O’Leary and Bellew clashed over performance, court told

Ryanair boss gives evidence in action to prevent executive from joining EasyJet

Outgoing Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew leaves court. Photograph: Collins

Outgoing Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew leaves court. Photograph: Collins

 

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary and outgoing chief operating officer Peter Bellew clashed over the latter’s performance last year, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

The airline’s legal action to prevent Mr Bellew, who is leaving the company, from joining rival EasyJet as chief operating officer next month began before Mr Justice Senan Allen.

Ryanair maintains that Mr Bellew signed an agreement barring him from joining any competing airline for 12 months after leaving the Irish carrier when he was given share options in 2018.

Mr Bellew says the non-compete clause is null and void as he did not participate in this share option scheme.

Clause

The airline’s senior counsel, Martin Hayden, told the court that Mr Bellew was aware of the clause from October 2017, when he agreed to rejoin Ryanair following a two-year stint with Malaysia Air, where he was chief executive.

Ryanair paid Mr Bellew €1.13 million in June this year to compensate him for losing out on its original share option scheme, begun in 2014, when he left the following year to join the far-eastern airline.

In evidence, Mr O’Leary said he was prepared to offer Mr Bellew some of his own share options to lure him back in 2017.

Instead the company gave him the “cash benefit” of the 2014 share option scheme. Mr Bellew’s salary was €550,000 a year with a bonus of up to €500,000.

Mr O’Leary told the court that summer 2018 was difficult for Ryanair. Mr Bellew was meant to focus on punctuality, ground handling, pilot recruitment and an audit of operations by the International Air Transport Association.

“There were problems emerging on a weekly basis with things that he was being charged to do that were not being done,” Mr O’Leary said.

He added that managers who reported to Mr Bellew had approached him instead complaining that the chief operating officer was not making decisions and of things not getting done.

Mr Bellew’s senior counsel, John Rogers, pointed out that his client’s personnel file had no record of these complaints. The lawyer added that Mr Bellew would say that he was was pushed out of his job by Mr O’Leary.

The Ryanair chief executive told the court that he wrote Mr Bellew a memo on November 5th, 2018, describing his performance at that day’s weekly management meeting as unacceptable.

Memo

The court heard that Mr Bellew responded to this memo. Mr O’Leary said that he had not seen this until the document emerged as both sides were preparing for the legal action.

Mr Bellew previously worked for Ryanair from 2006 to 2015, when he left for Air Malaysia. He returned after Mr O’Leary approached him in September 2017 in the Ryanair canteen, where Mr Bellew had been meeting former colleagues at the Irish carrier during a visit to Dublin.

At the time Ryanair was dealing with unrest among pilots following a rostering mix-up that forced it to cancel thousands of flights.

As Mr Bellew had previously been responsible for pilot recruitment, training and rostering, Mr O’Leary said that the airline hoped that rehiring him would allow it avoid having to recognise trade unions.

Mr O’Leary said he was an “ avuncular” character. “He would have been the acceptable face of Ryanair to pilots,” he added.

However, the threat of strikes in December 2017 forced the airline to recognise unions in any case.

O’Leary says Bellew knew of clause in contract: page 3