Provided that he keeps his eye on the ball, Michael Bishop could well have another 15 or more years running British Midland. He must pray that, whatever else happens in that time, he does not have to go through again the sort of experience that he had in 1989 when a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed on the verge of the M1 at Kegworth, just miles from his Donington Hall headquarters, killing 47 people.
In fact Kegworth was his second crash. The first, when a British Midland Argonaut crashed near Stockport in 1967, claimed 72 lives. Bishop, still only 25 at the time, personally dealt with 50 next-of-kin at Stockport. It profoundly changed his life, he says, leaving him, he thinks, to an extent unshockable and making him realise that he could cope with extreme pressure.
It also seemed to have prepared him mentally to cope again if he ever had to. He did not constantly worry after the Stockport accident that it might happen again, but, the way he describes it, there was a part of his mind that was always ticking over, always in a state of readiness. "When the telephone rang on the night of Kegworth, it was a terrible, terrible sensation, obviously, but I'd been preparing for that for quite a long time, so, in a way, it slipped into gear fairly straightforwardly."
In the quarter century between Stockport and Kegworth, British Midland had scarcely even had minor mishaps - "Not a scratch, not a broken arm or anything, and please God we don't again" - but, says Bishop, if you are in the public transport business the possibility is always there and the responsibility is his: "Ultimately responsibility lies at the top."
1942: Born Bowdon, Cheshire. Academically undistinguished. Regrets
missing university. "It hasn't hindered me that I haven't had it, but it would have helped me a lot if I had."
1958: Takes holiday job at Manchester Airport and "catches the virus"
1960-63: Joins family firm but father realises Bishop's heart is
elsewhere and sells up
1963: Sets up aircraft handling business for Mercury Airlines at
1964: Mercury taken over by British Midland
1967: Stockport crash. "If you're 25 and you walk into a room and
you have to tell 50 people they've lost their husbands, wives,
daughters, sons, it has a certain impact on you."
1969: Appointed general manager of British Midland
1970: Becomes a director
1972: Becomes managing director
1978: Management buyout. Still has same partners today. "We're all
totally different characters which is the only reason we've
1988: SAS buys stake
1989: Kegworth disaster
(Malcolm Brown is a freelance writer.)