- Ryanair sought a court order to stop ex-COO moving to arch-rival easyJet
- Irish High Court ruled that ‘non-compete’ clause was unenforceable
- Ryanair says it will be appealing the decision immediately
- Peter Bellew expected to join easyJet on 1st January 2020
The Irish High Court has ruled that Peter Bellew, the former Chief Operations Officer at Ryanair is free to move to arch-rival easyJet despite the Dublin-based airline’s objections who claimed he has commercial information of “immense value”. Lawyers acting for Ryanair argued Bellew was subject to a so-called “non compete clause” that prevented him from moving to competitors for at least two years but a judge determined that the clause was too broad to be legally enforced.
The court case blew a lid on Ryanair’s internal management culture with revelations about disputes and decision making that the largest umbrella organisation for European pilots described today as “hostile” and from “the Dark Ages”. During court proceedings, Bellew said he wished he had stood up for himself during explosive meetings with Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary.
Bellew moved back to his native Ireland in 2017 having left Malaysia Airlines where he was formerly chief executive. He described his decision to work for Ryanair as a form of “national service”. As chief operations officer, Bellew was responsible for guiding Ryanair through a new-age of industrial relations after pilots and cabin crew unionised for the first time in the airline’s history.
But in July, Bellew announced he would be leaving Ryanair and shortly afterwards revealed that he had been poached by low-cost competitor easyJet. Ryanair started court proceedings to prevent Bellew taking up the new rule, claiming that an option for shares as part of a bonus package that he accepted came with a non-compete clause attached.
Mr Justice Allen, however, determined that the non-compete clause went beyond what was justifiable and was legally unenforceable, paving the way for Bellew to join easyJet.
In a terse statement, Ryanair simply said it has “instructed its lawyers to immediately appeal this decision.”
Bellew, meanwhile, took to Twitter to wish O’Leary “all the best for the future, a Happy Christmas and a Brave New Year.”
During the eight-day trial, Bellew said he had felt like a “dead man walking” after a tumultuous series of meetings in March where his performance had been criticised by O’Leary. The Ryanair boss had told the court that Bellew’s performance was below expectations and “problems were emerging on a weekly basis”.
It’s widely believed that Bellew had been hired to head off unionisation efforts but he then faced criticism from the highest levels of management when he conceded some demands being made by pilots. During the trial, the court heard that there was a “culture of fear” in Ryanair and that O’Leary “roars and shouts” during meetings, seeking “nose to nose” confrontation with colleagues.
Bellew is expected to start his new contract with Luton-based easyJet on 1st January.