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The sky’s the limit for Atlantic Aviation Group CEO with Leadership 4 Growth

Stepping up to a CEO role with a global aviation company, Shane O’Neill was keen to broaden his skills and rise to the challenge. Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth programme equipped him with the tools to take Atlantic Aviation Group to new heights.

Headquartered in Shannon, Atlantic Aviation Group specialises in maintaining, overhauling and repairing aircraft for global airlines.

The business has experienced exponential growth in the past decade. Today, it employs over 720 people across three sites in Ireland and the UK and has around 100 trainees. It hit over €100 million in revenue this year.

Atlantic Aviation Group boasts an impressive client base, including high-profile international players like Ryanair, DHL, UPS, ASL Airlines, TUI Group, the Royal Air Force and Jet2.

Shane O’Neill joined the business as chief operations officer in 2015. In 2017, he moved up to serve as chief executive officer (CEO).

Gaining clarity and finding direction

In his first CEO position, Shane wanted to hone his leadership skills and gain tools to boost his confidence and grow the team.

He joined Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth programme in 2019, at a time when Atlantic Aviation Group was at the start of a period of growth. According to Shane, the programme was pivotal in helping grow the business.

“The company was in the early stages of growth,” he says. “I was at the start of my CEO journey too, so I wanted to build confidence in myself and the team and find tools to help us execute the business plan.

“The programme ticked all the boxes for me. I needed help to bring the team together, to provide direction, to guide my personal journey as the CEO, and to help put meat on the bones of the growth plan.”

Leadership 4 Growth not only supported Shane to transition to CEO, it also helped him shape the business’s direction and define the growth plan.

“The programme gave me clarity and helped with the direction and alignment of the business,” he says. “We’re a technical business and there’s a tendency to over-engineer everything, so Leadership 4 Growth taught me to keep things simple.”

Shane says he still applies tools and methods he learned throughout the programme day-to-day in the business.

“We still use models like DCOM [direction, competency, opportunity and motivation] and Make It [make it clear, real, happen, last] today to keep us on track and keep things simple,” he says.

Putting a growth plan on a page

Participants are asked to put their growth strategy on a single poster as part of the programme. While it was challenging to capture Atlantic Aviation Group’s roadmap on a page, Shane says the company still reaps the benefits of the exercise.

“It was hugely beneficial,” he says. “The poster depicts our growth journey and has undergone three iterations to keep it fresh and current. We use it when we apply for funding, with our customers, with the banks, when new staff join and to update staff. It simply gives direction.”

Finding the perfect crew

For Shane, people are the beating heart of the business. Having the right team was paramount to the growth and success of Atlantic Aviation Group, and he says this is where Leadership 4 Growth really came into its own.

Following the programme, Shane rebuilt the Group’s senior leadership team. He says his cohort group and programme leads helped him identify gaps in the team structure and gave him confidence to make tough decisions.

“While you build a senior team, you need to build trust, confidence and bounce ideas off other people outside the business,” he says. “The cohort group and programme leads give you that. It was a huge learning.”

A course above the rest

With several leadership programmes under his belt, including an MBA, Shane says Leadership 4 Growth particularly excelled.

“It stands out for several reasons,” he says, “such as the quality of the material, and the time you’re given to think more deeply about the team and what’s needed to meet the company goals,” he explains.

According to Shane, mentoring and feedback sessions with the Leadership 4 Growth coaching team were invaluable.

“Having that time with the coaches and access to their expertise was hugely beneficial,” he says. “You can have conversations with the coaches that you wouldn’t have with your team. As a CEO, the buck stops with you, and it can be a lonely space, so you need those networks.”

Shane says he was fortunate to be part of a cohort group open to sharing and learning from each other.

“They were all from different industries with huge experience and there were so many people I admired in the group,” he says. “That motivated me because it’s a difficult journey, but the cohort gives you that fire and you also notice how they’re growing or scaling.”

Leadership 4 Growth also built Shane’s confidence in decision-making and helped him realise his challenges and concerns were no different from other CEOs’ doubts and fears.

“The course helped me understand everyone is in the same boat,” he says. “As CEOs, we all have the same fears, worries, doubts, concerns and challenges. Leadership 4 Growth truly gave me confidence in my own thinking ability.”

For anyone considering enrolling on the Leadership 4 Growth programme, Shane says he encourages it wholeheartedly.

“Be open and transparent,” he says. “Give as much as you can and you’ll get a huge amount out of it. Trust the process – you’ll get there in the end.”

Learn more about how Irish CEOs innovate and scale their businesses with Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth.

Shane O’Neill in conversation with Lorraine Reid, executive coach with Leadership 4 Growth.

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