Stansted airport boss Ken O’Toole reveals how he came to work in the aviation sector…
Ken O’toole is the Chief Executive at Stansted Airport, which is the fourth biggest airport in the UK. In this article, he shares practical secrets of his success. We wish you can learn from his story and redirect your efforts towards achieving your goals.
What’s your role?
Stansted is the UK’s fourth-biggest airport, with 26 million passengers through its doors every year. As chief executive, I take overall responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the airport and for its future development.
At present, 12,000 people work at Stansted but we expect that will grow to 18,000 as we look to expand the airport over the next 10 years. London’s other airports are full, or operating at near-capacity, so it’s really important for us to be able to get more traffic through.
We have just submitted a planning application to lift the restrictions on passenger numbers, currently at 35 million a year. We think we can get that to 43 million a year.
What do you enjoy about it?
It’s been fascinating since joining last September. Stansted is like a small town — we have thousands of people living, working and visiting each day, all serviced by our own shops, hotels, electricity grid, emergency services and religious leaders. We see a real cross-section of society coming through our doors.
I’m also struck by how you will often see the full range of human emotions, from happiness at arrivals to sadness at departures.
Where did you work before?
Manchester Airport, and prior to that Ryanair — where I cut my teeth in the aviation world. As director of new-route development, there weren’t many European airports I didn’t visit. Before that, as head of revenue management, I ensured that fares were set at the right level to fill planes and make routes a success.
Before I got into the aviation sector, I worked for Musgrave Group, the Irish wholesaler, where I dealt with small business owners daily. That was a real learning experience.
What was your biggest break?
I am a chartered accountant by training, and in 2005 there was the smallest ad possible in one of the profession’s journals for a head of revenue management at Ryanair. I was interested in the Ryanair success story, and that’s what got me into the aviation sector.
I have been lucky to work for great leaders who I have learned so much from — at Ryanair: Howard Millar, Michael Cawley and, naturally, Michael O’Leary. Charlie Cornish, my boss at Manchester Airports Group, also taught me a lot.
Given the responsibility I have day to day, I’ve been fortunate and grateful that anything that has happened has been manageable. When I first qualified as an accountant, I spent three years working at investment bank, Credit Suisse. It probably wasn’t my greatest decision but I managed to move up and out of there.
How’s your work-life balance?
Stansted is a 24/7 operation and I have five young children, so that can be challenging — particularly on those weeks when I may be travelling abroad.
I probably spend 10% to 15% of my time travelling to China, India and the US. Modern technology, however, means I am always in close contact.
I’m trying to do less travelling than I did before but it’s necessary when you work in this sector.
Outside of work, we’re a sports-mad family and if I’m not watching the kids at training or playing matches, I’m a keen swimmer, runner, footballer and golfer.
Any tips for those just starting out?
Get to know your customers and what they actually want from you, rather than what you think they want.