In The News: Barbara Cassani: I'm no superwoman, says the high- flyer with no frills

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The Independent Online
TODAY IS ONE of the most important days of Barbara Cassani's life, writes Ann Treneman. This morning, bookings open for her new airline - the cut-price Go which starts flying from Stansted in May. It is being marketed as one that is no-frills but with some style. In this way it is a bit like the boss - a 37-year-old American transplant - though she has no intention of playing this up. "I'm not into cult of personality."

What she is into is hard work and lots of it. She is American and is one of those people who gets up at 6am. She eats breakfast with her (English) husband, an investment banker, and they are both out of the house before their two small children are even awake. "We tiptoe out, so we don't wake up the nanny," she says.

She works a 12-hour day and is home to read a book at bedtime to the kids. Then, she says, it's usually time for a little more work.

Barbara Cassani is a classic driven Type A and a compulsive list-maker. "My lists are essential and I love the feeling of satisfaction I get when I can tick things off," she says. She is driven, and not only in work. When talking about the long commute to Stansted from her west-London home, she adds: "It will be gruesome. But if I am driving in the morning I plan to do lots of things like buy some language tapes and learn something new."

Everyone says that Ms Cassani is down-to-earth, a team-player and easy to get along with. She is giggly and girlish and has a good sense of humour. Just when you think she must be a poster child for something, they add in a lower tone of voice that she can also be ruthless. She admits as much herself, though only in her natural language of management speak: "I am quite a focussed person who likes to deliver results."

She doesn't like labels, even one as obvious as the fact she is American. As an employee of British Airways for 10 years, she claims not to be an "import", despite what her passport may say. Her life may be that of a superwoman but she rejects the very word. "I am just not gender aware," she has said. (She talks like this a lot. For instance, she claims that as head of Go: "My job is to transfer vision".)

Ms Cassani says she likes change - which is good because she's certainly had a lot of it. She spent her childhood moving around America following her father's sales and marketing job, and much of her career has involved ping-ponging between the US and Britain as a BA executive.

In between came two degrees: she got her BA in international relations from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and her MA in public affairs from Princeton (where she met her husband, Guy Davis). She worked as a management consultant with Coopers & Lybrand but was frustrated by giving good advice that didn't get followed. One day she answered a newspaper advertisement for somebody who would "challenge markets and be part of creating a new vision of the world" in a service industry.

It turned out to be BA. At first she worked on their computer reservations systems, then in sales and marketing.

She was living in America when the telephone rang and BA chairman Bob Ayling offered her the chance to help set up what would become Go.

"I discussed it with my husband for all of five seconds," she says. "We moved back to London before I even knew if the project would be going ahead."

As of today it is all Go - and so, it seems, is she.

LOW POINT

Barbara Cassani is known as warm and witty - except when the subject of dirty tricks is mentioned. Even though her role was peripheral in the controversial battle between British Airways and Richard Branson's Virgin that caused BA such huge embarrassment, Ms Cassini reacts to questions in an almost formal manner. "I am a highly professional and honest person," she has said.

HIGH POINT

The market for low-cost airlines may be cut-price but it is also cut- throat. Witness the adverts late last year that warned that Barbara Cassani was merely an agent of Bob Ayling at British Airways. "Beauty and the Beast," said one advert above pictures of the pair. Ms Cassani was less than terrified. "It so sweet!" she hooted. "They think I'm beautiful. I showed my husband and I said, 'There'. He was laughing so much he was under the table."

NO GUILT

At one point last year Ms Cassani was commuting across the Atlantic in order to see her children. Things got a little easier when the family relocated to south-west London though she still only sees her kids for an hour or so a day during the week. She has a nanny and a housekeeper and no guilt. "I never resent the job. I feel comfortable with the choice I have made," she said. "No one forces anything on me."

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