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Can Ryanair Change its Corporate Culture with the Same Leadership?

Jim Riley

23rd September 2013

 Could Ryanair be about to make a concerted effort to change its organisational culture? Can the low-cost airline soften its corporate image and improve its customer service performance at the same time

That appears to be the plan following comments made by Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's controversial Founder and CEO, at the recent Ryanair AGM.

O'Leary faced tough criticism from shareholders at the AGM about Ryanair's "macho" management culture and poor track record with customer relations.

While Ryanair's obsessive focus on cost-cutting has enabled it to become one of the world's largest airlines, flying more scheduled international passengers in 2012 than any other airline, shareholders complained that the company's reputation for poor customer service was limiting its room for growth.

It is not just some vocal shareholders who are unhappy. Ryanair was recently voted worst of the 100 biggest brands in the UK market in terms of customer relations by readers of consumer magazine Which.

Ryanair and O'Leary were quick to respond to that survey in pretty typical fashion, denouncing the Which Report in the following terms:

'A useless survey of 3,300 people, including their pet hamsters, gerbils and goldfish'. Who knew gerbils had an opinion on cheap flights? 'We surveyed over 3m passengers on the Ryanair website last night – only two of them had ever heard of Which and none of them had ever bought it or read it.'

O'Leary seems to accept that much of the perceived organisational culture at Ryanair is linked to his own personal style and public reputation.

"I am very happy to take the blame or responsibility if we have a macho or abrupt culture. Some of that may well be my own personal character deformities," he is reported to have admitted at the AGM.

As a first step, it will set up a new team to respond to complaint emails and revamp its website to make it more user-friendly.

But the process of organisational culture change is not easy and it is particularly difficult to do quickly and where the culture has been formed in the "shadow of the leader". Successful organisational culture change starts at the top. So can Ryanair really change whilst it is led, so successfully, by O'Leary?

Jim Riley

Jim co-founded tutor2u alongside his twin brother Geoff! Jim is a well-known Business writer and presenter as well as being one of the UK's leading educational technology entrepreneurs.

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