DCSIMG

Difficult start for new EasyJet chief Carolyn McCall

FOR a woman who has spent more than two decades working with the pressure of daily deadlines, Carolyn McCall is bound to be exasperated by the dismal punctuality record at her new company.

Less than a month into the job as chief executive of EasyJet, McCall was forced to admit last week that something must be done about the rising number of delayed and cancelled flights across the low-cost carrier's fleet of 189 aircraft.

Latest figures from the UK Civil Aviation Authority revealed a significant deterioration in EasyJet's performance against a year earlier, particularly at London's Gatwick Airport, where it is the largest airline.

Questions surrounding the carrier's performance have been raised repeatedly since last April, when the firm, now Europe's second-largest budget airline, ceased publishing its monthly punctuality figures. EasyJet's woes on this front - exacerbated by recent disruptions from the volcanic ash cloud and air traffic control strikes - have handed ammunition to its disenchanted founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

A protracted and high-profile bust-up with Stelios, as he prefers to be called, led to a management clear-out at EasyJet which paved the way for McCall's entry into the world of aviation. The former chief executive of The Guardian Media Group has been joined in the EasyJet boardroom by a new chairman and a freshly-appointed finance director.

Recruited from the world of publishing McCall's appointment was met with surprise from across the aviation industry. She will now have to set about proving that her customer relations skills and experience of government lobbying - two qualities reportedly highlighted by the EasyJet board - can quickly transfer into tangible improvements at the airline.

Speed is of the essence. Stelios controls 38 per cent of EasyJet's shares and personally owns the brand through his holding company, EasyGroup. The mercurial entrepreneur has threatened to terminate the licence for the Easy brand unless the airline can bring its punctuality performance "in line with the highest standards in the industry" within a 90-day deadline.

McCall says the company has been advised by lawyers that Stelios has no grounds to take away the brand, but nonetheless admitted last week: "Our on-time performance has to improve because it's not satisfactory."

Analysts certainly agree with that assessment. Though EasyJet last week reported third-quarter revenues more than 5 per cent higher at 759 million, some observers say McCall has yet to satisfactorily address the punctuality problems and the schism with Stelios. The market's disappointment on the day of the results was reflected in the biggest one-day fall in EasyJet shares for 18 months, despite the relatively robust update.

One of the major questionmarks over McCall's appointment at EasyJet is her lack of industry experience, with more than one commentator noting that her only knowledge of airline operations comes from the vantage point of a passenger.

She is, however, well-travelled. Born in India as the only child of British parents Colleen and Arthur, the young McCall lived in India and Singapore for most of her early years. She arrived permanently in the UK only when it was time to study for her A-levels. She then went on to study history and politics at the University of Kent in Canterbury and took a Masters at the University of London.

Despite her extensive study of the art of government administration, McCall has said that she had no clear plan of what she wanted to do after her studies, initially toying with the idea of academia before moving into teaching and then a role as a risk analyst at Costain, the engineering and construction group.

She joined Guardian Media Group in 1986 as a researcher, then worked her way up the ranks through various roles in marketing, planning and sales before moving into management. She was named a deputy managing director in 1998, followed by her promotion to chief executive in 2006.

Her rise to deputy managing director kick-started a series of non-executive appointments for McCall, including stints at fashion retailer New Look and a 14-month spell at Lloyds, which she joined as the banking group was finalising its takeover of HBOS. She resigned from the latter at the end of 2009, saying the increased time commitments in the volatile banking sector made her position untenable.

Her most notable non-executive post was with Tesco, where she served between 2005 and 2008. She was forced to resign from that post in the wake of a bitter libel wrangle between the supermarket group and The Guardian, which had wrongly accused the former of tax-dodging. The announcement of her departure came just days after McCall was awarded that year's prestigious Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year.

Described as tough, determined yet approachable, McCall quickly began re-shaping GMG after taking the helm from Sir Bob Philips in August 2006.

She began by selling a 49.9 per cent stake in Trader Media to Apax in a 675m deal, then joined up again with the private equity house less than a year later to take over the business-to-business division of Emap for 1.1 billion. That deal has so far proven a limited success for GMG, which contributed 300m towards the purchase price but may eventually have to write that down by half.

Defenders say it would be cynical to blame McCall for the deal's shortcomings, as all media assets were fully valued in the period before the global financial collapse.The fortunes of the publishing industry may no longer be McCall's problem, but she faces issues at least equally thorny in her new role. Stelios would like to see the resumption of dividend payments by EasyJet, and is also pushing for a dramatic cut in the airline's expansion plans.

The latter would involve the renegotiation of contracts with Airbus, which is part-way through the multi-year delivery of a second round of 120 aircraft to EasyJet. McCall would need to have these delayed, unlike the current fleet, which must start taking off on time.

BACKGROUND

Born in 1961 in India of British parents, Carolyn McCall lived abroad for most of her early years, returning to the UK for A-levels.

She studied history and politics at the University of Kent, followed by a Masters in politics from the University of London.

McCall joined Guardian Media Group in 1986 as a researcher, and worked her way up through various marketing and advertising posts before being named chief executive in 2006.

In addition to previous non-executive roles at New Look, Lloyds and Tesco, McCall chairs Opportunity Now, a membership group that promotes the role of women in the workplace. She also serves as trustee of Tools for Schools, a business-education initiative co-founded by The Guardian.

She and her husband have three children.

 
 
 

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