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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Barbara Cassani: Bidding for London
By Bob Chaundy
BBC News profiles unit

Ms Cassani in front of St Paul's Cathedral
Cassani regards herself as a Londoner
London has chosen an American businesswoman, Barbara Cassani, to lead its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. Does she have the credentials to lead a winning team?

A few years ago, the idea of choosing an American to sell London as the venue for the Olympic Games may have caused a few arguments in the pub down the Old Kent Road.

But since we have got used to a Swede running our national football team, a Frenchman our tennis, a German our rowing, another Frenchman our Dome, nationality is no longer something to put us off our beer.

One hopes, for London's sake, that some of the more old-fashioned among the 126 International Olympic Committee delegates she has to win round, won't find Barbara Cassani's support for the capital confusing, especially with New York also a contender.

'Go get 'em attitude'

Boston-born Barbara Cassani has lived in London on and off for 14 years and is married to a Brit, so while she's not exactly a Cockney, she knows her way around the capital.

Barbara Cassani's career
Born July 1960
Coopers and Lybrand, 1984-7
Chief-Executive Go Fly Ltd, 1997-2002
Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year, 2002
Chair of London's Olympic bid, 2003

In fact, Cassani regards her nationality as an asset. "I feel that most people in Britain are positively inclined towards Americans and that is very flattering."

Triple-gold-medal winning rower and IOC member Matthew Pinsent, has observed that Cassani "has got that 'go get 'em' attitude which counters British reserve".

Sir Bob Scott is a serial bidder for British cities competing for prestigious world events.

He led Manchester's unsuccessful attempt to be adopted as Britain's choice as an Olympic Games contender, and was successful both in securing the Commonwealth Games for the same city last year, and the City of Culture for Liverpool last month.

Mr Scott told BBC News Online that to succeed in an Olympics bid, the leader has to be "sharp, shrewd and knowing, but unthreatening as well. This is a world in which a lot of kissing goes on, lots of 'how are yous'."

Career take-off

Ideal country for an American woman, one would think.

Cassani advertising Go Airlines
Cassani was devastated at the sale of her baby, Go
There's no doubt that Ms Cassani is sharp, shrewd and knowing.

Armed with a masters degree in international relations from Princeton, she became a management consultant with Coopers and Lybrand in 1984.

From there, she joined British Airways where she held a number of senior positions, gaining a reputation for her mixture of charm and steeliness.

So impressed with her was former BA boss, Bob Ayling, that, in 1998, he charged her with setting up from scratch the no-frills airline, Go.

It was the kind of entrepreneurial challenge Ms Cassani had been hankering for. She set about the task with "an incredible and infectious passion", according to her former staff, yet with an approachable style.

This is no tea party I'm jumping into
Barbara Cassani

She would treat them to regular pizza parties, and even dressed up as Snow White, accompanied by senior managers as the seven dwarfs, for Go's first birthday party.

Her schedule would also include regular flights with customers; she even became an air hostess for the day.

Though cash-strapped BA decided to pull out of the low-cost airline business two years later, Ms Cassani was confident enough of Go's further profitability to put her life savings, a million pounds, towards a management buy-out.

She had no say, though, in the decision of 3i, the venture capital group which owned the majority stake in Go, to sell the airline to Easyjet last year.

She felt badly let down, although netting nearly 10 million pounds from the deal helped ease the pain.

Energetic quality

Ms Cassani's passion for sport is another asset. She competes, when time permits, in low-level showjumping and dressage competitions.

Five rings
Will the five rings fly over London?
Her husband, investment banker Guy Davis, whom she has known since her Princeton days, is a former triathlete. The couple live in the London district of Barnes with their two young children.

"I started an airline business from nothing and this bid, in some ways, is in the same position now," says Ms Cassani.

The one big difference, though, is that she is selling London, not creating it. She has no power to improve, for example, its current overstretched transport system.

As the lady from Boston says: "This is no tea party I'm jumping into."

The rounds of parties that seem obligatory to the job that Ms Cassani has taken on will be more champagne than tea.

"You've got to overwhelmingly enjoy all the social events, the whole process of schmoozing," says Sir Bob Scott. "It means having to be charming to people who you don't think much of at all."

For someone who has been quoted as preferring the buzz of a relentless work schedule to fine dining, this could be Ms Cassani's most difficult personal hurdle.




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