Flying high again: Barbara Cassani


Cassani says one reason she landed the Go Fly job, apart from a case of
‘right place, right time’, was because of her reputation for straight
talking. “Some executives might think it’s a great opportunity for them
to launch a new airline full stop,” she says. “But the British Airways
CEO knew that I’d have to persuade myself that it was a good idea
before I’d get involved.”

She had also bought and sold businesses during her previous 10 years at
BA and had very clear ideas on how she wanted the new business to
operate.

“I wanted to break down the hierarchy and ensured there was less double
talk. We were very open with staff and I think that’s important. We
also encouraged people to try things. Everyone makes mistakes but we
reacted quickly and didn’t spend a lot of time pointing fingers or
blaming people.”

She says the other important aspect of her success was in picking a good team of people and “not people who were like me”.

She adds: “You need to spend time getting the right people on board
with the right mix of skills. You have to realise your own weaknesses
and limitations and account for that. You certainly need to spend more
time picking people than you do on things like staff uniforms or the
logo.”

In 2001, Cassani led a management buy-out of the company, backed by 3i, and became its first chief executive.

The company was bought by easyJet the following year and the experience
taught Cassani a valuable, if painful, business lesson: “When you take
other people’s money, you are beholden to them.”

She adds: “I thought we had more control over the business than we did
and the sale was a sobering but important lesson for me. I’m much more
cautious now about putting my heart into what I do.”

Cassani advises any business leader to spend as much time as possible
in their business. “It’s one thing sitting in your big office having
ideas, it’s something else understanding the realities of implementing
the ideas. You need a sense of the people who work for you and the
environment they work in,” she says.

She adds making the time to visit employees, factories, shops or
offices, should be scheduled into senior people’s diaries three months
ahead.

“The first thing that usually goes into diaries are the board meetings,
then the meetings ahead of the board meetings, then staff appraisals
and there is often no time left to visit the people who really matter
in any business – the employees.”

Her final piece of advice is something everyone can do and something
that is absolutely free. “Say thanks to staff. It’s easy, cheap and
makes a massive difference,” she says.

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