Maybe it’s not that outrageous

Last October we posted about Ryanair as an example of focus and lean thinking. Today we have more to say about this interesting business. Their CEO, Michael O’Leary, does seem to like publicity at least as much as his counterpart at Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson. That notwithstanding, we are impressed by Mr. O’Leary’s relentless questioning of standard operating procedures in his industry that don’t seem to add value for his customers.

The lesson we re-learn from him is to question everything. He asks why planes need two pilots, when it only takes one to fly the plane? The answer, of course, is safety. His response is essentially no problem, we’ll teach at least one member of the cabin crew how to land the plane in an emergency. Outrageous? Maybe not. How many times per year does a pilot experience an emergency which keeps him/her from flying the plane such that the co-pilot needs to take over? What is the nature of those emergencies and is Mr. O’Leary’s suggestion viable?

He’s also famous for suggesting pay toilets on the airplane and possibly a standing only airplane. Radical ideas indeed, but in an industry where the last business model innovation was Southwest Airlines, some shaking up is a good thing. Obviously, he is not catering to everyone (thus his focus), and he is constantly questioning norms. Which may explain why he flies more people in Europe than any other airline and makes money doing it. His peers may think him “nuts,” but the last person to be called that in the airline industry was Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines. And we see how that turned out.

What are you doing to reconsider the norms in your industry?


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2 Responses to Maybe it’s not that outrageous

  1. B2Blog says:

    We had two salespeople covering each territory, but recently split it so the ‘inside guys’ can focus by product line. There was a lot of value in the redundancy of having two people. I heard this Ryanair story before and my first reaction was not that they co-pilot was a redundant safety, but a measure of quality. Double-checking, keeping each other alert, having someone to discuss decisions with.

    Of course we were recently pitched on software where SIX people (and one on speaker phone) were there. Someone should have cut that group in half.

  2. Ed Oakley says:

    I would be surprised if Mr. O’Leary is a pilot. If he were, he would realize that there is a lot more to flying a sophisticated aircraft than just “flying the plane.” As a pilot of a small plane, for example, I would not consider flying in instrument conditions without an autopilot. That’s my second pilot, and it can be very challenging even with it. These guys often fly in challenging situations.

    True, these planes have autopilots, but there is so much more to manage on them, and things happen much faster at those jet speeds – several times faster than my Cessna Turbo Centurian. They need multiple pilots!

    I wouldn’t fly with them knowing there was only one pilot.

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