Avolon CEO Domhnal Slattery joined Down to Business to receive our Business Person of the Month award. He is the leader of Avolon, one of the most successful Irish companies in the history of the New York stock exchange.
Having worked with a number of aviation firms, he told Bobby that the fallout of 9/11 ended up placing him at the fore of the industry:
"I remember 9/11 as if it was yesterday. We had just started this business, RBS Aviation in May, several months earlier so we were nascent. I was in Belfast attending a board meeting with Ulster Bank with Fred Goodwin afterwards and I was pitching him on an idea to by a big aircraft leasing business on the morning of 9/11."
"When we came out of the meeting I remember his assistant standing in front of us with a pale face - she said 'something awful has just happened. The first aeroplane had gone into the tower. At that point in time this nascent business that we'd just started - my view was 'we are dead in the water - this is the end - pull down the shutters' - and that's what we did for about three months."
"But then we could see the opportunity that could come from this disaster situation. And that opportunity was profound actually. Airlines were in serious difficulty financially globally. Nobody was traveling and they had an avaricious demand for capital. We had lots of capital and the ability to underwrite and structure the risk."
The company went back to the board of Royal Bank of Scotland and convinced the bank to double its investment in the company - aiming to turn plans to create a $5bn business into a $10bn business.
Slattery and his team identified 10 airlines that they called the "survivors and thrivers." RBS offered each of these airlines a $500m loan at a time when no one would lend to airlines - it struck up new relationship and the business flourished.
Avolon's success has its foundation in Slattery's willingness to persevere through risky times and difficult odds. He believes opportunity can be found in crisis, but harnessing that opportunity can take incredible knowledge and willpower.
"The lesson there is the obvious one - times of stress are often the times of great opportunity. But you need to have the courage of conviction to see the opportunity - and you need the skills to manage the risk."
You can listen to the rest of the interview here: