National College of Ireland in conversation with Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery

Prove to yourself what you can do at National College of Ireland

National College of Ireland in conversation with Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery

Newstalk's Bobby Kerr in conversation with Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery at the National College of Ireland

National College of Ireland is hosting a series of lunchtime talks with Ireland’s top entrepreneurs as it prepares to open its doors to the next generation of business leaders this September.

The 'In Conversation With' series is all about hearing from the people working right at the cutting edge of industry - and discovering how National College of Ireland can help you get there.

Full-time and part-time evening courses in everything from Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing to the college's Masters in Business Administration (MBA) are enrolling now for a September start.

For the final episode in the series, Newstalk's Bobby Kerr sat down with aviation mogul and Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery.

In the eight years since establishing Avolon, Mr Slattery has grown the business into the third largest aircraft leasing company in the world – with 903 aircraft at 156 airlines in 64 countries.

He describes his start in the industry – working six days a week in the mailroom at Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) for next to nothing – as an “accelerated MBA” in aviation.

“That is, I suppose, one of the great lessons in life,” he said.

“If you are lucky enough to find something that automatically makes you feel, ‘I belong, this doesn’t feel like work; this is just where I should be,’ then you will assimilate and absorb information rapidly like a sponge.

“If you don’t belong, then find something else to do until you find that moment of truth."

Mr Slattery went out on his own to set up the aircraft advisory and investment services company IAMG in 1994, before it was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group seven years later.

He remained as CEO and within three years it had become the fourth largest aircraft finance company in the world.

He later set up the private investment company Claret Capital however, despite an impressively diverse portfolio, when the financial crash hit, “everything effectively, in simple terms, blew up.”

“By end of 08/09, I had gone from being, frankly, quite a wealthy person and very happy in life, to being absolutely and totally broke,” said Mr Slattery.

It was from out of the ashes of that turmoil that Avolon was born.

“It was a binary outcome for me,” he said. “I either got it to work or I was declaring bankruptcy; it was as simple as that."

"So therefore, it had to work and I think as an entrepreneur that is the characteristic; that tenacity and blinding ambition to get it right and try make it work.”

Avolon floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 and one year later it was bought out by China’s HNA Group at $31 a share – making a 55% return for its investors.

In the three years since, Avolon has grown its balance sheet by 500% and and is today valued at $30bn.

A strong believer in the value of education, Mr Slattery is building a foundation that will harness the financial power and connections of the aircraft leasing industry to provide primary school teaching to children in the emerging world.

“These are children that are not being educated today,” he said “They don’t even get a chance to go to school.”

“We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars and applying that cash globally, with a big bat, to make change - but by using technology.”

Avolon has also developed a long-term ‘deep learning’ plan that will see every staff member, from receptionist to CEO, embarking on a three-year programme with the world-leading French business school INSEAD.

“It’s based on the fundamental belief that continuing lifelong learning is the way to go,” he said.

“If you want to retain the best talent in your business, you are going to have to continually stretch them intellectually."

You can listen back to the full conversation here:

National College of Ireland is hosting a series of open evenings over the coming months, giving you the chance to speak with lecturers on a one-to-one basis and learn what steps you can take to join the ranks of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs.

NCI Open Evenings:

  • Wednesday 18th July
  • Thursday 16th August
  • Saturday 25th August 11am - 2pm
  • Thursday 6th September

The events run from 5pm – 7pm and you can register for free here.

Prove to yourself what you can do at National College of Ireland.

Our full and part-time courses give you the tools you need to realise your ambition. Visit to find out more.