Magazine article Marketing

Santa and His Overseas Postings

Magazine article Marketing

Santa and His Overseas Postings

Article excerpt

Paul Hopper is happy to play Father Christmas for the Royal Mail. Seated at a tidy desk in the City office, he proudly shows me Christmas cards that his company sends out to all the eager Father Christmas correspondents -- 750,000 a year on average.

"We even have a special postcode, SANTA 1, especially for the service. The younger generation is a key target market for us, the letter writers of the future. This is the human face of our business," says Hopper.

However, apart from the greying hair, the Royal Mail's marketing and sales director's slim build is far from the popular image of Father Christmas, although he'll enthusiastically take on the role at home for his two children, aged six and nine. A Londoner born and bred, Hopper will be spending Christmas with his family in the capital -- he prefers not to travel, having spent a good deal of his career so far living abroad in Europe and the US.

His sense of geography is in fact keenly honed. He studied the subject at Downing College, Cambridge, which he claims he hasn't been back to since. "One looks forward, not backward. I don't live on the fact that I went to Cambridge, it's not relevant behaviour." However, as a keen supporter of Surrey's county cricket team, he is proud of the fact that the college was the Alma Mater for England's captain Mike Atherton and that this year's designer of the Dickens' Christmas stamps, Quentin Blake, was also at Downing.

Hopper did further study at Imperial College, London, specialising in "transportation, in the general and economic sense" -- ample qualification for the next step in his career, BEA, which became British Airways after a merger with BOAC in 1974. In fact, the new company suited him so well that he stayed with it for the next 23 years.

The first overseas posting came in 1976 when Hopper spent two years in Moscow during the Brezhnev era. "I ran BA's affairs in the Soviet Union, which in effect meant one-sixth of the world's surface, yet I wasn't allowed to travel very far. It sounds very different there now."

Hopper learned a little Russian -- "enough to know when my dozen Soviet staff were talking about me" -- but his wife speaks it well. "The thing I remember best about my stay was the incredible culture of the place, grey and dark Moscow winters in contrast with beautiful paintings, architecture, ballet, music, as well as the beauty of the language.

"The KGB were in charge and it was certainly an interesting political environment. There were incredible double standards -- the difference between our freedom within confines as Westerners, and the ability to get goods that the man on the street just couldn't get."

In complete contrast, Hopper also lived in New York between 1985 and 1988, overseeing BA affairs in the US. "It was a fascinating time, the last four years of the Reagan presidency, the time of boom and then bust. The Americans don't sit around on their hands, there's a strong mentality of getting on with it, the powerful 'can-do' attitude."

It seems Hopper has the knack of always being at the very centre of things. In addition to the senior management positions at BA, he was also a member of the Marketing Policy Group -- Sir Colin Marshall's so-called Gang of Four -- which originated much of BA's rejuvenation about ten years ago. …

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