Case Study Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic

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Case Study Coursework


Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair
This case examines two organisations that have many similarities as well as a number of significant differences. The essential technology and systems behind each organisation may be very similar, but the nature and style of management and its consequent impact on the way people working in these organisations think, feel and behave have created very different organisational cultures. So what are the similarities and what are the differences? The most obvious similarity is that both Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair operate in the UK passenger air transport industry. Both are relatively recent creations and might be seen as new entrants to the sector: Virgin's air transport business was founded by Richard Branson in 1984 and Michael O'Leary took over as Chief Executive at Ryanair, a small Irish airline which had been founded as Guinness Peat Aviation in 1985 (Creation, 2004). Both started life in competition with major national flag carrier airlines (British Airways and Aer Lingus respectively) and grew to be major challengers to these established companies. As they grew, their scale of operations brought them into competition with a much larger number and range of airlines operating from the UK: Branson's Virgin Atlantic competes with some major US and other intercontinental companies such as American Airlines and United Airlines; O'Leary competes with the likes of Flybe and EasyJet in the short-haul market. Both Branson, who was born in 1950, and O'Leary, who is ten years younger, are individuals with strong and distinctive personalities, who have a relentless appetite for media presence and who make extensive use of themselves in their frequent marketing communications. They engage in advertising stunts, readily appear on the news media in relation to stories about the industry, and their faces and personalities are easily associated with their companies.

Charting different courses There are, however, some major differences. First, they differ in their choice of markets. Virgin's air transport business originated in the long-haul, mainly transatlantic market which might be highly profitable but is also extremely competitive. As the business grew, offshoots were founded as independent companies; for instance, Virgin Blue in Australia and Virgin Express which has its hub in Brussels and serves European destinations outside the UK and does not compete directly with Ryanair. Ryanair started as a short-haul carrier and has remained so, focusing on European destinations from a small number of airports in the UK and Eire. The two companies' competitive positioning is also very different. Ryanair is well known as 'The Low Cost Airline'; the first thing that hits you in its publicity material is the price and this is very clearly the core of its business strategy (Ryanair website). The 'no frills' approach means just that: even the in-flight food is limited to sandwiches and costs extra. Virgin, by contrast, attracts passengers by offering a superior experience and is firmly positioned at the quality end of the market: Publicity material emphasises style and comfort, and there is a range of in 1/4

Case Study Coursework


flight extras which, even at the economy end of the price range, includes in-flight food and drinks and packs of 'amenities' such as flight socks, eye shades and lip balm. As was noted, both men love publicity stunts and often use humour in their public communications. Branson is usually smiling and in poses which indicate fun and a desire to show close links with his staff and popularity with employees, customers and the public in general. O'Leary is much more likely to be acerbic, critical and uses what might euphemistically be called 'colourful' language in his public statements. He seems to care little about public opinion of him as an individual and has...
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