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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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 manner.

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 meritocratic?

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 companies.

One would've expected that answer ten years ago. It's as if the cycle is moving in the opposite direction?

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 answer?

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 company.

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 with yourself.

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