EasyJet appoints Guardian Media chief Carolyn McCall as new CEO


LONDON — Carolyn McCall, the head of U.K. publishing company Guardian Media Group, has been appointed EasyJet’s new chief executive, continuing budget airline’s tradition of appointing bosses from outside the company and with no airline experience.

Ms. McCall will succeed Andy Harrison, who is set to take the reins of hotel-and-restaurant chain Whitbread PLC in September.

EasyJet said Wednesday that Ms. McCall has “a proven track record of successful operational delivery in a fast changing online, consumer-facing business combined with extensive PLC board and government and lobbying experience.”

Ms. McCall has been with Guardian Media for 24 years, the past four as CEO. She is also on the board of privately held U.K. clothing retailer New Look and has in the past been a director at the U.K.’s biggest retailer by sales, Tesco PLC, as well as Lloyds Banking Group PLC. However, she has no experience working at an airline or running a large publicly traded company.

Ms. McCall couldn’t be reached for comment. In comments to corporate-communications service Cantos, she said: “I’ve come from a background where there’s been enormous change, enormous pace…I think that that, and the skills that I have from that, are very transferable.”

EasyJet has a history of appointing executives with no airline experience. Mr. Harrison had headed automotive-service group RAC for nine years when he joined the company as CEO in 2005. And in January, the company appointed EMI Music executive Chris Kennedy as the budget carrier’s new finance director.

Credit Suisse said that while Ms. McCall is something of an “unknown quantity” in such a high-profile role, she has a good track record and will focus the market on the increasing importance of ancillary revenue to easyJet’s business model.

“The announcement makes a further bold statement that easyJet is looking to bolster its consumer-facing expertise,” Credit Suisse said in a note to investors.

Ms. McCall, who is leaving Guardian Media at a critical time for the company and the media industry as a whole, is joining easyJet after the airline has gone through a difficult period.

Although the carrier has shown resilience to the economic downturn—it posted a £71 million ($107 million) net profit and higher revenue for its latest fiscal year at a time when many airlines were posting big losses—a long boardroom battle with founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou over strategy has caused three senior boardroom departures during the past year, including Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Haji-Ioannou and his two siblings are easyJet’s biggest shareholders, owning 38% of the carrier. Mr. Haji-Ioannou, who founded easyJet in 1995 and is still on the company’s board, had been concerned the company’s growth strategy was too aggressive during the economic downturn. After nearly eight months of infighting, he persuaded the company to pare back its expansion plans.

Ms. McCall is leaving the Guardian Media Group after a 24-year career at the company, during which she held a number of senior posts at the group’s national-newspaper and Web-site unit, Guardian News & Media, before taking over as CEO of the larger group four years ago.

One of Ms. McCall’s major achievements was overseeing the 1999 launch of the Guardian’s full-fledged Web site, which now boasts more than 30 million monthly unique users, with two-thirds of them coming from outside Britain.

Guardian Media Group posted a £74 million loss for the year ended March 29, 2009, amid advertising weakness and restructuring costs.

Ms. McCall has tried to diversify the group’s portfolio as CEO. In 2008, she authorized a joint venture with private-equity firm Apax Partners LLP to purchase Emap Ltd., a business-to-business publishing company. Ms. McCall also made headlines last year, amid reports that the company was considering closing the Observer, the oldest Sunday newspaper in Britain and the Guardian’s Sunday title. The company eventually ruled out a closure of the paper.