Finance

BIG SHOT OF THE WEEK: She piloted EasyJet into the FTSE, and now Dame Carolyn McCall is tipped for the top slot at ITV

People person: EasyJet boss Dame Carolyn McCall

When EasyJet unexpectedly dipped into the red last year, the carrier’s chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall swiftly scrambled into action.

All day she was in and out of the TV news studios, politely batting off criticism and shoring up the beleaguered airline’s position.

Her calmness in the face of such hostility was impressive. All the more so when it later emerged that just hours earlier her father had passed away.

But while some chief executives tend to go walkabout during a crisis (her BA rival Alex Cruz’s recent vanishing act springs to mind) Dame Carolyn prefers to meet it head on.

Polite, neatly presented and well- spoken, the result of a boarding school education she received during a comfy upbringing in Bangalore, India, she has the reassuring demeanour of an uber-competent headmistress. Apt, since she originally set out to become a teacher.

It was McCall’s people skills which persuaded EasyJet’s (then) chairman Sir Mike Rake to appoint her in 2010.

Back then, the airline was in the doldrums. It had developed a hard-to-shake reputation for delays – nearly a third of its flights were late – and poor customer service.

With staff morale at rock bottom, and pilots grumbling over management penny pinching, one of McCall’s first acts was to write a soothing memo to the crew reassuring them she wasn’t planning on turning the airline into an ‘Orange Ryanair’. They were soon won round.

She also took to flying several times a week, chatting with passengers and crew members, even walking down the aisles to help clear up rubbish.

More planes were introduced, taking EasyJet from being just a carrier for beer-swilling tourists into the more lucrative European business travel market.

During a time when many European airlines were still losing money following the 2008 crash, four years of record profits followed, with EasyJet landing inside the FTSE 100 in the process.

Her achievements have not gone unrecognised. She’s earned nearly £17million over the past three years.

And David Cameron saw fit to award her a damehood in last year’s New Year’s Honours for services to aviation.

Airborne: McCall took to flying several times a week, chatting with passengers and crew members, even walking down the aisles to help clear up rubbish

Not bad for someone who Ryanair charmer Michael O’Leary unchivalrously dismissed as a ‘media luvvie’ when she arrived at EasyJet’s Luton headquarters.

Scepticism about her appointment was perhaps understandable. Not only did she have zero experience in the aviation business, but her previous role as chief executive of the Guardian newspaper, which for years had been haemorrhaging money, hardly inspired confidence.

McCall joined the paper in 1986 as a research planner not long after leaving Kent University.

She was quickly identified as a people person, and moved over to sales, where her confidence and easy-going manner saw her swiftly move up into management. After eight years serving as managing director, she was named chief executive in 2006.

While a popular appointment among staff, her four-year tenure coincided with some cataclysmic decisions the paper is still ruing to this day, chiefly a decision to splash out £80million on expensive printing presses as the Guardian switched to a new ‘Berliner’ format.

But if errors were made, then they show no signs of coming back to haunt her. This week it was authoritatively reported in the Guardian (where else?) that she’s first in line for the soon-to-be vacant chief executive job at ITV.

She’s by no means certain to take it. McCall quietly turned down the Marks & Spencer job when Marc Bolland departed last year, but the broadcaster looks a more natural fit for her.

For starters, it would mean less travel – she’s constantly between airports, checking on new EasyJet destinations – giving her more time at the Hertfordshire home she shares with husband Peter, a sports development consultant, and their three teenage children.

And she certainly won’t miss squabbling with EasyJet’s founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who as majority shareholder remains a disruptive ‘king o’er-the-water’ presence in Monaco.

ITV chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette, the broadcasting grandee responsible for bringing Big Brother to these shores, would likely be much more Dame Carolyn’s kettle of fish.

Two unabashed media luvvies at the helm of our largest commercial broadcaster? An intriguing prospect, certainly.

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