Opinion: Leader - UK plc can learn a lot from BA's Eddington

BA boss Rod Eddington offers us a contemporary case study in how being open and frank with media and staff can tangibly improve a company's reputation and performance.

The Australian, at the helm of our national flag carrier since May 2000, was this week rated as the UK chief executive with the highest and most positive media profile by Citigate Dewe Rogerson's annual CEO Brand Value Report. And it is no coincidence that BA's share price has generally recovered under Eddington's stewardship.

At the turn of the millennium, BA was perceived as close to becoming a basket case. Its reputation was expensive, arrogant and aloof. BA's outdated pricing structure had been undermined by low-cost airlines but, more importantly, its previous management had handled relations with staff and media ineptly.

The way former boss Bob Ayling managed a late-1990s cabin crew strike had created a dangerous schism between management and staff. This was followed by the PR blunders in removing the British flag from tailfins, and stating that it wanted to get rid of low-paying customers.

BA still felt like a recently privatised monopoly with an old-school divide between bosses, workers and punters. But Eddington has brought a complete culture change. He had to deal with the cataclysmic events of 9/11 but held his nerve. His attitude has been that if you're a large organisation, you have to accept that you'll always be in the news and confront the issues without complaining. Moreover, his edict to managers has been to tell the truth, and tell frontline staff the same story that you tell the media.

He has made himself accessible to journalists and been honest with staff.

Earlier this week, when presenting the airline's new two-year business plan to employees, Eddington was frank about the faltering cost-cutting programme and the economic pressures BA still faces.

The rumours continue that Eddington will be on his way before long. Let's hope his legacy survives, not just at BA but throughout UK plc.

City & Corporate News, p12.

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