Approaches – How we deal with challenges defines who we are


By James Houlihan, September 2011

With the recent 10th anniversary of 9/11, I recalled a conversation from a journey on the railroad to Farmingdale last year with a couple of fellow passengers and how they mentioned that “they must book their flights with Ryanair for their forthcoming vacation in Europe”. This is not a particularly remarkable or memorable statement but allow me to explain why it struck me as particularly interesting.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the airline industry was facing its most significant challenge up to that point in time. One company took an alternate approach to the crisis and used the events as part of their growth strategy – all this despite the slump in passenger numbers.  In late 2001, Ryanair (the “Southwest” of Europe) signed a deal with Boeing for the delivery of approx 150 aircraft (at a significantly reduced cost) commencing in 2002. Given the events of previous few months you would be forgiven for thinking this was madness (but not if you know Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair). The strategy has been a massive success with passenger numbers climbing from 9m in 2001 to 74m in 2010 and Ryanair had the aircraft to accommodate those passengers at nearly half the price they would otherwise have paid.

We are all faced with various challenges in our professions. One of the important factors is how we navigate towards and implement a solution. The perspective we adopt is always within our reach and ultimately influences the outcome (albeit there are some uncontrollable factors). Had Ryanair accepted the slump and narrowed its focus, one could be
fairly certain it would not be the success it is today – one of the few profitable airlines in the world with over $5 billion cash on its books.

Even the challenges we are faced with in our professional lives can be very much overshadowed by events in our private lives.  When facing challenges, it is our perspective and our approach to the situation that defines who we are.