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Cassani Interview 11/12/01
Barbara Cassani is that rarity, a
woman in charge of a top British
company. But she doesn't make
herself scarce at Go's headquarters.
The coffee machine is communal,
no-one is on show, the staff banter
includes the chief executive. She
used to work for British Airways.
When BA was accused of running
a dirty tricks campaign against
Virgin, she made it clear she hadn't
known about it.
I'm hoping that we get a real apology
today, that Lord King or Sir Colin
Marshall will apologise in a genuine
In fact, with Bob Ayling as her boss,
her career flourished and in 1997 when
BA created Go under its wing, he asked
her to run it. A management buyout
followed and despite September 11th,
Go has announced its six monthly profits
up on last year by 51%. Whatever she
is doing, it's working. I asked Barbara
Cassani whether September 11th had
changed her view on air travel, did she
now see planes as potential weapons?
We have always taken security seriously.
We were originally set up and owned by
British Airways. That was part of our
heritage, a strong feeling that safety and
security were part of the basic mission
of an airline. Nothing has changed in that
regard. The risk changed in the aftermath
and we changed our security procedures
in line with that. We've taken it seriously
and worked with our people and the airports
to increase our security.
Can you talk to us about what it's like to be
a woman running a company like this? It's
become clear there are fewer women at the
top of the business world. On the FTSE
100 there is only one woman chief executive.
How do you explain that?
I don't know. I often get the question what
does it feel like to be a woman running a
company? My response is, "I've no idea,
because I've never been a man!" I've been
very lucky. I've worked in meritocratic
companies where you're judged on your
results, not on how you look or what your
sex is. I've obviously been lucky.
Do you think the 99 FTSE companies that
don't have a woman chief executive are not
I think there is a generational issue. I'm in
my early 40s and there are a lot of women
in their 30s today in Britain, who are coming
through the management and will end up at
the top of companies. I feel it's more of a
timing issue. Perhaps being American, where
women executives have been a bit ahead of
the curve on these issues has helped me. It
never occurred to me that I couldn't be chief
executive. I think that over the next ten years
we'll see a lot more women running British
One would've expected that answer ten years
ago. It's as if the cycle is moving in the opposite
I don't spend time considering these issues.
I just do my job. I run an airline and we've
set things up in four years and we have been
busy. At no point have I nor my colleagues
sat down and said, "What is our role in history?"
We feel we've a good business and let's build
it. Let the world judge us by what we deliver
to customers, if it's successful we will be successful.
Are there women members of staff lower down
in your organisation inspired by your achievements
as a woman and might feel disappointed by that
Not at all. The atmosphere we have at Go is
informal and we all chat about things. I'd like
to think that nobody in Go feels their future
is affected by gender or where they came from.
I'm a foreigner and that gives people more hope
for their future and what they can do for themselves.
You were in British Airways, you were a senior
manager. British Airways had the famous dirty
tricks row with Virgin. Can you tell us what your
role, if any, was in that?
I was a manager in the sales department at the
time. I viewed some information that I subsequently
found out had been obtained through Virgin
systems. That became one of the areas of interest
in the case. It was a bit part, but it was a very sad
time in BA's history. There were things going on
within the company I didn't know about. I could
vouch for my own behaviour as being proper,
but there were question marks around the
Has that done something to your idea now of
how to run a company? You are in a cut-throat
industry, running Go. Have you changed your
idea of how to go about handling the competition?
No. I've always had the same approach, which is
a direct one. I believe in fighting fairly. I believe
in fighting hard, but never considering breaking
laws or breaking moral ways of working.
Do you see a clearer line of what is fair and unfair
now because of the BA/Virgin row?
That was the way I was brought up. You know
what is right and wrong. You know that things
like price collusion are wrong and taking information
from other countries that they don't know they
are giving you is wrong. Those are basic rights
and wrongs. I hope I've brought a clear sense of
that to this company and questions come up in
companies on what's the right thing to do or not.
If your stomach tells you that you are not doing
the right thing, follow it, because you have to live