I studied French at university, and had the naive idea of actually using what I'd studied. That's one of the reasons I ended up at British Airways. Mine was an agonisingly slow career path, making sideways moves rather than going straight up one ladder. Back then, there weren't any women in management positions, let alone senior roles. I ended up managing BA's cabin crews, 10,000 people doing the same job. If cabin staff aren't motivated, it soon shows up in your results, and there was a lot of union negotiation. It's not a very good experience ringing your boss on Sunday to say: 'Awfully sorry, but there won't be any flights to Glasgow tomorrow.'
During the first Gulf war, Saddam Hussein held 67 crew members hostage. That was a really challenging time, worrying for their safety, liaising with relatives, and persuading the rest of our staff to keep flying to the other Gulf states.
I joined Bupa 12 years ago and have been CEO for 10. I saw it as another service industry, but more personal. To understand life at the front line, I spent time in operating theatres watching heart valves being replaced. People often hit the deck when they see that, but I managed to stay upright. I've definitely sacrificed a social life for my career. But I'm from the first generation of women who could combine it with a family. When my grandmother got married, she had to give up her teaching job. I'm lucky, so I don't mind the sacrifice.
After 10 years, it was time to let someone else have a go at running Bupa. I wasn't tired of it, but when you have been quite successful, no-one is going to ask you to go. I'm open-minded about my next step, but I still have the appetite for another big challenge.
- Val Gooding stepped down as CEO of Bupa in May.