If there’s one thing that won’t be high on David Magliano’s list of priorities in his new job, it’s an advertising agency review. The first sales and marketing director at BA’s low-cost airline Go, is very happy with the advertising thank you – because he did it himself.
Magliano, 34, has been poached from HHCL & Partners, where he has been running the Go account since the agency won the business in July. Having been in on the project from its beginnings last summer, when he was lured from co-running the Ford account at Ogilvy & Mather, he has overseen much of its strategic development – from a concept without a name to a pan-European airline on the verge of launch.
In some respects, since then Magliano has been the acting marketing director for Go and has clearly impressed its tough American chief executive, Barbara Cassani. He was closely involved in the appointment of Wolff Olins to create a brand identity, handled product development (brand positioning, pricing, capacity, route management) as well as the creation of its advertising.
But in other ways he is making a huge leap into the unknown, taking on responsibility for a 24-hour telesales centre (all Go’s sales across Europe will be via the call centre at the airline’s Stansted base), distribution, and those big decisions such as flight frequency and the development of new routes.
It is a huge job for someone with no experience of working on the client side. One of his closest friends and a former colleague says: “He’s incredibly pragmatic. He’s even joked ‘What do I know about marketing an airline?’ But he’ll do it.”
Given the nature of his work at HHCL, it is not surprising that the thought of actually doing the job occurred to Magliano about six months ago, when headhunters started their search to fill the post. But he was not first choice and never actually applied. The first time the subject was raised was around Christmas when Cassani tentatively floated the idea past him on their way to buy a sandwich.
It fits with his own version of his career path, which he insists has been the result of opportunism rather than careful planning. It has been a circuitous route, that has taken him from an engineering degree at Oxford to working for Shell in Aberdeen as a graduate trainee. After three years and more than 80 application letters, he switched to Hall Advertising in Edinburgh, moved to the design and event company Imagination, where he began working on Ford, and from there went to O&M.
There is a determination about Magliano that underlies the apparent ease of his professional success. To his detractors, his spare, minimalist style might appear aloof or even calculating. His friends say he is sensitive and thoughtful. One says: “He is a brilliant politician. I mean that in a nice sense. He is extremely intelligent and he is emotionally intelligent; he is sensitive to all sorts of things. I think he is a great diplomat. He can read a situation extremely well.”
No one understands Magliano’s determination better than his Polish wife, Malgosia. They met in a bar in Charlotte Street where she was working as a waitress while training to be a doctor, but after just two dates she had to go back to Poland. When O&M needed someone to take a reel to Poland, a love-struck Magliano jumped at the chance to track her down. Without a word of Polish, and knowing only that she was studying in a town pronounced “Wuj”, he flew out there and took a three-hour train journey asking at every stop “Wuj?” (actually spelt Lodz).
Upon arrival he asked a rank of uncomprehending taxi drivers to take him to the university, then stopped every passer-by until he found one that spoke English. He methodically tracked down first the medical school and then finally her empty room. A room-mate let him in to wait for Malgosia’s return.
“I wish I’d had a camera for the look on her face when she saw me sitting there,” he says. They are expecting their first child any day.
Magliano enjoys surprising people. In its nicest incarnation this delight in controlling and planning has involved chartering a helicopter to fly Malgosia to a restaurant, where he proposed to her in Polish, and booking a 48-sheet poster saying “I love you” on Valentine’s Day.
This romantic streak in his personal life resonates with his enthusiasm and lack of cynicism for plans and projects in his professional career. His last job at O&M was running the Ford dealer advertising, the less glamorous nuts and bolts side of the account. It involved working with various regional dealership committees, while coping with the inherent tension between long-term brand building and short-term sales demands.
Some say the experience wore him down, and that towards the end he lost enthusiasm. He insists that the chance to work with Adam Lury, the planning brains at HHCL, was the biggest factor in his decision to leave O&M. Magliano clearly loved working for Ford as a whole because of its sheer size and the scope of the Go sales and marketing director post obviously appeals in the same way.
He says: “It’s such a big job. I am a big project person – such as trying to turn Ford around. I actually believe in the concept of a low-cost airline, professionally done.”
Magliano is careful not to rubbish the opposition, which everyone knows is easyJet. However, easyJet has wasted no time in rubbishing Go. Magliano insists there is room in the market for both of them – in terms of routes and positioning. Go will target the sort of people who warm to the idea of travel, but need the reassurance that goes with a trusted brand – in this case the backing of BA. It will appeal more to those who buy mainstream but high quality brands such as Gap.
Magliano bristles at the idea that BA is using Go as a spoiling tactic to force rival budget airlines out of the market. He says: “There is a standalone business plan. I trust Barbara. We are due to break even in three years. BA relies on growth for the whole market. We are introducing new travellers.”
He believes he has developed an excellent relationship with Cassani, and will be a loyal member of her management team. He likes her energetic American style, in contrast to his quieter, more contemplative approach. “I make sense out of her shooting off in all directions,” he says.
Magliano knows he can appear abrupt and even rude, but – to put it rather crudely – he reckons he is a fail-safe bullshit detector. He agrees that being liked is not that high on his agenda and admits he is bad at hiding what he thinks of people.
This fundamental belief in being as honest as possible can make for awkward social situations. He ruefully admits he finds it hard to pull off that all-important “reaction” when unwrapping a present.
Family life sounds happy, but making his Italian immigrant mother proud is a tough task. Magliano says: “It’s strange, but I’ve never been able to impress my mum. It’s probably why I am always striving. Ever since school, unless I got 100 per cent, she thought I could have done better.” If Mrs Magliano senior is his most serious critic she will not be alone in watching her son closely in this all important new venture.
Go will be accused of all sorts of anti-competitive behaviour in the coming months. Magliano will have to be aware of the possible pitfalls of marketing in that minefield.