Profile: No frills - James Rothnie, director of corporate affairs, easyGroup

James Rothnie stares into space for what seems like an eternity before fixing his questioner with a steely blue gaze. Unable to recall his worst career moment, Rothnie similarly founders for his best, but with an earnestness that can be unnerving.

Then he remembers the 'momentous occasion' of being on the steps of the High Court as easyJet took on the might of British Airways and the effort easyGroup made to 'bridge the digital divide' with easyInternetCafe. But today, Rothnie's gaze is fixed firmly on disrupting the cruise market with easyCruise, a no-frills Mediterranean voyaging venture that sets sail from next month.

Rothnie has become a key player behind the sea change in the European service sector wrought by easyGroup's legendary owner Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Now a board director, he was originally hired as PR manager for easyJet in 1997, 'a company that had three aircraft and a room full of staff but no awareness'. His mission was to show people it was 'democratising the travel industry'.

Then, as the company sought to shake up other markets, he became easyGroup's first director of corporate affairs the following year. He and Stelios are the only people at the group handling PR, usually attending meetings with journalists around one of the call-centre-style desks at the company's Camden Town headquarters.

Rothnie is a healthy-looking 43 with a shock of blonde hair and a high-altitude suntan from skiing competitions he participated in last winter.

Indeed, skiing was Rothnie's first love for some time before he had his easyGroup epiphany.

After Eton, where Rothnie's room was across the corridor from Ministry of Sound founder James Palumbo, he completed a politics degree and spent the next five years skiing and travelling. He quips that he became 'a fully qualified ski instructor and a fairly experienced beach bum'.

In the late 1980s Rothnie made a poorly timed move into a career as an estate agent, cut short by the early 1990s property crash. Then he started out in sales for Disneyland Paris before moving, by virtue of his 'beach bum' language skills, into the post of translator attached to the corporate comms team. When the translator, whose one-year maternity leave Rothnie had been covering returned, he was kept on as an attache de presse.

He thus describes his move into PR as 'coincidental'.

Rothnie likens the job of a PRO to that of a politician, but makes clear that in spite of his easyGroup evangelism he is a private and single man with no desire to be out on the stump.

'In this day and age, where unbeknown to you there is a Sun photographer lurking in your bathroom, you need to lead a staid life,' he argues.

One national City journalist, who prefers not to be named, says Rothnie is 'calm and collected and does not blow up easily. He is not just another ad or marketing man - he calls a spade a spade'.

Rothnie admits that when BA launched its low-cost airline Go in 1998, 'we were genuinely terrified' but soon got involved in the kind of guerrilla PR tactics that have made easyGroup firms difficult for the media not to write about.

The 'easy' brand, Rothnie says, was all about 'jumping on opportunities'.

Indeed, he was one of the ten easyJet staff who boarded Go's maiden flight in orange boiler suits.

Taylor Nelson Sofres development director Tony Anderson, who was marketing director at easyJet when Rothnie joined, remembers how when Stelios wanted to spray easyJet's phone number on the side of the Concorde model at the entrance to Heathrow airport, Rothnie was 'well up for it'. 'James is a loyal guy who is pretty resilient, which you have to be if you are working for Stelios,' laughs Anderson.

Rothnie admits that occasionally the media 'do take a shot at us' but 'Stelios is very good at taking it on the chin'.

Otherwise his conviction in easyGroup's low-cost positioning is unshakeable: 'So long as we continue to strive to offer the man on the street a better deal we are going to remain popular. This is one of the great things about easyGroup and the job that I am doing,' he says earnestly.


1992 International group sales executive, Disneyland Paris

1994 Translator, Disneyland Paris

1995 Attache de presse, Disneyland Paris

1997 PR manager, easyJet

1998 Director of corporate affairs, easyGroup

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