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Category winner: Ryanair: Flying too Close to the Sun?

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This case won the Strategy and General Management category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2021. #CaseAwards2021

In conversation with... Ciaran Heavey and Dorota Piaskowska

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic we were sadly unable to visit Ciaran and Dorota to present their awards in person.

However, they joined our Director, Richard McCracken, from Ireland to discuss their winning case.

The full conversation can be watched on the right, or each section can be viewed separately below:

The case

Michael O LearyWho – the protagonist

Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair.


Ryanair is Europe’s largest, cheapest and most profitable airline. It was founded in 1985 in Dublin and initially provided flights between Ireland and the UK.


Between 2013 and 2018 Ryanair successfully planned and delivered a strategic turnaround, cementing its position as Europe’s number one airline. Its “Always Getting Better” programme introduced a host of changes to improve customer experience from online booking, to smoother travel and related services. This helped Ryanair digitally transform towards a travel platform.

Initially, passengers and profits grew as the airline expanded into new routes and services but, by 2017, it faced new challenges. Mishandling of pilot holiday rostering, frequent inabilities to conclude labour agreements, and the UK's withdrawal from the EU was starting to affect customer perception and its profits.

Dublin HQWhere?

Ryanair’s headquarters are in Dublin, Ireland but it operates bases in over 40 countries across Europe and North Africa.


This case explores Ryanair’s growth and challenges in the period 2013 to 2018 following the launch of its “Always Getting Better” programme.

Key quote

“We want to become the Amazon.com of travel in Europe” – Michael O’Leary.

What next?

ryanairEarly in 2019, Ryanair announced a decrease in profits, putting its reputation as Europe’s most profitable airline in jeopardy. Challenges faced over the last two years had damaged customer satisfaction and their brand image, leaving O’Leary and the management team wondering, will they ever achieve their target of flying 200 million passengers by 2024?

Instructor viewpoint

Discover how this case works in the classroom.

Oliver W. Olson“When using a case in my Global Corporate Strategy course at Maastricht School of Management, there are a few key elements that are important: is it current; does it illustrate at least one key tool (5-forces); can it be used as the jumping-off point for other strategy discussion; is it about a brand that most students will recognise; and is it interesting for the students. It can be difficult to find a case that hits all these points, as the Ryanair case does. When I find a case like this, I will keep it in my curriculum as long as possible.”

"Ryanair: Flying Too Close to the Sun? will continue to be an important element of my course for a few years.”

Oliver W. Olson, Senior Lecturer of Marketing and Strategy, Maastricht School of Management.

George Burt

"This case study is contemporary in timing, providing many challenges for students in terms of the company achieving its business goals, whilst recognising the fast-changing nature of the business environment.

“In addition, there is an intriguing challenge for students with the proposed change from the original strategic intent of the low-cost business model to a strategic intent to deepen the relationship with customers to support growth. Students will be challenged to consider the structural, social and reputational implications of this proposed change.

“The case study offers a wide range of challenges for students to consider, and will help them understand such complex issues should they meet them in their own managerial careers.”

George Burt, Professor, University of Stirling. 

Esther Tippman

"This case study is set in an industry that students intuitively understand, so it comes naturally to students to engage with the strategic challenges of Ryanair. It is also a great all-rounder: it is a very versatile case that can be used to cover a range of strategy topics, such as external and internal analysis, business models and organisational transformation. Its modular design enables instructors to easily choose aspects that are most relevant for their course and to do so for different levels, including undergraduate, postgraduate and executive audiences.

"I highly recommend this case to educators.” 

Esther Tippman, Professor of Strategy, Leadership and Change, NUI Galway. 

The authors


Ciaran Heavey and Dorota Piaskowska

This is the first award for authors Ciaran and Dorota, and the fourth for UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

On winning

The authors said: “We are very pleased that so many of our fellow case instructors found the case study suitable for their needs. This recognition certainly motivates us to develop more cases in the future.”

Developing the caseDeveloping the case

They continued: “We developed this case to address a specific learning need among our students, and in light of a gap in the market for a case study showcasing the evolution of a business model and the digital transformation of a firm in a mature industry. The fact that there are few other such cases is probably one of the reasons for its popularity. We also designed the case to be modular so that instructors could use it in ways that best suit their needs. This adds to the versatility of the case.”

Rich story to tell

The authors added: “We thoroughly enjoyed writing this case. There was much publicly available information to work with and a rich story to tell.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge was condensing this richness to a workable total length and choosing which insights and data not to include.”

Student engagementStudent engagement

The authors explained: “Students find this case study relatable as many of them have first-hand experience flying with low-cost airlines.

“We benefited tremendously from the feedback of our undergraduate, graduate, and executive students when developing this case and would like to thank them for being such enthusiastic learners.”

Top tips

They concluded: “Identify a true need in the market, pilot the case on various audiences before writing its final version, and write a teaching note as comprehensive as you would like to get yourself with a case.”

About the authors

Ciaran Heavey is Associate Professor at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.
e ciaran.heavey@ucd.ie

Dorota Piaskowska is tenured Assistant Professor at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.
e dorota.piaskowska@ucd.ie

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case and its teaching note.

Ryanair: Flying Too Close to the Sun
Ref 9B19M057

Spanish language version
Ref 9B19MS057

Teaching note
Ref 8B19M057


View all the 2021 winners