Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary may leave within five years

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Michael and Anita O’Leary with one of their horses, Balko Des Flos

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has signalled that he may stand down in the next five years after admitting he is reluctant to sign a new long-term contract at the airline.

Mr O’Leary said the board wants him to commit to another five years after his current deal expires in 2019.

But the 57 year-old said: “I’m not sure Mrs O’Leary would be happy.”

Instead he is discussing a two or three-year deal followed by a rolling 12-month contract.

Mr O’Leary, who has been chief executive for 24 years, said: “I’m not sure whether I want to sign up to another five years, that would take me up to 62.”

He was answering questions at a fractious annual general meeting (AGM) in Dublin on Thursday where a third of shareholders voted against the re-election of Ryanair’s chairman David Bonderman.

Ryanair has had a troubled year marked with strike action by pilots, resulting in hundreds of flights being cancelled.

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Royal London Asset Management and the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) voted against Mr Bonderman, who has been Ryanair’s chairman for 22 years.

Ian Greenwood, chairman of the LAPFF, said: “Ryanair should recruit an independent chairman who will strengthen the board to provide greater oversight and challenge to Mr O’Leary.”

The UK Corporate Governance Code also recommends that in order to ensure independence, a chairman or director should not remain in the post for more than nine years.

On notice

Aberdeen Standard Investments, which holds a 0.9% stake in Ryanair, said it had “thought long and hard” before deciding to vote in favour of Mr Bonderman’s re-election as well as the re-appointment of senior independent director Kyran McLaughlin, who has been on the board for 17 years.

However, Aberdeen Standard put Ryanair on notice to put in place a succession plan to replace the two. If it does not, investment director Alison Kennedy said she would vote against Mr Bonderman, Mr McLaughlin and the rest of the nomination committee at next year’s AGM.

Mr O’Leary defended his chairman, saying: “Whoever we replace him with would not carry his stature within the aviation industry.”

He added that there was a clear succession plan for members of the board and all the company’s managers.

But Ms Kennedy said: “Given the challenges the company faces, for example in union and labour relations, it is clear that governance needs to evolve.”

Mr Greenwood of the LAPFF, said: “We hope Mr Bonderman and the board will heed the message shareholders have sent today and announce plans for him to step down.”