On February 2 in the year 1936, one of the entrepreneurs who found wealth in the aviation industry was born in Tipperary, Ireland. His name was Thomas Anthony Ryan, the co-founder of aircraft-leasing Guinness Peat Aviation and Ryanair, one of the largest budget airlines in the world.
Tony Ryan was the son of a locomotive driver. Because of his father’s death when he was 18 years old, he stopped going to school and went to work instead to support his mother and younger siblings. In 1956, he found work at Aer Lingus, the national airline of Ireland. He rose from the ranks to become a manager by the time he left the company in 1975.
Tony started Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) in 1976 as an aircraft leasing company. It was a very successful endeavor in its first decade of operation which provided Tony with the necessary capital to start Ryanair in 1985. To create credibility, he recruited high-profile individuals such as ex-British chancellor Nigel Lawson and Irish politician Peter Sutherland to join the board of directors. GPA however collapsed in the 1990s as it encountered financial difficulties.
At the beginning, Ryanair was envisioned to challenge the existing duopoly of British Airways and Aer Lingus on the Dublin-London route by offering low-cost air travel. In its first year, it had only one 15-seat turboprop leased aircraft and 25 employees but was able to carry 5,000 customers. By the year 2000, its number of passengers rose to over 7 million and by 2007, it registered its 50th million passenger.
Tony Ryan died of pancreatic cancer in 2007 at the age of 71. He had three children with estranged wife Mairead. At the time of his death, he was able to amass a personal fortune of $2 billion. In 2019, Ryanair had revenues of $8.9 billion and a market capitalization of $11.3 billion, according to forbes.com.