Lessons from Barbara Cassani

Today’s thoughts are especially for those of you who are either managers or business owners – and anyone else who is interested.

Yesterday we awoke very early to an extremely cold autumn morning on our small boat on the Vaal Dam. So I climbed back under the duvet for a few hours of great reading. I was reading “Go – An Airline Adventure” by Barbara Cassani. The Sunday Times (probably the UK one) says it is “One of the business reads of the year” and I agree wholeheartedly. In March 1997, Barbara Cassani was asked to set up and run a low cost airline for BA. She turned a profit in three years, led a management buyout and eventually sold the company for £374 million, just four years after its launch.

Surprisingly for a story about a business started with corporate money, this is a story of entrepreneurship. This lady used guts and chutzpah coupled with excellent people skills and sound business analysis to do what very few thought possible. The book is a really enjoyable read whilst at the same time sharing a great deal that we can all learn from.

Some of the points I picked up on:
· The management team of Go were always clear on the company’s purpose – “To be Europe’s best low cost airline. – To provide best prices with the best no-frills service.”

· Barbara (the CEO) stated from the outset that ‘employees must know they matter and customers must get genuine value for money’. And she stuck to this even when it meant some very tough decisions. After 9-11, when other airlines had to lay off staff, Go did not. They had regular GO MAD awards for people who made a difference and all staff received personal thank you’s and birthday messages from the CEO. Go reintroduced pre assigned seating because the normal low cost push and shove method created excessive stress for the traveller.

· At the same time she is a tough, determined, driven lady – no push over. She is a perfect example of what I often speak about – making sure people are treated well does not mean being soft.

· Go demonstrated another of my favourites – marrying human and business needs results in a profitable company with happy people working in it. They had tremendous spirit resulting in staff and management often going much further than the extra mile to handle emergencies. Barbara calls this their Warrior Spirit.

· This Warrior Spirit was part of the culture Barbara and her management team created at Go. It was a culture of all working together to make the company successful. Barbara comments on how there will always be operational glitches in a low cost operation. At these times only with the goodwill of the employees pulls the business through. She says you cannot buy this goodwill. I agree but would add that you can earn it through treating everyone authentically, kindly, fairly, equally but uniquely.

· Barbara’s communication skills really stood out for me. She communicated as openly and as frequently as possible with staff and customers using many methods but mostly verbal – either in person or with podcasts. This was emulated by her management and staff so that when emergencies occurred at airports that were beyond their control, they still managed to keep their customers – because they talked to them!

· She and her team stuck to the company’s values; were high energy; made tough decisions and found creative solutions.

Barbara writes, “Business models don’t make profits, people do.
Passion, honesty and emotional commitment to people and the business produces excellence; mediocrity is the result without them.”

I think this is a must read for business owners and managers. And this coming long weekend is a great opportunity to snuggle in and read. (The ISBN number is 0 7515 3560 5.)


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