Almost four years later, Michael O'Leary is having to play catch-up,
emulating some of the more customer-friendly strategies that McCall,
a former newspaper group boss, has brought to easyJet's bright
"She's done a great job at easyJet," the Irishman said in a one-line
statement when asked for comment on his rival, one of only four
women running a FTSE 100 company.
Since becoming chief executive in July 2010, McCall has overseen an
almost fourfold rise in the share price and a more than doubling in
profit at Europe's second-largest low-cost carrier behind Ryanair.
And she doesn't intend to stop there.
"There's so much more to do," 52-year old McCall told Reuters. "I
can see myself continuing to work at easyJet for quite a long time."
Shareholders investing 100 pounds ($170) in easyJet and reinvesting
dividends from the beginning of 2011 would have a holding now worth
around 450 pounds, compared with the 208 pounds they would have from
Ryanair and the 136 pounds from British Airways owner IAG, according
to Thomson Reuters data.
"She's been very disciplined about how she's gone about that growth.
It's not about sticking flags in maps. It's about being ruthless –
does this route work or doesn't it?," Trevor Green, the head of
institutional equities at Aviva Investors, one of easyJet's
twenty-biggest shareholders, said.
"I think she’s got a model which is working and keeping going with
that model will continue to be a success."
Many analysts seem to agree. Even after the 27 percent rise in
easyJet's shares over the last twelve months, of the 25 who cover
the stock, 14 rate it a "strong buy" or "buy" compared with nine who
rate it a "hold", Thomson Reuters data shows.
McCall's next step is to expand in France and Germany, where market
penetration for low-cost airlines is substantially lower than in
Britain, while keeping a lid on costs to continue grabbing market
share from higher-cost rivals.
In France she plans to address regional demand for both domestic and
international flights, while in Germany, the airline and its rivals
are hoping to capitalize on the troubles of Air Berlin, the
country's no.2 airline.
One of McCall's successes so far has been to steal more lucrative
business customers from British Airways, Air France-KLM and
Lufthansa, Europe's traditional airlines, by introducing allocated
seating and improving punctuality.
A 5 a.m. trip to Gatwick Airport in her early days as boss, where
she asked staff what needed to change to make the airline run on
time, helped reverse a reputation for delays.
"There's a steely competitive edge to her and she's very determined
to win," said Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate.
Cost-cutting is another essential ingredient. An easyJet team
recently went to Alaska to find a cheaper supplier for de-icing,
while the airline is also trialling flying robots to cut the time it
takes to check planes hit by lightening.
[to top of second column]
"The amazing thing about easyJet, having worked in another sector,
is that it's completely inbuilt in the psyche of every person in the
company that you are constantly looking for efficiency," said
McCall, who lives and breathes the airline's no-frills policy, even
staying in budget Travelodge hotels on business.
As well the media sector, McCall has experience on the boards of
retailers Tesco and New Look and will join British luxury brand
Burberry as a non-executive director later this year.
easyJet is banking on the 135 fuel-efficient planes it has ordered
to save money in future and is also in consultations about turning
one of Gatwick's two terminals into a mainly easyJet-only zone.
"I think in five years time, there's no question that Europe will be
about low-fares airlines," McCall said.
Before easyJet, she worked at the loss-making left-leaning Guardian
newspaper, climbing the ranks from research planner to chief
executive of the overall Guardian Media Group over 24 years.
After fronting a bold and costly redesign of the paper in 2005,
McCall took much of the flack for cuts to staff salaries and
numbers, and clashed with unions over her own pay.
"She's not in any way a pushover," said one of her former
colleagues. "She's a good negotiator and she deals well with big
personalities, big egos".
One such personality is Stelios Haji-Ioannou the businessman who
founded easyJet in 1995 and gate crashed the low-cost European
airline scene pioneered by Ryanair in the late 1980s.
Stelios, as he is known, is easyJet's biggest shareholder with over
a third of the stock and continues to publicly criticize the
company's management, including McCall's 6.4 million pound total
(Additional reporting by Vincent Flasseur; Editing by Erica
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