ENDURING tragedy at a very tender age was a formative experience for Ennis man John Slattery and his brother Domhnal, both of whom have gone on to build hugely successful careers in aviation.
Domhnal is chief executive of leasing company Avolon, making a reported €32 million through the sale of the company some years ago, while John is president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation, a Brazilian aerospace conglomerate.
John was back at Shannon Airport last week, where he spoke to students from the University of Limerick before taking the time to meet with the local media.
He said he and his brother had been really smitten by their early visits to Shannon as little boys, which provided an important spark. “There was just nothing cooler when I was growing up than Shannon airport. Those were difficult days back then, in the 1970s, in the west of Ireland, you know, it was a challenge. And when you came to Shannon airport, it was associated with people travelling to America, typically, and everything was good in America! So there was a romanticism that was associated with Shannon Airport.”
Asked what it was about their background that gave two brothers from Ennis the drive to have such successful careers, he said that losing their father had influenced their direction in life. “We lost our Dad when we were quite young, I was nine years of age. And you know, it’s only later in life, you realise how impactful that is, the level of drive that it gives you to succeed. The odds are sort of against you when you lose a parent, particularly a father for a son, at such a young age. Losing any parent, of course, is terrible.
“That sort of need for success, independence, self-sustainability – that was all imbued into us by our mother who was such a formative figure in our lives. Look, I think there’s lots of supports, growing up in the west of Ireland, you know, we genuinely felt that Ennis was the centre of the universe. We genuinely felt there was no cooler town than Ennis in County Clare. By the way, I still feel that!”
He still has a house in the town, and speaks warmly about his early years in Ennis. “I had great people around me, so did Domhnal, St Flannan’s College was formative, the National School in Ennis was formative.”
He said that in his view it is very important for young people to do something that they love. “The one thing I would say is, you know, if you can follow an industry or a profession that you have a passion for and that you enjoy, then that’s where you need to focus because life is too short to do anything other than that. I was lucky enough to do that, so was my brother.”
While younger adults are encouraged to focus on academic performance, he said he pays very little notice to such things when recruiting. “I would say have a real curiosity and a passion. I interview hundreds of people every year. And when you show up with your qualifications, you know how much time I spend studying your qualifications? Not very long, I’m not even sure it’s a couple of seconds. Third Level, yeah, okay, tick. Now I want to meet the person.
“So I’m trying to figure out if you have the passion. Because if you don’t, I really don’t want you on the team. Do you have the curiosity? Are you always kind of questioning and looking, if you’ve got that combination, then that’s what we want on on the team.
“So my counsel to folks is, it’s not about finding the courses, it’s about finding the aspect of the business that you’re most curious about and that gets you going. If you can find that it’s a transfer of emotion when you go into that first interview, the person will say, look, I need you on the team.”
Success is very likely when you are working on something you have a passion for, and real contentment won’t be found if you are not fully engaged, he believes. “If you’re not excited about what it is you’re doing, find something you’re passionate about. If you find something you’re passionate about, the correlation, the R squared of success is close to 1.0. You’ll win, you’ll succeed, but if you’re not passionate, if you just chase the dollars, you probably won’t be successful, or you won’t be happy.
“In my case, I found aviation. And I would tell anybody, including the kids that are here today, this is such a cool industry to be in. Commercial aviation, aviation generally, whether it’s executive aviation, commercial, aviation, or defence, or space. It’s just super cool.”