Barbara Cassani has raised a few eyebrows in her life. A successful businesswoman in London for many years, she was tapped in 1987 by British Airways to set up the no-frills airline Go. She had it up and running within six months.
During her tenure as chief executive, Go recorded several years of double-digit growth and turned a profit ahead of expectations. She wrote a book about it: Go—An Airline Adventure. At the time, Cassani was one of the few women running a major British company. When British Airways sold Go, Cassani put together a £110 million management buyout and stayed with the company. Go’s takeover by rival EasyJet made her a wealthy woman but it left her temporarily without a job.
A 2002 recipient of the prestigious Veuve Clicquot businesswoman of the year award, Cassani was tapped to head the committee working to secure the 2012 Olympics bid for London. “I have taken this job because I know we can win,” she told reporters at the time. And she was right: The team she hired and led delivered the winning bid, and the 2012 summer Olympic and Paralympic games are slated for her adopted country. For her role, Cassani received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire award, the highest honor short of knighthood.