Ryanair chairman weakened but remains in post

Ryanair chairman David Bonderman has been re-elected at the company’s annual general meeting, although his position at the company looks increasingly untenable.

Today (20 September) Mr Bonderman faced his most contested election as chairman of Ryanair, with 29.5% of shareholders either voting against him or abstaining compared to 12.5% in 2017. Based on these results Mr Bonderman is now the least popular ISEQ20 chair, even ahead of Martin Keane of Glanbia, in terms of shareholder opposition to his re-election. The level of opposition to Mr Bonderman was over 10 times higher than for the average Irish company director in 2018.

Earlier this month, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) wrote to Ryanair shareholders asking them to vote against Mr Bonderman’s re-election as chairman. ITF and ETF were joined by the shareholder advisory firms Glass Lewis, ISS and PIRC, all of whom have serious concerns about Ryanair’s corporate governance model.

Subsequently, major institutional investors including the UK’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) and California’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) announced they were voting against Mr Bonderman’s re-election.

Although Mr Bonderman secured enough votes to remain on the board, his position looks increasingly untenable. After 22 years as chairman there is no semblance of independent challenge at boardroom level, a problem highlighted by widespread media coverage in the lead-up to the AGM.

Ryanair’s decision to ban media from this year’s AGM further demonstrates the atmosphere of uncertainty now surrounding the current leadership. At the company’s most controversial AGM in years it has again delayed tackling any of the fundamental problems affecting its business model.

Meanwhile, the demands of Ryanair workers – such as pay for all hours worked and an end to long-term agency employment – continue to go unaddressed. Cabin crew in five countries have set their next day of industrial action for Friday 28 September as the company continues to drag its feet on concrete changes.

Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, said: “Mr Bonderman may still be in post but his credibility as chairman is hanging precariously. You cannot continue with ‘business as usual’ after enduring such public criticism of your leadership.”

“More importantly, Ryanair has again dodged the opportunity to overturn its corporate governance model. It is hard to see how the company can move onto stable footing with an unaccountable management facing no independent challenge at boardroom level.”

Eduardo Chagas, ETF General Secretary, said: “Mr Bonderman’s return to the Ryanair boardroom does not augur well for the company’s industrial relations. We were all waiting for a signal that the company was willing to change direction. That signal has not come.”

“Just last week, Ryanair responded to the creation of a new union for Polish cabin crew by trying to shut it down and force its workers into self-employment. These are not the actions of a mature company, and responsibility ultimately lies with the senior leadership.”

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