying has been the preserve of rich f_ckers. Now everyone can afford to fly.”
*On the usefulness of travel agents.
“Screw the travel agents. Take the f_ckers out and shoot them. What have they done for passengers over the years?"
*On the nature of competition.
*There is too much: "we really admire our competitors". All bollocks. Everyone wants to kick the sh_t out of everyone else. We want to beat the crap out of [British Airways]. They mean to kick the crap out of us.”
*On the rise of the Irish in Europe’s economy.
“They don't call us the fighting Irish for nothing. We have been the travel innovators of Europe! We built the roads and laid the rails. Now it's the airlines!.. I'm Irish and we don't have to prove anything. We are God's own children.”
*On what he envisions as the future of the airline industry:
“Free tickets. In a decade or so, airlines will pay travelers to distribute people around Europe. The airline industry is Tesco, is Ikea, is network TV in the way viewers watch for free and advertisers pay for access to them, is the internet in the same way that websites earn money for delivering click-through traffic to other sites.”
*On the ‘majesty’ of flying.
“Air transport is just a glorified bus operation.”
*On his drive to succeed.
“I would have murdered, I would have gone through concrete walls to make money… The meek may inherit the earth, but they will not have it for long.”
*On possibly offering porn movies during flights.
*I'm not talking about having it on screens on the back of seats for everyone to see. It would be on handheld devices. Hotels around the world have it, so why wouldn't we?'
*On upgrading sales of alcohol on a flight:
“If drink sales are falling off we get the pilots to engineer a bit of turbulence. That usually spikes up the drink sales.”
*On the battle between Boeing and Airbus:
“The message to Boeing today is: ‘You keep building them, we’ll keep buying them’, and together both of us will kick the crap out of Airbus in Europe. We love Boeing. F_ck the French.”
*On what his pilots earn:
“People ask how we can have such low fares. I tell them our pilots work for nothing.”
*On why his bride arrived 35 minutes late for their wedding: “She’s coming here with Aer Lingus.”
*On how he has maintained his wealth.
“I buy everything low-cost. I buy cheap shirts. I buy cheap shoes. It’s a philosophy. I’m just cheap.”
On Italy’s Alitalia airline.
“I would not want it if it were given to me as a present.”
*On the value of air marshals:
“Air marshals are a complete waste of time. I can’t think of anything that would reduce security more than having a guy on board with a gun.”
*On global warming and climate change:
“Nobody can argue that there isn't climate change. The climate's been changing since time immemorial… Do I believe there is global warming? No, I believe it's all a load of bullsh_t. But it's amazing the way the whole f_cking eco-warriors and the media have changed. It used to be global warming, but now, when global temperatures haven't risen in the past 12 years, they say 'climate change'.”
*And more on global warming:
“Well, hang on, we've had an ice age. We've also had a couple of very hot spells during the Middle Ages, so nobody can deny climate change. But there's absolutely no link between man-made carbon, which contributes less than 2% of total carbon emissions [and climate change]… Scientists argue there is global warming because they wouldn't get half of the funding they get now if it turns out to be completely bogus”.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.