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Outgoing Ryanair COO felt like 'dead man walking' - court hears

By Conor Humphries
FILE PHOTO: Peter Bellew, former COO of Ryanair leaves the Four Courts in Dublin

By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair's outgoing chief operations officer Peter Bellew considered himself a "dead man walking" after a March performance review and resigned after being ordered to work at the airline's Austrian business, he said on Thursday.

Bellew was speaking in court during a case brought by Ryanair <RYA.I> to delay him joining rival easyJet <EZJ.L> for 12 months until 2021. Ryanair has said Bellew possesses information of competitive value covered by a non-compete clause.

Former Malaysia Airlines boss Bellew denies he is subject to the clause and plans to start working with the British airline at the start of next year after working out a six-month notice period.

The court hearings, which have gone on for longer than the four days initially expected, have included assessments of Bellew's performance and an accusation, rejected by Chief Executive Michael O'Leary, that Bellew was bullied.

Bellew, who was being questioned by his own counsel and Ryanair's, said "shouting and screaming" by O'Leary during weekly management meetings indicated that O'Leary was not entirely happy with his performance.

But Bellew said he was "absolutely shocked and devastated" when O'Leary at a March 2019 annual performance review said that his position as Chief Operations Officer would be reviewed after 12 months unless his performance significantly improved.

Bellew told the court that he understood that to mean he was a "dead man walking."

"I know Michael O'Leary very well and I know when he writes something like that, that's what he means," Bellew told the court. O'Leary last week denied he was trying to force Bellew out, saying if he wanted him out he would have removed him.

Bellew told the court he did not make a final decision to leave the company for several months, assuming that what he described as dramatic improvements in operations due to changes he had undertaken in ground operations, pilot numbers and engineering would be noticed.

He finally decided to leave in July after he had been made an offer by easyJet.

The final straw was when O'Leary took Bellew into his office and told him he wanted him to spend six months addressing issues at Austrian subsidiary Lauadamotion in Vienna, where he has spent much of the past six months.

Bellew said he was devastated that he felt he had to leave as he had planned to stay at Ryanair until retirement.

Bellew told the court that he felt the 2018 share option scheme, which contains the non-compete clause Ryanair is trying to enforce, was obsolete as deterioration in company performance and share price meant it was unlikely to vest.

Most other senior executives were offered a replacement scheme in 2019, but Ryanair says the 2018 scheme is still operable.

Bellew said information he had regarding how Ryanair operates would be of limited use to easyJet as Ryanair operates in a "unique way" and discloses its costs publicly in its annual accounts.


(Reporting by Conor Humphries. Editing by Jane Merriman)