Michael O' Leary

(20/03/1961)

Michael Kevin O’Leary, born on March 20, 1961, in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland, is a man of many talents and ambitions. Before his meteoric rise in the aviation industry, O’Leary made his mark as a shrewd entrepreneur in the world of retail. His journey into business began with a simple ambition: to make money. Rejecting the conventional path of corporate employment, O’Leary ventured into entrepreneurship, starting with the acquisition of a newsagent in Walkinstown and opened another near the Ashleaf shopping center is now.

“Those days, there were only two ways of making money: retail or drink,” recalls O’Leary. “I didn’t have the money to buy a pub, so I bought a newsagent.”

With determination and a £25,000 overdraft secured from the AIB bank, O’Leary transformed the struggling newsagent into a profitable venture. The shop, located at Kestrel Corner on the Walkinstown roundabout in Dublin, became the cornerstone of his budding business empire. O’Leary’s strategy was simple yet effective: “Treble the turnover, treble your money.”

“We opened at seven in the morning and closed at eleven at night,” O’Leary explains. “I’d buy up old newsagents, extend the hours, and bang up the turnover.”

During his first Christmas as a shop owner, O’Leary demonstrated his knack for supply and demand. “We decided we’d open on Christmas Day,” he recounts. “We stocked up on an unbelievable quantity of batteries and big boxes of chocolates. By lunchtime, we had been cleaned out. It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

“Being a greedy little bugger like I was at the time, we decided to open on Christmas Day,” O’Leary chuckles. “We doubled the price of the batteries because I thought somebody’s always stuck for batteries on Christmas Day. We doubled up on the batteries and stocked up on chocolates.”

By lunchtime on Christmas Day, the shop had sold out of batteries, chocolates, and cigarettes. “Turnover went up by about fivefold,” O’Leary recalls. “It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

Despite the gruelling hours and challenges of running multiple shops, O’Leary remained undeterred. “I was much more like Del Boy than Dev in Coronation Street,” he jokes. “It wasn’t very glorious, but I loved it.”

O’Leary’s entrepreneurial journey took a pivotal turn when he decided to explore opportunities beyond the retail sector. Encouraged by his success in the newsagent business, he ventured into property investment and eventually joined Ryanair as a financial advisor in 1988.

“Ryan approached me and wanted me to work for him,” O’Leary recalls. “But at that stage, I’d already bought the newsagent. I didn’t want to work for another big company.”

Rising through the ranks, O’Leary eventually assumed the role of CEO of Ryanair in 1994. Under his leadership, the airline revolutionised the industry with its low-cost, no-frills model, democratising air travel across Europe and beyond.

Today, Michael O’Leary stands as a towering figure in the aviation world, renowned for his bold strategies, unapologetic demeanour, and relentless pursuit of excellence. From humble beginnings as a newsagent owner to the helm of one of the world’s largest airlines, O’Leary’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of entrepreneurship and ambition. His legacy as a visionary leader and trailblazer in the aviation industry will continue to inspire generations to come.

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Connection with area: Irish air businessman who ran two newsagents in Walkinstown and Crumlin