Ryanair Holdings Plc (RYA)’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer Howard Millar said he’s leaving Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier after more than 22 years because CEO Michael O’Leary shows no signs of handing over the reins.
Millar, who is also Ryanair’s chief financial officer, will exit in December, to be replaced as CFO by his deputy Neil Sorahan, the Dublin-based carrier said in a statement today.
“I’m in a situation where the chief executive is the same age as me, and I don’t think he’s going anywhere soon,” Millar, who like O’Leary is 53, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to look back in five or six years’ time and say, ‘Maybe I should have looked to do something else.’”
Joining as financial controller in 1992, Millar was made finance director in 1993 and took on his current dual role a decade later, helping to guide Ryanair through key financial developments including an initial public offering in 1997 and a 850 million-euro ($1.2 billion) bond issue. As O’Leary’s right-hand man he provided a foil to the often outspoken CEO.
O’Leary, who was deputy CEO when Millar joined before moving to the top job in 1994, “was surprised, but he understands,” Millar said, adding that he will now target “another senior role” and aspires to becoming a CEO, though has nothing line up as yet.
“You always want to test yourself, can you do the job yourself,” he said. “It’s part of a natural progression.”
O’Leary said in Ryanair’s statement that his colleague “has been a pioneer in the development of low-fare air travel,” especially in the areas of aircraft financing, commodity risk, fuel management and information technology.
Whenever questioned on his future, the CEO once routinely said that he’d step down “soon,” and also suggested that he’d have less of a role in projecting the brand after a makeover aimed at appealing more to business travelers and families.
At the same time, O’Leary has said he’d like to see through an end-game in the transformation of European short-haul travel, which he predicts will leave just Ryanair and a few other players standing. He has also spoken about leading the introduction of low-cost flights to the U.S.
Chairman David Bonderman said in the release that Millar has agreed to become a non-executive director in mid-2015.
Sorahan’s appointment is effective from Oct. 1, Ryanair said, though he won’t take over from Millar until the end of the year. He joined from building materials supplier CRH Plc (CRH) as treasurer in 2003 and has been finance director since 2006.
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