Tony's High Flying Career as a Founder Member of easyJet

4 January 2019 16:25
Tony (back row, second from right) at launch of easyJet in 1995
Tony (back row,second from right) at launch of easyJet in 1995

As the third member of the team which launched easyJet in 1995, Tony Anderson and his colleagues set out to break the aviation mould, but he never imagined that would require him to hare round London personally buying up every orange polo shirt he could find hanging on the rail of a specific high street retailer, as a casual uniform for the as yet unrecruited cabin crew. 

“It was a bit like that - everything was pretty hand to mouth,” laughs Tony, before revealing that the start-up then went on to recruit the cabin crew to fit the polo shirts they had managed to buy, because the retailer was unable to provide the selected garments to order. 

His four years as Marketing Director with easyJet came at a ground-breaking moment when the arrival of budget airlines altered the face of British aviation, made Tony’s career as a strategic marketer. He went on to become Marketing Director of easyGroup and internet bank Egg and a sought after international speaker. 

Studying marketing at Lancaster at a time when only one other university offered the subject at first degree level, was a tremendous advantage in building a career when the field was taking off in the UK and revolutionising approaches to the service industries: “Marketing degrees were in short supply while the university system caught up, I guess you could say we were ahead of the game.” 

He did not know that, however, when he chose to study at Lancaster. Brought up in Newport, South Wales, Tony originally signed up to study English and Italian, but was also attracted by the chance to try a novel subject with a real-world application, and the fact that Lancaster was a long way from home. Marketing started as an additional option in his first year, but soon took over from English. 

“I rapidly began to see the application of marketing in what was going on around me,” he recalls. “A course on consumer behaviour got me thinking that businesses needed to understand customers better.” 

Visits to organisations as part of the course, including a local paper firm and practical marketing projects brought the whole subject to life. He supplemented his finances with three jobs - at M&S in the town centre, at the Nelson Mandela Coffee Bar and the Sugar House night club. Looking back, he realises he was learning a great deal about business, but back then he saw it purely as a means of making money. 

His Italian studies prepared him well to make the most of a year abroad at the top Italian business school - SDA Bocconi - in Milan. Even there he was running a business with a fellow student from the USA, travelling out of Milan to US army bases just over the German border to buy food, which they sold in Milan, with a mark-up. 

Fylde was the centre of his social life, where he made friendships lasting until the present day. He was a regular at the pool table and was a member of the film club.

He left Lancaster in 1987 with a degree in Marketing and Italian and offers of seven management trainee posts from organisations including Midland Bank International and British Airways. Having accepted the former because it paid better, he regretted his decision. Throwing caution to the wind, he took a chance and wrote to the airline asking to rejoin the scheme with little hope of success, but BA offered him a place on its graduate marketing scheme. This was where he learned the marketing ropes and he later worked for the company in Europe and New York. 

Tony soon discovered that Lancaster’s marketing course had provided him with a sound basis for a high-flying career. “The course was very thorough in what it covered,” he explains. “Take finances. I did not want to be the Finance Director, but because it was part of my studies I understood how to present a business case, which meant that when I was in a conversation where a proposal needed to make financial sense, I could justify that in the right language.” 

Fate intervened on a flight across the Atlantic, when he found himself sitting next to the then Chief Executive of Thomas Cook, who shortly after offered him a job, at a time when direct marketing to the customer and economy airlines were being discussed. 

He was already sold on the idea of a no-frills, budget airline along the lines of Southwest Airlines, when he spotted an advertisement in the Sunday Times in 1995 for a Vice-President of Sales and Marketing working with founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, six months before easyJet flew its first passenger. Tony grabbed the chance. 

As the third person into easyJet at a time when the company was a mere start-up, Tony remembers much excitement and often flying by the seat of his pants. The timing for the enterprise was right as Luton airport had only one low-cost airline on the scene – a struggling Irish carrier called Ryanair. 

He views Lancaster as a progressive organisation, with an outward-looking and internationalist stance. He draws parallels between its approach and the way that easyJet was taking a concept that already worked in other places and making it work in a different context across Europe. 

His experience has made him a great believer in the importance of a positive company culture and the need for individuals both to feel united in working as part of the same organisation, but also to feel they have an important individual role to make it a success. 

He says “At easyJet we were taking on a battle to break the mould in aviation, that seemed almost impossible at the time - but we did it!”

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