He used to turn up to press conferences in fancy dress and came out with colourful quotes such as: “Germans will crawl b****** naked over broken glass to get low fares.”
But now Michael O’Leary, the controversial chief executive of Ryanair, has been told to be more “presidential” in the way he presents himself in public, as the low cost airline continues its efforts to overhaul its image.
Howard Millar, the airline’s outgoing deputy chief executive and chief financial officer, said Mr O’Leary will try to become more like Carolyn McCall, his opposite number at rival airline easyJet.
“I would see Michael, and he would agree himself, in a more presidential role,” said Mr Millar in an interview with The Daily Telegraph ahead of his departure on December 19.
“A bit like Carolyn McCall. If I see Carolyn McCall interviewed on the BBC…it’s all ‘oh yes, very nice.’ That is because she hasn’t been in the media furore about charging for toilets…all this kind of stuff that has gone on, attacking various other people. Michael has realised that he needs to become more presidential.”
Mr O’Leary is trying to change his image as part of a big push by Ryanair, in the wake of two profit warnings last year, to been seen as a more customer-friendly airline.
Mr Millar has been at Ryanair for 23 years and is one member of a powerful trio, also including Mr O’Leary and Michael Cawley, the carrier’s former chief operating officer, who have transformed the Irish airline over the last two decades.
However, relations between the three have not always been smooth, Mr Millar admitted.
“Did we have roaring shouting matches? Yes we did. In fairness to Michael [O’Leary] he will listen, he will take note but you had better be sure of your argument because he will push you to the edge of your chair,” Mr Millar, who will next year join Ryanair’s board, said.
“You have to have that in a company…[otherwise] it becomes the cult of the CEO and none of the management will challenge him.”