What Made Guardian Boss Carolyn McCall Take Easyjet Flight?

Last Updated Mar 25, 2010 7:52 AM EDT

One of the most hotly discussed appointments this week has got to be Easyjet naming former Guardian Media Group head Carolyn McCall as CEO apparent.

It's not an obvious choice, as McCall is an industry outsider and will be one of the first women to take control of an airline.

So why has she been picked for the job? McCall has been with GMG for the last 24 years, so it's fair to say she's deeply entrenched in the media industry, which has little in common with the travel sector.

It could be said that she goes from one industry facing a long period of upheaval and turbulence (from which it will undoubtedly emerge as a bird of completely different plumage) to another that is also weathering stormy skies.

McCall's response has been to support digital channels and it's arguable that GMG has been more responsive to the digital revolution than its rival print heavyweights. The airline industry is also increasingly relying on the internet as a channel to market and again, Easyjet has some claim to being a pioneer here too.

But what of her reputation as a manager? In terms of industrial relations, BA's dispute with staff illustrates how volatile employee feelings are about how much they are being expected to bear the pain of recession in the industry.

GMG, with its left-leaning core titles The Guardian and Observer, has traditionally had a consultative relationship with media unions. Where other media empires use the cachet of their titles to avoid worrying about employee engagement, GMG (alongside the BBC) has a reputation for looking after staff. Will McCall be able to play hard-ball with Easyjet staff if she needs to? Easyjet has also seen industrial action recently so this isn't an outlandish hypothesis.

Then there's the relationship with Easygroup founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who butted heads with the man McCall is replacing Andy Harrison by refusing to sign off the company's accounts. Will McCall be able to deal with an entrepreneur who clearly wants to continue to have close involvement with the company?

Perhaps all in all, this isn't the easiest role to take on, but it is one where McCall might be able to make a mark. Easyjet is close to breaking into the FTSE 100 and so McCall has landed in the hot seat just at the right time to claim that prize as her own. GMG on the other hand is a minor player in a high profile, but troubled sector with no clear way of safeguarding revenues. Perhaps this is the real reason for McCall's decision to fly the nest.

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