Michael O'Leary

BSc Chemistry, 1974
Chairman, Ipswich Town Football Club

I manage the board of Ipswich Town Football Club and ensure that the interests of various stakeholders are best promoted. It is both challenging and hugely interesting.

What made you interested in your current role?

I learned how to run businesses in my earlier career and am still Chairman of another company (an AIM listed tech company called DotDigital plc) and applying those same principles to professional sport has always interested me. Being involved in the football industry is challenging and uniquely interesting. It is an industry that commands the passions of so many in this country so in some ways, as a Board, we are guardians of the dreams of many.

How has your career developed over the years?

In four stages. Firstly in the engineering industry, a basic grounding in people management and the importance of cash. Next in the software industry, building a large high growth business from very early stage all the way to flotation and ultimately the FTSE100. Thirdly as a non-executive board member of a number of companies including some really interesting ones like Psion, The Stroud & Swindon Building Society and Huon, and most recently, chairing a professional football club.

What motivates you?

I have always been ultra-competitive and that has been a great driver.

michael o'leary

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

Honestly, my father offered to re-mortgage our home to pay for me to go to Oxford or Cambridge if I got in. The Grammar School I attended was really not set up to support such lofty ambition and I did not get in. After that, dad said he could not afford to send me anywhere other than my local university. Which was Birmingham. I loved my time there and in hindsight think I was very very lucky that things turned out as they did.

What are your fondest memories of the University?

The friends I made at Birmingham, many of whom are spread all over the world. We are still in regular contact. Some have achieved amazing things in their careers but when we meet up, it is as if no time had passed and none of us has changed. The years have not eroded our friendships, nor will they ever.

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?

Pretty much exclusively sport related. The most magical was Mermaids Cricket Club in the 1970s and early 1980s. Sadly, several stalwarts from those years are no longer with us. One such is Zafar Altaf who managed several Pakistan international cricket tours and played first class cricket in Pakistan. He represented Mermaids in the late 1970s and was the most amazing batsman. Mermaids regularly beat the University 1st XI in our annual match in those years

We Are (Third Width)

How did your time at university help you start your career? What was your biggest influence?

I would not have gained my first job (at Boots in Nottingham) without that chemistry degree, though I didn't stay at Boots for very long, moving to work for an engineering business where I learned a huge amount. I worked for an entrepreneur from the Hanson Trust stable and that simply changed the world for me. Man-management, cost control and cash management were easily the most important things I learned in the early years of my career.

What advice would you give to students?

Make the most of your opportunity. Every day is golden. Don't waste any of them. work hard and play hard. Time will fly so so quickly and before you know it, you will be out in the big wide world.

Wise words from Michael

“If you have a vision of something you want to achieve, never give up on it. You can do it. Be positive. Work tirelessly, relentlessly. Go conquer the world.”