DURING THE SUMMER, Niall MacCarthy saw a welcome sight – a Norwegian Air Boeing 737 aircraft on Cork Airport’s runway.
The moment was a long time in the making for the Munster hub’s managing director.
The Irish subsidiary of low-cost carrier Norwegian became embroiled in a three-year battle with US airlines and unions over its efforts to launch transatlantic flights from Ireland to America’s east coast.
Seeing Norwegian’s Cork to Boston-Providence flights get off the ground in July has been one of MacCarthy’s highlights of the year – and his career to date.
For the latest installment of our question-and-answer series, the airport boss talks about his personality type, why there’s “no mileage in moaning” and how he helped turn around Cork Airport’s fortunes after seven years of decline.
Here’s what he had to say:
If you weren’t doing your current job, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I’ve moved jobs and careers several times already. I qualified as a chartered accountant and worked in a practice for a few years. Then I moved to a senior role in Dunnes Stores. Now I run an airport.
I have always been open to change and I think you can overplan your future. Sometimes interesting opportunities just arise and provided you have a good foundation, if it is the right challenge for you, I would say go for it.
What do you see as being the biggest challenge for your business?
Airports are expensive to run. This year, we invested €4 million in our business in new fire training facilities, restaurants, extra security screening capacity and other projects.
We get no grants so all of the running costs and capital expenditure are funded from airport and commercial revenues.
The biggest challenge is keeping that growth growing so we run a successful business with adequate resources to fund operating and capital expenditure.
We have turned around Cork Airport as a team after seven years of decline and we’re now back into two years of good growth.
Strategy and people were the key. I took the best of our internal people and headhunted the best of external people and created a new team. We worked together on a business strategy which had five pillars with passenger growth at the centre.
The other pillars were: people, finance, customers and stakeholders.
We set out an action plan under each category with clear targets quarter-by-quarter. It took longer than we expected for the strategy to kick in, but when it did, it proved successful.
We are now planning our business strategy for 2018 to 2021 and the key theme is maintaining and increasing that growth through the difficult Brexit period and diversifying and growing in new markets.
When we are successful, tourism in Munster is successful, so our success is critical to the region.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in aviation?
I would apply this to any industry – you must love your job if you want to be successful and happy. Every job has bad days and maybe bad weeks, but over time, you must work in something you love.
If you don’t, leave and find something you do love. There is no mileage in moaning and being unhappy – do something about it.
What do you do when you’re out of office?
Unsurprisingly, I really love to travel.
My wife Lucie and I have five kids, so they keep us busy at weekends after a hard week’s work. We love to eat out as a family and trying new foods, especially spicy ones.
I adore music and one of my best investments in the last couple of years was a Spotify premium subscription.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I have moved jobs which has involved family and house moves that were not always clear would work out. Thankfully, they did. Moving home and schools is a risk, but one that’s worth taking in my book.
Would you encourage your children to work in your industry?
I really believe that children should find their own interests and passion in life – I want my kids to be happy and healthy above all else. I don’t believe in parents picking careers for their kids.
However, aviation is a great industry, there is never a dull moment. Our industry works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To some extent, with smartphones and iPads, you are never off-duty.
That suits some people and if you can live with that, I would highly recommend aviation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I think the best piece of advice is to know yourself, know your strengths and your weaknesses, and how that relates to others.
In psychology, there are basically four personality types. Know which one you are and what that means about you in the context of your job and life. It affects you every day, whether you know it or not.
I’m a ‘D’ – for ‘dominance’ – in the DISC personality profiling model. That means I’m driven on the one hand but impatient on the other.
I have different personality types on my team. Knowing what motivates and annoys people helps in team dynamics.
What bad work habit have you had to kick?
As I said, I am impatient and demanding which can come across as tough and brash. Kicking that habit is a ‘work in progress’.
If you were stranded on a desert island with just one thing, what would you want it to be?
Apart from my wife and kids, probably my iPhone.
What has been your proudest moment at Cork Airport?
Without a shadow of doubt, seeing the first ever scheduled transatlantic service taking off this summer after 55 years of waiting.
It opens up a new chapter for the airport and is already a great boost and opportunity for tourism in the region.