EasyJet Acquires Go to Form Europe’s Largest Budget Airline

20 May 2002

EasyJet, the UK budget airline launched in 1997 by ebullient self-publicist Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has succeeded in its bid to acquire rival carrier Go over the heads of the target’s management. The deal creates Europe’s largest budget airline, supplanting former champ, Ireland’s Ryanair.

It is a piquant coup for Haji-Ioannou, the UK-based son of a Greek shipping multimillionaire. Go, launched in 1998 by British Airways to counter the inroads made by EasyJet on its European routes (or as many believed, to drive it out of business) was sold for £110 million last June in a management buyout led by Go’s chief executive Barbara Cassani.

The lion’s share of Go’s equity, however, was held by venture capital firm 3i Group which scented a quick return on its investment and agreed to the sale of the airline to EasyJet despite opposition from Cassani and other Go executives.

Cassani found it difficult to hide her chagrin despite the consolation of a £9.4 million payout for her 4% stake. The takeover had been “very difficult” for the Go management team, she said, expressing her belief that it was “a better company” than its new owner.

But Cassani revealed that Go’s directors and eight hundred staff are set to receive a £53m windfall for their aggregated stake of 22.5%, paying a mere ten pence for share options now worth over £14 each. She exhorted staff to export the “Go spirit” to EasyJet and carry out “a reverse culture takeover”.

Data sourced from multiple publications; additional content by WARC staff