Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Class Act

If there is any one company in Europe which creates more heat and steam than The Flying Scotsman at full pelt, it is Ryanair. Indeed, the Mamba-strength venom reserved for this airline seems to have been eclipsed recently only by that for BP.

So today Ryanair's reputation took another punch up the bracket when the airline's searingly obnoxious CEO Michael O'Leary apologised "unreservedly" to easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou for running ads depicting him as Pinocchio.

Ryanair compounded its attack on easyJet by fibbing about the British rival's timekeeping. When Sir Stelios protested, Ryanair ran more ads, suggesting the issue be settled by a bout of sumo wrestling and, classily, branding Stelios a "chicken."

Whether or not this was personally instigated, or personally executed by O'Leary is not known. What is known is that O'Leary consistently challenges the notion of corporate reputation management. Indeed, he has turned 'anti-reputation' into an art form - even prompting a book, Plane Speaking: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael O'Leary, to compile his indifference towards reputation.

All this flies in the face of modern corporate wisdom, especially the belief, expressed by American industrialist Warren Buffet that: "It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." Think of what has happened this year to Toyota and BP.

Ryanair, of course, cannot be compared to Toyota or BP: the only disaster, or perceived disaster, Ryanair can own up to is that their jumped-up CEO revels in controversy and, into the bargain, gets the attention he so obviously craves. And the business: in the year to June, Ryanair increased its profits by 204%, coining in an eye-popping Eur 319 million (even without charging a quid for an in-flight pee).

Back on the ground, Ryanair polarises opinion: it has plenty of detractors - indeed a huge community of websites, blogs and Twitter campaigns has emerged to vent about the airline. But for all those who consider them price-gouging crooks, there are those who are pretty pleased with an airline that will ship them from A-to-B on the cheap.

Well I say A-to-B, but B is rarely where you actually need to be: if you fly Ryanair to Brussels you actually land at Charleroi, which is closer to Paris than the Belgian capital. Eindhoven in the Netherlands is even positioned by Ryanair as convenient for Amsterdam. Trust me, it isn't. Which means that "Europe's Greenest airline", as Ryanair likes to call itself, really isn't. You still need a car or a bus to reach further away destinations or departure points. The difference is, it's your car and your carbon emissions, not the airline's, all of which looks good for the corporate sustainability rating of the airline.

It's true you get what you pay for with Ryanair. What's also true is that if you don't like them you know what you can do. And I'm sure Michael O'Leary has one or two suggestions...

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