Strategic Analysis of Ryanair, an Irish low-cost airline, has enjoyed remarkable growth since its inception. It is the foremost and largest budget airline across the Europe that has enjoyed significant revenues despite economic recession and rising fuel prices (Morris, 2017). This report conducts a detailed strategic analysis of Ryanair. It analyses the internal resources and capabilities of Ryanair that back its competitive advantage. It also includes scanning of internal environment (strengths and weaknesses) and external environment (opportunities and threats), through SWOT and TOWS analysis, that lead it towards various strategic choices. The report also entails the change management model that is required to implement the transformational change process. In the final section, the report covers the strategic recommendations based and assessment of their applicability for Ryanair.
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VRIO Analysis of Ryanair:
In literature of strategic management, many authors are of the view that external or environmental forces influence and determine the competitive advantage of a firm (Ambrosini, Johnson and Scholes, 1998). In contrast, many researchers emphasize that internal resources and capabilities are more important than external factors in achieving competitive advantage and argued that internal audit is more important for an organization because when external environment is in a dynamic state, a firm’s internal capabilities become the basis of its identity and offer a durable basis for strategy (Mahoney and Pandian, 1992; Wernerfelt, 1995). For internal audit, VRIO analysis is a framework to assess an organization’s capabilities (resources and competencies) to achieve competitive advantage (Cardeal and Antonio, 2012). It can enable Ryanair to examine its competitive advantages and limitations. The VRIO framework evaluates strategic capabilities of an organization according to four dimensions as shown in figure 1:
Figure 1: Dimensions of VRIO Framework
The core strategy of Ryanair is low-cost, no-frill policy. Ryanair has certain resources and competencies that have followed the low-cost pursuit and made it a successful budget airline even in the times of economic downturn in Europe that affected all the airlines (Armstrong, 2015). Firstly, for low-cost strategy, it adopted the fleet commonality policy i.e.., flying only Boeing 737 in order to keep staff training and fleet maintenance costs low. Ryanair further reduced its training costs by granting license to organizations in Holland and Sweden to conduct pilot training course while using Ryanair’s syllabus and then offered positions to the trainees according to performance. These were valuable resources and capabilities but they are not rare and can be imitated by other low-cost carriers. Secondly, over the time Ryanair disposed of its older and less efficient planes and moved towards more environment friendly and fuel-efficient planes. These resources resulted in low emissions and reduced fuel consumption. Ryanair proactively responded to the rising environmental concerns ahead of its competitors; however, this activity was not difficult to imitate by the competitors. Thirdly, the personnel of Ryanair are intangible resource that contributed to its competitive advantage. The shrewd marketing brain and aggressive leadership of Michael O’Leary transformed the competitive landscape of the European air transport (Morris, 2017). His ability to motivate team, publicity seeking tactics, response to controversies and legal issues were highly acknowledged for company’s revival. Such leadership capabilities are hard to match. He organized all the functions under the low-cost philosophy and energized his team to achieve it. However, the organization became inextricably identified with O’Leary’s leadership which can be a limitation for Ryanair if the leadership is changed. In addition, its website for various services such as web check-in and online booking reduced costs and efficiency of its services. However, such online services can be offered by the competitors as well. So, overreliance on specific resources such as internet website for all its functions can also be a limitation. Therefore, Ryanair needs to improve and upgrade its services by a unique bundle of resources and not solely depending on a single resource or capability for its competitive advantage. VRIO analysis of Ryanair is summarized in the table 1 given below:
Common Fleets (Boeing 737)
|‘Yes ’||‘No x’||–||–|
|‘Yes ’||‘Yes ’||–||–|
|‘Yes ’||‘Yes ’||–||–|
Leadership of O’Leary
|‘Yes ’||‘Yes||‘Yes ’||‘Yes ’|
Table 1: VRIO Analysis of Ryanair
SWOT Analysis of Ryanair:
SWOT analysis is a tool for scanning internal and external environment of the organization that is significant for strategic planning process (Pickton and Wright, 1998). Internal factors are classified as strengths and weaknesses and external factors are classified as opportunities and threats. It helps the organization to match its resources and capabilities to the competitive environment in which it exists. SWOT analysis of Ryanair is given below:
- Strong brand name of the company as it is the first and largest budget airline in the Europe operating since 1985 (Armstrong, 2015).
- It is a leading European low-cost airline which gives it benefits of scale over competitors (ibid).
- Revenue growth of Ryanair while other airlines were struggling
- Ancillary revenue initiatives such as flight beverages, food, merchandise, and internet-related services such as online booking, accommodation, car rentals and travel insurance. These initiatives are aimed to increase revenues and reduce unit costs.
- Uniformity of aircraft to cut maintenance and training costs
- Route Policy: Ryanair had fast-turn around route to reduce landing fees and maximize the number of flights per day. Moreover, the point-to-point and secondary route policy helped it to reduce airport charges and prevent congestion (Platt, 2017).
- Web-based check-in and internet bookings reduced staff numbers and travel agent commission costs.
- Purchase of fuel-efficient and low-emissions aircrafts to reduce fuel costs and to deal with environmental concerns.
- Non-union workforce that has made Ryanair more flexible towards change and innovation in work practices. Other airlines have to tackle deeply embedded unionization which adds cost to the company that Ryanair has avoided (Franchi, 2017).
- Poor customer service perceptions: Ryanair excessive focus on the no-frills policy and extra charges for unavoidable services raised criticism and influenced its public image (Johnson and Michaels, 2004).
- Seasonal fluctuations and unused capacity: Ryanair adopted a policy of grounding unused fleets due to low yields in winter season.
- Although secondary airports prevented airport charges and congestion, but some secondary airports are too far from the actual destination which can be a problem for customers.
- Using one type of aircrafts reduces costs but also increases it reliance ona few suppliers. The bargaining power of supplier is high when there are few large suppliers and hence switching costs become high (Greenspan, 2015).
- Weakening employee relations due to restrictions on unionization, layoffs and controversial claims of pilots against the company (Davies, 2017).
- Reliance on price-sensitive consumers can be drastic if competitors offer better services at same price or similar services at lower prices (Hoffman and Turley, 2015).
- Ryanair lacks diversification into other segments of the aviation industry such as cargo and maintenance etc. It increases dependence of Ryanair solely to the low-cost demand of its primary services (Gerrard, 2017).
- EU recession and growing demand of budget airlines is an opportunity for Ryanair to grow its business (Ros, 2016).
- Fleet expansion: Ryanair plans to negotiate with fleet manufacturers. Ryanair showed interest in new fuel-efficient technology of Airbusand plans to run mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircrafts for scale benefits (Gerrard, 2017).
- Launch of new routes: The demand for long-haul and transatlantic flights at low-cost can increase which is a growth opportunity for Ryanair (Davies, 2015).
- Improving customer service and perception to serve better than competitors in the low-cost airline market.
- Merger and acquisitionaremajor opportunitiestoexpand in the airline industry. For instance, Ryanair’s attempt to take over Aer Lingus can enable the company to increase its market share (Armstrong, 2015).
- Fluctuation in oil prices and supply can affect the low-cost motive of Ryanair
- Prices and availability of new fuel-efficient aircrafts can also hamper efforts of the airline and can lead to losses
- Strict EU regulations on denied boarding compensation to customers
- Litigations against the company can damage its reputation. For instance, allegations against Ryanair of using illegal aid from publicly owned airports exposed the company to massive criticism and adversarial campaigns by the competitors (Johnston, 2016).
- Environmental concerns of EU to involve airlines into emission trading system
- Unexpected disasters and human-led incidents can undermine the confidence of customers and increase liabilities of the airline.
- Lack of access to suitable airports, increased airport charges and government taxes can increase costs of the airline, hence compelling Ryanair to raise prices (Barret, 2016).
TOWS Matrix for Ryanair:
In the light of internal and external scanning done in the SWOT analysis, TOWS matrix can be devised for Ryanair as shown in table 2 below.
|External Opportunities (O)
1. Demand for low-cost airlines in EU recession
4. Diversification options
|External Threats (T)
1. Fluctuating oil prices and supply
2. Prices and availability of new aircrafts
3. Regulations for passenger compensation
|Internal Strengths (S)
1.Strong brand name and scale advantages
3. Ancillary revenue initiatives
4. Uniformity of aircraft models
5. Route Policy
6. Web-based services
9. Non-union workforce
|SO – “Maxi-Maxi” Strategy
(Strategies that use strengths to maximise opportunities)
|ST – “Maxi-Mini” Strategy
(Strategies that use strengths to minimise threats)
|Internal Weaknesses (W)
1.Poor customer service perceptions
5. Weakened employee relations
6. Lack of diversified segments
|WO – “Mini-Maxi” Strategy
(Strategies that minimise weaknesses by taking advantage of opportunities)
|WT – “Mini-Mini” Strategy
(Strategies that minimise weaknesses and avoid threats)
Table 2: TOWS Matrix for Ryanair
Transformational change does not take place so frequently in an organization. Lukas et al., (2007) suggested that transformational change is a key source to sustain competitive advantage and can enable organization to improve performance, cut costs or turn around a crisis state. Although Ryanair is a cost-leader among European no-frills airlines and has confronted the challenging trends that troubled its competitors; but it is facing several risks that can threaten its competitive position (Morris, 2017). Therefore, transformational change is important for Ryanair in order to survive the competition and to deal with the environmental challenges. Chapman (2002) suggested that to manage any kind of strategic change and to make transformational programs successful, organizational alignment is crucial according to the proposed change. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, consultants at McKinsey & Company, developed at framework called McKinsey 7s Model (See Figure 2): the model based on the major internal aspects of an organization that need to be integrated for strategic change (Singh, 2013). The model consists of three hard elements (including strategy, structure, and systems) that are easier to identify and organization’s management can directly influence these elements (Channon and Caldart, 2015). The soft elements (include shared values, style, staff and skills) are relatively difficult to describe, less tangible and more shaped by organization’s culture. All the elements are crucial for organizational change and are linked to each other. Ryanair can implement the model in the following way:
- Strategy: Ryanair needs to devise a strategy to build and maintain competitive advantage over its rivals such as EasyJet which is also a dominant budget airline. It also needs to cater for other external risks such as environmental concerns, legal issues, economic downturn, fluctuating fuel prices, airport charges, passenger compensation, prices and availability of new aircraft that can influence the competitive landscape. Moreover, internal weaknesses such as overreliance on key personnel such as CEO Michel O’Leary (White, 2017) and dependence on internet website for main services (O’Connell and Williams, 2005) can also be problematic for the organization. Therefore, the new strategy should be planned in a way that can overcome internal weaknesses and external threats to maintain competitive position of the company (Singh, 2013).
- Structure: The way organization is structured is also an important internal aspect that needs to be aligned with strategic change (Singh, 2013). As discussed in the case, contributions of Michel O’Leary are a major reason behind market success of Ryanair; however, the organization is inextricably attached to his leadership. High dependence can cause an organization to fall when the leadership is changed. Therefore, succession planning is very important for Ryanair to implement the change strategy. A large organization, having its operating in various regions of the world, needs to be well-structured to ensure standardized and centralized operations (Chesbrough and Brunswicker, 2013). Therefore, for Ryanair the roles need to be defined and reporting lines should be clear for accountability.
- Systems: The day-to-day activities and processes of the staff members need to be aligned with the long-term strategic change (Channon and Caldart, 2015). The routine functions of Ryanair need to be synchronized with the planned change otherwise it can derail the organization from its broader vision.
- Shared Values: As shown in figure 2, shared values are placed in the middle which implies that they are central to align all other elements of the model. As the values change, all other elements also change. The shared values are the norms and standards that shape employee behavior, and are evident in the organization’s culture (Gillespie and Mann, 2004). In Ryanair’s case, the vision is to overcome the challenges to sustain its position as a low-cost carrier and it is reflected in its work ethic all over the organization. For instance, employees are appreciated and rewarded for following the cost-effectiveness policy and for suggesting ideas to reduce costs. Moreover, online check-in system is also an example of low-cost working standard which saves time and cost of the company.
- Style: The leader acts as a change agent for an organization’s transformation process. The leadership style acts as a catalyst to overcome resistance towards change and motivate employees to contribute towards change process. Transformational leadership style is suitable in case of Ryanair. Transformational leader works with the employees as a team to create the vision, communicate the need for change, and inspire them to implement the change (Bass and Rigio, 2006). As explained by Johnson et al., (2007) coercive and authoritative styles are ineffective in the long-run. Ryanair’s leader is criticized for rigid and authoritative style which should be avoided to motivate employees towards change.
- Staff: All the employees need to be engaged in the change process so that their interests are in line with the proposed change (Sonenshein and Dholakia, 2012). It is possible when they are educated about the need for change. The employees should also be rewarded for their contributions towards implementing change. In addition, non-unionized workforce policy of Ryanair is also effective because it reduces resistance of workforce to change and makes them more flexible towards change and innovation.
Figure 2: McKinsey’s 7S Framework
Source: Channon and Caldart (2015)
Strategic Recommendations for Ryanair:
Considering the analysis done in VRIO and TOWS matrix, the following strategic choices can be recommended for Ryanair:
- Market Penetration: Market penetration involves increasing market share through increased marketing efforts in the existing market (David, 2011). As analyzed through the case, the company needs to improve its customer service perceptions. Ryanair is criticized for its obsession to the bottom-line services to save costs and including unavoidable charges to the customer. Therefore, it needs to improve its customer service perception in order to sustain its reputation. It can be done by offering improved services while charging low-cost. Currently it differentiates itself through online booking, easy boarding, ancillary services, cheap prices and aggressive advertising and promotion (Smith, 2017). It already has the experience and capability to compete as a low-cost leader, further improvement in such services can enable it to increase its market share in the existing market.
- Market development: Entering new markets or territories is one of the major growth strategies among the airline industry. Market development is a risky choice if the organization lacks the required capabilities. Ryanair has established a strong position in airline industry as a budget airline for short-haul routes. David (2011) suggested that an organization should initiate with its existing capabilities to provide best possible offerings to the existing customers and when they are satisfied, the company can move towards new segments. Ryanair has achieved the cost leadership in the existing market by aligning its operations according to the low-cost policy. This experience can enable Ryanair to move towards long-haul and transatlantic routes because of the rise in demand for low-cost carriers across various regions of the world. The learning curve benefit (See Appendix 1) is a major reason behind pursuing market development strategy. It has the experience and knowledge of the low-cost leadership which makes capable to move towards new market segments. Learning curve shows the relationship between cost and output of an organization over time. It implies that the outputs increase and require fewer efforts with the increase in experience (Adler and Clark, 1991).
- Diversification: Diversification is also a potential strategic option for Ryanair. Diversification involves introducing new products/services into new markets (Johnson et al., 2007). The practitioners and analysts of the aviation industry suggest that Ryanair majorly relies on its primary services for its revenues. However, an increase in ancillary revenues has seen in a past few years (Smith, 2017) which implies that it can expand its services to increase its revenue sources. Related diversification by launching new services such as cargo, fleet maintenance, and travel consulting can match its existing capabilities. This strategy can be useful to deal with demand fluctuations and seasonal variations that effect its revenues.
Methods of Strategic Development:
According to Johnson, Scholes and Whittington (2008), an organization can adopt three methods as the means to pursue strategic choices. These methods include: internal development, merger and acquisition, and strategic alliances. To pursue market penetration Ryanair can use internal development method. Internal development method involves developing strategies by building on and developing organization’s own capabilities (Johnson et al, 2007). Ryanair can utilize its existing capabilities for this purpose. For instance, to improve its customer services it does not need to outsource capabilities and build on its existing strengths. In addition, acquisition strategy can allow Ryanair to expand its market share, reduce competition and build synergies (Hennart and Park, 1993; Rhodes, 2010). However, acquisition is still questionable because of massive opposition by competitors and regulatory authorities on Ryanair’s bid to purchase Aer Lungus (Armstrong, 2015).
Similarly, for market development strategy, Ryanair can use internal development. It is because of the existing knowledge and competencies in the short-haul, cost-efficient airline market (Morris, 2017). It can use this experience and reputation to tap the long-haul market segment. Internal development is also feasible for the option of diversification (Davies, 2015). But diversification is the most risky option that requires significant investment. Ryanair can adopt the internal development strategy as it spreads cost over time (Johnson, Scholes and Whittington, 2008). However, to avoid huge costs, it can adopt strategic alliance strategy for diversification option. Therefore, for diversifying its services, it can form partnerships in order to expand its sources of revenue, synergize by exchange of resources and learning and reduce its input costs (Harrigan, 2015).
SAF Analysis (Suitability, Acceptability, Feasibility):
- Simplified Ranking Table
|Market Development||1||-Move towards less mature markets
-Move towards long-haul market demanding low-cost airlines
-Move towards transatlantic markets to compete globally
|Market Penetration||2||-Lead in existing market
-Increase market revenues through improved offerings and innovative marketing
-Improve customer perception
|Diversification||3||-Diversification of means of revenue
-High risk in diversification
-Requires significant investment
-Lack of experience in diversified segments
Note: 1=Most Suitable, 2=Moderately Suitable, 3=Least Suitable
- Industry Lifecycle Portfolio Matrix
|Stages of Industry Maturity|
|Dominant||All out push for share.
Grow with industry.
|Strong||Attempt to improve position.
All out push for share.
|Attempt to improve position.
Push for share.
|Hold position (Cost Leadership in Ryanair’s Case)
Grow with industry.
|Hold position or harvest.|
|Favourable||Selectively push for position.||Attempt to improve position.
Push for share.
|Custodial or maintenance.
Find niche and attempt to protect it.
|Harvest, or phase out withdrawal.|
|Tenable||Selectively push for position.||Find niche and protect it.||Find niche and hang on, or phased out withdrawal.||Phased out withdrawal, or abandon.|
|Weak||Up or out||Turnaround or abandon.||Turnaround, orphaned out withdrawal.||Abandon.|
Note: Relative strength of Ryanair in the market is high as compared to its rivals in the European budget airline industry. The airline industry in Europe is at the stage of maturity. So the suitable option for Ryanair, according to the industry lifecycle portfolio matrix adopted from Žic, Hadžić, and Ikonić (2009) is to hold its current position in the industry i.e.., cost leadership and grow with the industry.
- Stakeholder Mapping: Power-Interest Matrix
|Government||High||Moderate to Low||Keep satisfied|
|Supplier||High||Moderate to Low||Keep satisfied|
|Leader or CEO||High||High||Manage closely|
|Employees||Moderate to Low||High||Keep informed|
|Shareholders and Investors||High||High||Manage closely|
|Potential Customers||High to Moderate||Low||Keep Satisfied|
|Existing Customers||High||Moderate||Keep Satisfied|
Source: Brugha and Varvasovszky (2000)
Note: Ryanair need to consider the power and interest of each stakeholder for its strategic choices.
For feasibility analysis, we need to consider the following questions for Ryanair:
- Would a proposed strategy work in practice?
- Can the strategy be financed?
- Do people and skills exist or can they be obtained?
Firstly, the strategic choices are proposed keeping in view the capabilities (VRIO analysis) and internal and external environment (SWOT and TOWS analysis) of Ryanair.
Secondly, by reviewing the financial statements of Ryanair through its annual reports from recent years (See Appendix 3), we further analyzed the financial standing of the company to finance the proposed strategy. The analysis revealed that it consistently thrived to drive down its costs. In 2017, it reduced down its unit cost by 5% as compared. It facilitated increase in traffic growth by 13% while serving lower fares. It is an evidence that Ryanair is able to grow at primary and new destinations by widening the gap of cost between Ryanair’s model and other airlines. Moreover, in recent years, Ryanair earning per share increased (Adjusted EPS +14%) which is an indicator of company’s profitability. Operating revenues increased by 2% while profit after tax also rose by 6% in 2017 (Ryanair | Investor Relations, 2017).
Thirdly, in terms of human resources and competencies, the major strength Ryanair is its shrewd leadership. He has the competence take the company forward despite in the times of crisis. However, company’s success is possible by team efforts. The team is hired, trained, motivated and rewarded according to the core philosophy of Ryanair i.e.., saving costs and achieving operational excellence. However, if Ryanair needs new technology to move into new markets; to improve current services; or to diversify its portfolio, Ryanair might need to upgrade the human resource capabilities along with the chosen strategy. It is relatively not difficult for Ryanair’s human capital because of its learning curve benefits and legacy in the budget airline industry.
The report analyzed the key capabilities i.e.., resources and competencies of Ryanair that are contributing towards its competitive advantage. Its capabilities (common fleets, fuel-efficient aircrafts, shrewd leadership and online framework) were assessed using the VRIO framework. The analysis showed that Ryanair needs to adopt a unique bundle of resources that enables it to sustain its competitive advantage over the long-run. The SWOT and TOWS analysis of Ryanair presented the assessment of internal and external environment of Ryanair which further led towards the strategic directions for the company. These strategic choices include: market development, market penetration and diversification strategies. Furthermore, the choices were assessed by using SAF analysis. In addition, McKinsey’s 7S Model was suggested in order to facilitate the transformational change within the organization. The strategic choices were finally analyzed according to suitability (ensuring whether the strategy addresses opportunities and constraints faced by Ryanair; whether the strategy capitalizes on its strengths and overcomes its weaknesses); acceptability (whether the key stakeholders accept the proposed strategy); and feasibility (whether the company has enough financial and human resources to support the proposed strategy).
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According to suitability analysis done by Industry lifecycle portfolio matrix, Ryanair has a strong relative competitive position in the European budget airline industry. The industry is at maturity stage; therefore, Ryanair needs to hold its current position i.e.., cost leadership and grow with the industry.
Stakeholders’ analysis for acceptability showed that Ryanair needs to look after the stakeholders that have most stakes in the proposed strategy and can influence the outcomes in a significant manner. For instance, in diversification, the investors have high power and influence; therefore, Ryanair needs to manage them closely. In market development, governmental regulations play a major role as they can hinder its overseas activities; therefore, it is compulsory for Ryanair to keep the government satisfied. In market penetration, the role of customers is quite significant and it is crucial to manage and satisfy them in order to increase revenues in existing market by changing customer perceptions.
The feasibility analysis showed upward trajectory of profitability of Ryanair and lowered levels of costs. However, for market development and diversification, Ryanair needs to attract or partner with investors as these strategies require more capital as compared to market penetration. Its current financial stability and market position can help it to attract significant investment. Although, it has adequate human capabilities and experience, but it needs to upgrade its human talent according to the requirements of the proposed strategy.
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Appendix 1: Learning Curve:
Appendix 2: Stakeholder Mapping: Power-Interest Matrix
Appendix 3: Financial Highlights Ryanair