Sunday, January 14, 2007

Micheal "Gekko" O'Leary

Michael O’Leary is Chief Executive of Ryanair and the darling of the media.

He earned salary and bonus of €779k in the year ended 31st March 2006 and treats the company like his own plaything, even though he actually owns only 4.53% of the equity. No other board director holds even 1%.

O’Leary is an endless source of quotable quotes and publicity stunts, perhaps most notably driving a tank up to Luton Airport, the main base of Easyjet, his main rival in the low-cost airspace.

He is routinely lauded by the media as Ireland’s most capable and successful businessman - ever. However, to me he seems more like the Gordon Gekko of Irish business, a “greed is good” prophet in real life. His belligerent attitude is clearly more than just a publicity stunt, there’s been ample evidence from a myriad of court cases and employment tribunal hearings that he’s as obnoxious within the company as he is without.

The case that he’s the most capable and successful Irish businessman ever, or even currently, is certainly open to question. Quite apart from the likes of Tony O’Reilly, Michael Smurfit or Denis Brosnan, who developed their businesses and made their millions in far less benign economic times, there are several Chief Executives of Irish companies, who don’t get anything like the profile or credit accorded to O’Leary.

In early/mid 2003, I invested in a portfolio of shares, many of them Irish-owned and managed. The acid test for any investor is how the shares perform, so here’s a little comparison I can make myself.

The table below shows the relative growth in the share prices in the intervening period of almost 4 years. Of the 8 shares listed, Ryanair’s growth has been the least spectacular - by a significant margin. Indeed, in the intervening period, the Ryanair share price was often below the purchase price - it’s main gains have been in the past year. How many people can name the Chief Executives of the other companies, who have all outperformed the high profile O’Leary?

AIB: +106%
CRH : +165%
DCC: +127%
Grafton: +221%
IAWS: +156%
Kenmare: +319%
Kingspan: +1079%
Ryanair: +76%

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