As a twin, I should know about twins. Twin spirits can be looked at as single soul that is split, helping each one to strengthen each other, although in two different bodies. Entrepreneurial examples of this are the concepts of creativity and innovation – twin spirits! Creativity and innovation go hand in hand, they are related but separate notions. Each is seen in long term successful enterprises.
Creativity is coming up with the big idea. It is talent searching for the new. The issue with creativity is in subjectively measuring it – it is difficult to do. Creativity will, however, help direct you toward your goal. The entrepreneur will definitively use creativity as part of the innovation process.
Innovation is about executing ideas, putting them into practice, or converting them into successful business ventures. One necessarily follows the other, and the two do nest with each other as part of their relationship. Innovation is strongest when it is directed toward a goal, and you reach that goal through innovation. I think we can agree that the world’s most innovative organizations are also the most valuable.
Of course, these twin spirits can also be applied to countries. Taiwan has become known as the semi-conductor chip manufacturing leader in the world. A small island country leading in one of the most important industries of our time.
What is probably less well known is that another small island country, Ireland, has become the leading country in the world for financing the world’s aircraft. Aviation, of course, is another example of an industry that is indispensable to the world’s economy. Ireland has a population of approximately five million people and is about the size of the State of Indiana. So, why Ireland? Well, I think we should give credit to the twin spirits of creativity and innovation.
Ireland has a history in aviation dating back to 1919 when the first non-stop transatlantic flight piloted by John Alcott and Arthur Brown left St. John’s Newfoundland and landed at Clifden, Co. Galway. What lights the creative spark for new ideas? Ireland as an island nation would depend upon aviation to connect its commerce with the world efficiently/cost effectively, and so there has always been a strategic importance for Ireland to develop this mode of transportation, this industry. Within Ireland itself, given its topography, linking geographies in a timely fashion, provides all kinds of benefits economically, socially and culturally. This kind of priority lends itself very well to discovery.
INTRODUCING TONY RYAN
In 1936, in County Tipperary, Ireland, Tony Ryan was born of a modest, rural background, whose father was a train driver. Tony’s mother would say: success is 5% brainpower and 95% horsepower. Young Tony left school at 16 to work in a local sugar factory. Tony would then begin working for Aer Lingus, THE Irish airline, for twenty years as a middle manager in Shannon, Cork as a duty manager, Chicago as a station manager and New York/JFK as a station manager. In the early 1970’s Tony would return to work for the airline in Ireland.
THE CREATIVE SPARK
At that time, Aer Lingus had surplus aircraft that they needed to offload, and so Tony was asked to help and spent time in Thailand selling aircraft to Air Siam. It struck Tony that if there was a company that could buy aircraft and lease them back to the airlines, the airlines would no longer need to spend millions of dollars buying aircraft from the manufacturers. This was the creative spark! Steven Udvar-Hazy also had this idea when he created Air Lease Corp. in the U.S., but it was Tony that led the way in Ireland.
In 1975, Guinness Peat Aviation (“GPA”) was formed with the backing of Aer Lingus and Guinness Peat Merchant Bank – Tony put in 1,500 Euro’s. From a small business, GPA became one of the most profitable finance operations in the world, financing through leases the purchase of aircraft for airlines throughout the world. At its peak, GPA had a valuation of 4 billion Euro’s and a fleet of 400 aircraft.
It was innovation, however that took the creative idea of leasing aircraft from a vision to selling it. GPA’s value reflected the hard work and creativity of its management team, but also the public-private partnership that ensued in which the Irish legal, accounting and tax professionals was coupled with support from the Irish government and its business regulators. This coming together was the innovation that created an entire industry that leads the world today in financing aircraft.
Innovation needs a goal, and if the goal is to be a world’s industry leader, then that innovation also takes creativity during the process. It is those twin spirits coming together that makes a success.
What does Ireland have that have been the ingredients of successful innovation? Ireland has a stable political environment so that when a lessor sets up in Ireland, they know that their legal system will protect their assets. A skill set existed from the early days of GPA in the 1970’s so much so that the leasing business runs in the blood of many locals, now over many decades. Ireland’s universities have nurtured that talent with specialist aviation finance programs.
Ireland’s embrace of lower corporate taxes with trading income taxed at 12.5% since 1987 from the creation of the International Financial Services Center (IFSC) in Dublin; its embrace of double taxation treaties with 74 countries; being one of the first countries to ratify the Cape Town Convention thereby protecting contracts and security interests in aircraft; its use of straight line depreciation methods of eight years (12.5% each year); no value added taxes on international aviation leasing; its allowance of special purpose bankruptcy remote legal entities making it easy to extract economic returns; etc., have all complemented the aircraft leasing industry’s goal of being a world leader.
It is difficult to measure creativity, but innovation can be statistically assessed. According to Aircraft Leasing Ireland (ALI), an industry lobbying group, an Irish-leased aircraft takes off from airports around the world every two seconds. Ireland has roughly two-thirds of the global aviation leasing marketplace. As many as 50 aircraft leasing companies are based there, and many of the world’s biggest and best. More than half of total aircraft in use in 2021 were leased. These are the statistics of successful industry innovation by a relatively small island country that punches well above its weight in the aviation business.
While results can be measured at certain points in time, to remain relevant and competitive, innovation must be constant. The world changes, certainly we have seen that with Covid over the past few years, which has impacted air travel significantly, and has setback growth projections by most industry prognosticators by two years, but the evidence is that travel is returning, and in fact, is now ahead of most industry projections.
Governments around the world, of course, have recognized the strategic importance of air travel, and have paid out an estimated $200 billion to the industry. The Irish corporate tax is under challenge, as the US and other countries are negotiating a new international minimum corporate tax, with that outcome still undecided, creating some uncertainty. While individual government goals are to sustain investment tax incentives to welcome international investment, there may ultimately be some recognition among countries of needing to have some collaboration with each other, perhaps even in times of greater nationalization around the globe.
Success, of course, breeds competition, new rivals enter the marketplace. While government investment has been a crucial lifeline to the aviation industry, those that will be successful competing long-term will have had significant private investment. That, of course, means that access to capital markets is very important. Ireland, today, maintains their historical advantage from the time of the first aircraft lease securitization done (of course) by GPA in 1992, but Singapore can also point to their transaction experience.
Countries like Singapore and Malta are examples of countries that are looking to compete with Ireland on certain tax policies such as the value added tax. Ireland is responding with targeted legislative tax changes to benefit the aircraft finance sector, and to benefit Ireland’s growth as a center for aircraft maintenance and warehousing.
Managing large data basis, and the analytics required to administer and maintain the aircraft fleets has become crucial to the success of lessors and has become a keen source of competitive advantage. These skills are being taught in Irish schools in coordination with the needs of the industry, but data analytic courses are very popular universally, not only in Ireland.
The future therefore depends upon the realization that there will be significant challenges ahead, and while the past has laid a foundation for future success, the world is not a stagnant place. This recognition is especially important when future projections are that air passengers will more than double from 4.5 billion in 2019, to 10 billion by 2040, and grow to 16 billion air passengers by 2050!
Tony planned to take GPA public through an IPO during the Gulf War in 1992, a time when the aviation industry was in a slump. The IPO was pulled, and control of GPA eventually went to General Electric.
Tony’s story did not stop there, as he set up a low-cost airline named Ryanair in 1985, as he rightly believed the time had come for greater airline competition. Ryanair has become Europe’s largest budget airline, and another example of Tony’s spirit of creativity.
With the great and enduring success of Ryanair, Tony became one the wealthiest businessmen in Ireland, and perhaps Ireland’s first truly global entrepreneur. He shared his success as a generous benefactor and philanthropist, and this man who left school at age 16, was awarded three honorary doctorate degrees from leading Irish universities. Dr. Tony Ryan passed away at age 71 in 2007.