In four years Barbara Cassani turned £25m of British Airways’ money into a business worth £374m. Now bidding for the Olympics, the Go founder tells why she thinks the airline was sold too early, what she really thinks of Stelios and explains why buying Concorde was never an option.
One of the things I wanted to come across in the book was the culture of the company. Whenever you talk about culture it becomes gag-making. It either falls into jargon or it becomes really insincere. And it’s very hard to put your finger on ‘what is a culture?’ and ‘what is a bad one?’. But you know, you feel it. You can recognise it, but it’s hard to describe. I didn’t want it to descend into, especially because I’m American, into a horrible American ‘empowerment’ and oh, just awful terms that have been hackneyed.
Well, I think it’s about every stage of the experience in the company making it consistent with the way you want people to behave. So, when you recruit people, if it’s in an area where you want people to work together you make sure working with other people is an important part of their personality. If you want them to work together and solve problems you have to allow them room to do that in the way that you do their job description. And then the way that you coach them to improve on the job, either reinforces stepping a little bit outside the role and offering ideas or it punishes. This comes down to how you reward people in terms of pay rises and the way you make people into heroes within the company. Who you choose to put the spotlight on says a lot about what’s important in that company. The other thing, particularly with leaders, is that everyone’s watching you. You need to demonstrate the behaviour you want people to emulate. And if you stomp around screaming it gives everyone else permission to do the same thing. Or if you issue orders to people and summarily dismiss people or you favour people in your team, that’s noticed. And there becomes a pervasive sense of unfairness. But if you talk about fairness a lot and you try to demonstrate it in everything you do, and there’s a consistency then it seeps into the mindset.
Consistency is really important to employees. If you say something’s important, show that it is and not just flavour of the month. Fairness can’t be something that comes and goes. It needs to be pervasive. You can’t be fair to employees and then unfair to customers. Again, it’s jarring if there are inconsistencies in the approach of a company. None of this is brain surgery. You could describe these as principles of living your life. You trust people who do what they say they’re going to do. It’s that basic.
The issue I had with the whole 3i relationship was that we had a plan. I stuck to my side of the bargain. I was doing everything that I said I was going to do and they pulled the rug. If I were looking at it from their perspective I could understand what they did. I don’t think it was completely ridiculous. They didn’t show much courage and they didn’t show very much belief in what they were doing. They were chicken! I think they could have made, and we all could have made, three times more money by being brave. It’s as simple as that. The consequence of them pulling the plug, was that customers lost a great airline, employees lost a really good employer that they enjoyed working for, that was really more than just a job. And that was the end of it. So it was a very strange and sad outcome for something that didn’t have to end that way. But it says lot about the kind of company they are.