At the start of October, Andy Cronin formally took over as chief executive of Avolon. Cronin was one of the founders of Avolon, and has been chief financial officer since its inception. 

As CFO, he was instrumental in its December 2014 flotation on the New York Stock Exchange, the largest ever listing of an Irish company in New York – and he was there when it was taken private in January 2016. More recently, he has helped navigate the lessor through the pandemic, an existential crisis for the wider airline sector.

He spoke about all these things and more in a public interview with me at a recent KPMG Dealmakers event.

In his own words, here are six takeaways from the event.

Floating Avolon

I was 29 starting Avolon. But I think CFO years are kind of like dog years. So, it ages you times seven. An IPO itself is an absolutely tremendous experience. It’s exciting, it’s dynamic, it’s a bit scary. You’ve to learn a new language, actually, you’ve to learn how to speak American for US investors. When you’re a public company, what investors care about is what’s the stock going to be worth tomorrow or maybe even at the end of today. And so it’s a much more short-term perspective from the equity shareholders.


Andy Cronin (left) speaking to Tom Lyons.

Hiring great people

We’ve been really lucky; we’ve been strong, successful, particularly in Ireland and as a result, we’ve attracted really great people into the business. And that becomes self-fulfilling, people really thrive on that, are challenged by that. They think expansively and they are all competitive. We hired sports people, we hired people who stood out from the pack in whatever way they can. Not necessarily in business, or accounting, or in a legal way, just in something. That’s been a really enjoyable part of the business.

The highs and lows of a start-up

When you do a start-up, it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. You’re personally invested. The highs are much higher and the lows are much lower because, for a mature business, stuff can happen. And if it’s one aircraft out of 800 aircraft, it doesn’t really matter, right? If it’s one aircraft out of three aircraft, that’s a big problem. And you get these little knocks – and you get the wins as well. I think if you haven’t done it and staked your livelihood on it, it’s hard to relate to it. But it’s a massively educational experience in terms of learning about yourself, learning about your colleagues, and how do you respond to that.

Navigating a pandemic

The first day people were sent home from the office you think it’s like in school when the heating is broken. You’re going to be back in here soon enough. No one thought two years.

We had a contractual window to cancel out 100 aircraft out of our pipeline and out of our CapEx . We didn’t know if we were making the right call there. You never know for sure that it’s the right call when you get into stuff like that. But that was the equivalent of about $6 billion of CapEx through 2021 and 2022. That’s the difference between a business getting through Covid and really struggling to get through Covid. If we were wrong, we missed out on growth. If we were right, it was potentially going to save the business.

You are always better off to make a decision. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of indecision.

Outlook for aviation

The aviation industry is coming back really, really well but it’s still very much in recovery mode. I think the difference is the airlines that have survived, and most of them have, have demonstrated an ability to really cut their fixed costs, really be able to survive on vapour and fumes for an extended period of time.

So, actually, I think they’re much better able to cope with a reduction in demand. I think the other sectors will take a more direct hit.

The role of advisers

When you are on an IPO trail, you’re getting 80 to 90 people on daily calls in terms of advisers. They are big machines when they get going. The best advisors, first of all, you have to trust them, and that’s a personal thing. They have to be credible; they have to be effective and efficient and they have to have the credibility to get your trust. And I’ll give two examples where they really were influential to the outcome of what happened and you know, perhaps it’s coincidence or perhaps it’s not, that they’re both KPMG.

Our audit partner Killian Croke actually pushed me back in 2013 to go to an IPO readiness clinic that KPMG was running in London; it was a massive accelerator in terms of me getting my head around what the business needed to do over the coming 18 months. 

And then we were really fortunate to have our tax partner James Kelly supporting us when we acquired CIT. It was complex because it was a $10 billion carve-out from a bank – we were buying bits of the bank in multiple jurisdictions at all different times of the day and night, and James was instrumental in much more than just a tax perspective.

The best advisors are ones that actually understand your commercial objectives and can work with you to get that, regardless of their own particular niche.

From left: Andy Cronin, CEO of Avolon, Mark Collins, head of deal advisory with KPMG and Tom Lyons at the recent KPMG event.