My first million: Padraig O'Ceidigh of Aer Arann

Padraig O'Ceidigh, founder and MD of Aer Arann, was a schoolteacher before he remortgaged his house to buy the local airline. It is now the fastest-growing regional airline in Europe. He shares the secrets of his success with MoneyWeek.


So O'Ceidigh remortgaged his house, and set about developing the airline from a small island-hopper serving the Aran islands off the Irish west coast to one of Europe's fastest-growing regional airlines. From languishing in the doldrums, the airline has made a profit every year since 1994, with a turnover in excess of e95m last year.

Once it was in profit, the banks lent him more money. But listening to O'Ceidigh, it's a wonder Aer Arann ever got off the ground. "It was difficult, not many people believed in me. I had no track record, and found it difficult to forge key relationships. I also took on too much. I was so committed that it nearly cost me my health, my wealth and my family," he says. Looking back, he thinks that not sharing his problems with others made it a lonely journey. "I really should have had my own personal board of directors," says O'Ceidigh.

Aer Arann did get going though, and it seems O'Ceidigh's relative inexperience in the world of business turned out to be his trump card. "People found me very intriguing, this man with no money. They saw me as some sort of two-headed horse, a guy who was out of the ordinary. But I had a lot of energy." And focus and commitment after the events of September 11th, he didn't pay himself a salary out of the company for two years.

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So, when did this workaholic sit back and think, I've made it? "Entrepreneurs never think that, they never see themselves as being there. I compare it to climbing a hill. It can be frustrating and difficult at first, but you never think of giving up. Something inside tells you to keep going. And you get to the top of that hill, let's call it Mount Success', then there's another hill in front of you, and it's even tougher. It's called Mount More Success'. It's a process of taking on new and different challenges. We want to be one of the largest regional airlines in Europe. There are four million people in Ireland, out of that number we have 1.2 million passengers. There's no more room here for growth, so we need to expand further afield."

The man is ambitious, but also passionate that people can be driven by watching the success of others. "From January to March this year, we had 41 jobs advertised in Aer Arann, for which 2,000 people applied. One in every 35 people get into Harvard Business School. That means it's harder to get a job in Aer Arann than it is to get into Harvard Business School. People enjoy being part of a success."

And the world's entrepreneurs recognise that. In 2003, O'Ceidigh was nominated for World Entrepreneur of the Year and has twice been invited back as a judge. No one else has been asked back more than once.

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.