Ryanair Chairman Faces Two-Pronged Bid to Unseat Him
(Bloomberg) -- Ryanair Holdings Plc’s chairman of more than two decades, U.S. billionaire David Bonderman, is facing increasing opposition to his re-election at the Irish discount carrier’s annual meeting later this month.
The ITF and ETF international labor groups and investor-advisory service Glass Lewis are separately lobbying against the reappointment of Bonderman, a long-time ally of Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary who has led the Ryanair board since 1996.
Dublin-based Ryanair told Bloomberg that investors appreciate the American’s contribution and will back his reappointment at the Sept. 20 gathering.
Efforts to displace the founder of private-equity titan TPG Capital have emerged following a 12-month labor crisis at Ryanair. A scheduling foul up gave staff increased bargaining power, compelling the airline to accept unions and sparking a spate of strikes that have squeezed earnings and seem set to push up costs as it’s forced to renegotiate contracts.
The two labor groups said that Bonderman, 75, has presided over a corporate culture “which for two decades was virulently anti-union,” adding that if Ryanair is serious about engaging with workers and unions, “the time has come for fresh leadership.”
Glass Lewis on Aug. 23 recommended that shareholders unseat the chairman because of the choice of Kyran McLaughlin as senior independent director, when he is also deputy chair of Davy Stockbrokers, a firm that acts as a major adviser to Ryanair. It also opposes the re-election of former Ryanair finance chief Howard Millar as a member of the company’s remuneration committee, saying the body should consist solely of independent directors.
Ryanair said its shareholders “appreciate how fortunate we are to have an outstanding chairman like David Bonderman guide the board and the airline.” It predicted that all resolutions will be a carried by a large majority at the annual meeting, as in previous years.
O’Leary said separately in Poland on Wednesday that unionization will impact expenses, “but not by much,” and that the negotiation process is going “reasonably well.” He added that the carrier’s advantage over Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Eastern Europe’s biggest low-cost airline, is not in labor costs.
Ryanair’s efforts to appease staff also received a boost after its Irish pilots -- who spearheaded the original dispute -- unanimously backed a deal brokered by union chiefs. The Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association said that while relations have been strained, it’s now committed to a constructive relationship.
The carrier signed its first-ever union contract last month when it granted Italian pilots perks such as severance pay, parental leave and contributions to national health care and social-security funds. Negotiations with flight attendants and aviators across the rest of its network are ongoing.
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