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Not your average Monday – lunch with Carolyn McCall

Monday monring – July 4th 2011. Munching down my Cheerios my wife asked, “what have you got planned for today”? I replied, smiling, “lunch with Carolyn McCall – CEO of Easyjet!” “Oh wow”, she gleefully responded.

How often could I ever say I would be off to lunch with a CEO of huge business, let alone one so well-loved and revered. I won’t lie – I’ve dropped this lunch in conversation with every person I know ever since. “What have you been up to recently?”, they politely ask. My usual answer is “nothing much… oh I had  lunch with Carolyn McCall, CEO of Easyjet, last week”! (Cue: grin)

OK so I possibly stretched the truth a little – whilst it was strictly ‘lunch’ with Carolyn I was joined by seven of my fellow Marketing Academy scholars and our very own CEO Sherilyn. It wasn’t The Ivy either but it was hosted in a quite fantastic penthouse room overlooking Gatwick airport. The official term for these sessions is ‘lunch and learn’ and it’s another impressive feather to the Marketing Academy bow.

The concept is simple – eight scholars gather together for 2 hours and ask questions to seasoned business and marketing professionals over lunch.

So in the spirit of sharing which good old Merlin (the Marketing Academy mascot for those not in the know) fully encourages here are the 5 top things I scribbled down from what was a very enjoyable time with Carolyn – who was as you’d expect was incredibly lovey, smart, genuine, passionate and dedicated.

1)      The heart of it all

One of the first thing’s Carolyn conveyed to us was that she loved what she did.  You could see that she really did absolutely love what she was doing at Easyjet. This passion for your job has been a common theme from everyone I’ve met so far during my Marketing Academy scholarship. It’s a consistent message shining through. It’s a unanimous cry. A ubiquitous call to arms.  It’s vital. It’s the lifeblood of being a successful business leader.

After all – how can you expect passion from others if you don’t have it yourself? 

2)      From the grassroots up 


This was actually an observation more than something Carolyn said. But we all know actions speak louder than words.  We were fortunate enough to spend some time after our lunch in the staff area for Easyjet at Gatwick . Here the cabin crew meet before heading to their respective flights. What really struck me was Carolyn’s approach to happily speak to all the staff. I’m not talking a polite “hello” and then a scamper away. I’m talking genuine conversation for a significant time. Whilst I wasn’t privy to what was said it seemed to me like she was listening and looking to understand her staff.

There’s a lesson here – a great leader sees all of their people as huge assets – regardless of title or level. They take a genuine interest in them and they most importantly listen. They in doing so become a real leader of the people – in touch with reality at the grassroots.

3)      The magic combination

If you are an aspiring marketer Carolyn pin-pointed two key areas to have a deep knowledge of. Have these and you will be highly effective in your role and also highly employable. Brand is the first one. Having the ability to understand brand, how to build it and how to manage it is absolutely crucial. Then there’s data – how to harness it, interpret it, capture it, utilise it.

Brand and data together are a powerful combination for the modern marketer.

4)      Pack your bags and grab your passport

Carolyn spoke passionately about gaining international business experience. She believed this was vital now and even more so in the coming years as markets converge and senior roles require an international approach. If you have the opportunity to work on global, or European business, either from within the UK or moving abroad, absolutely grab it.

If you haven’t done so already – seek to gain international experience.

5)      More than just a clothing brand

Integrity was something Carolyn really highlighted as a crucial part of being a brilliant leader. Hiding away isn’t an option – you must be true at every moment. And that includes being true about who you are and the situations and scenarios you face. The best leaders are authentic leaders. Facades do not work and will never pay-off in the long-term.

 If you thought leadership was all about being right every time, not making any mistakes and covering things up think again.

Thanks to all the Marketing Academy team for organising this session for us and to Carolyn herself.

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