Magazine article Marketing

The Teflon-Coated Marketer

Magazine article Marketing

The Teflon-Coated Marketer

Article excerpt

Is three days in a job a record? If so, British Airways' Mike Batt is the clear winner, because that's how long he stayed at arch-rival Virgin Atlantic before flying back to the world's favourite airline.

"That was an interesting few days. Never accept a job with the word joint in it," he says. There appears to be some confusion at Virgin as to his job title. But if it was "delighted to announce the appointment of Mr Mike Batt as executive director responsible for commercial operations", it was less so when he walked out.

Batt says he could have fitted into the alien entrepreneurial culture but others are not so sure. "I've a lot of respect for Mike Batt," says Chris Moss, former marketing director at Virgin. "He's very sharp and good at his job of building a precise brand.

"But Virgin is very imprecise. And its commercial director has to be hands-on which may have put him off."

This certainly contrasts with Batt's own management style, based on empowering his team. Vague hints of disquiet from one Virgin insider about what information he may have taken back to BA are discounted by another. And Batt isn't named in the current legal action between the two airlines. "It's probably best if we avoid that area because it's real twinkle toes time for me."

Flights of fancy are not Batt's style. The miner's son from Bedwellty -- Neil Kinnock's hometown north of Cardiff -- never doubted his future lay beyond the Celtic fringe. "My mother and father were great parents and their single objective was that their children wouldn't work in a coalmine," he says.

A "purposeful" school career lead straight to the University of Wales, (a BSc, Jt Hons in Economics and Materials) and a seat on the student executive committee. A born organiser, Batt masterminded rag week entertainments. "You know there are some that look for work and there are others that don't," he says. But then, "I don't have to be the one that's out in front. But hell to me is a group of people that don't know where they're going."

With the benefit of hindsight, Batt sees his "goal-oriented" rush for employment as "in some ways a weakness" (though it's hard to believe he really means it). If he had children -- and he doesn't -- he'd advise them to see a bit of the world before going to university. Instead, seven short days after graduation, Batt went to work for Mars. It was the hardest job in his life, selling chocolate off the back of a car; 20 calls a day and out till 10pm at night. "That frightens you. It's your first test and the thought of failure was horrendous." In six months he was selling into more shops than it was his quota to visit -- this determination also got him thrown out of more than one, he admits.

His "legacy" at Mars included putting Maltesers into bite-size bags, an instant sell-out. By happy chance Mars then gave him Africa to look after, where he met his wife Elaine. That Batt -- a "bit of a lad" in his youth, we hear -- found time to marry at all is a miracle. That she was a Caledonian Girl on his regular flight helped.

But 12 years in came the opportunity of a lifetime. He was head-hunted out of Mars to become the first brand manager for the newly privatised British Airways.

"It was the best decision I ever made: there's no other industry like it for excitement and satisfaction. …

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