After 30 years in charge of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary says “ideally” a woman would replace him as chief executive at the helm of Europe’s biggest budget airline.
Ryanair is overhauling its structure, with Mr O’Leary becoming group CEO – overseeing the main Ryanair airline, its Austrian subsidiary Laudamotion and a Polish operation known as Ryanair Sun.
The move creates a vacancy as chief executive of the airline itself. The controversy airline boss said: “If I had a choice, I’d have a female.
“That would be a very significant break with the past in Ryanair. It’s been run by me for the past 30 years.
“I would want someone who has the opposite of my limited skill set. Someone female, empathetic, caring, kind, as opposed to a rapacious bastard like me.”
Mr O’Leary accepted, though, that he is likely to be succeeded by a senior executive already working for Ryanair.
“On balance it’s likely to be an internal candidate because they understand the business.”
The only female contender is Carol Sharkey, who has been with Ryanair since 1995 and was appointed as chief risk officer in May 2018.
The leading male candidate is believed to be Peter Bellew, chief operating officer since 2017. He was running Malaysia Airlines until he returned to Ryanair’s Dublin HQ to sort out the debacle of pilot rostering.
But there are three other strong contenders: chief financial officer Neil Sorahan, chief commercial officer David O’Brien and chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs.
Mr O’Leary spelled out the timetable for the appointment of his successor: “We’ll do the full year results in May. We’ll run the ads at that stage. We’ll recruit sometime between September and October and have them in place by the end of the year.”
The chief executive also lamented that so few women were serving as pilots, saying: “Women tend to be more intelligent and more sensible.”
But, he said: “We do recruitment days for pilots, it’s 90 per cent male 10 per cent female.
“It’s a great career with someone with a family. You do five [days] on, four off. You’re limited to 900 hours a year, that’s 18 hours a week. And you get paid £200,000 a year.”
But the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), Brian Strutton, said he did not recognise these assertions. “It is indeed true that pilots are limited to 900 hours a year, but I’d be interested to see Mr O’Leary’s evidence that those hours are distributed evenly to 18 hours per week.
“In many airlines, including Ryanair, these hours are often bunched together over the busy summer months, leading to high levels of fatigue.
“We’d also be keen to see evidence of how many of Ryanair’s employees (excluding Mr O’Leary and his €100m pay packet) are earning £200,000 a year.
“As for the piloting profession being family friendly, shifting shift work, long hours and nights away can be disruptive to family life.
“BALPA has also recently launched a maternity pay campaign, which shines a light on the dire maternity provision in airlines.”
The association says many airlines, including Ryanair, offer only the statutory minimum pay, which can result in a cut of up to 90 per cent for female pilots.