Brutal reaction to Alan Joyce’s early exit from Qantas

Brutal reaction to Alan Joyce’s early exit from Qantas

Qantas critics came out swinging on Tuesday after outgoing CEO Alan Joyce announced he would walk away from the airline two months earlier than planned.

Mr Joyce’s earlier-than-scheduled retirement comes after two tumultuous weeks, including a grilling by senators for an inquiry into the cost of living and the consumer watchdog seeking to penalise the airline by more than $250 million for allegedly selling sale tickets for already-cancelled flights.

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder said Mr Joyce’s decision to bring forward his retirement and hand over to new CEO Vanessa Hudson showed he “always had the best interests of Qantas front and centre”.

“On behalf of the board, we sincerely thank him for his leadership through some enormous challenges and for thinking well-ahead on opportunities like ultra long-haul travel,” Mr Goyder said.

However, Labor senator Tony Sheldon, a former Transport Workers’ Union national secretary and member of the senate select committee who grilled Mr Joyce last week, released a statement on Tuesday saying Mr Goyder should be next to go.

“The board has backed Joyce’s behaviour at every step and must be held equally accountable for the disgraceful state of the company,” he said.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil also released a scathing statement.

“Qantas staff used to be proud to work for ‘the Spirit of Australian’, but Alan Joyce broke that spirit by prioritising shareholders over the welfare of staff and passengers,” she claimed.

“Whilst we welcome Alan Joyce’s exit, what really needs to go is the culture of profit over people.

“Now is the opportunity for Qantas to restore its reputation as the nation’s flagship carrier by working with unions to pay workers the fair wages and conditions they deserve and restore customers’ faith in this airline.”

Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine said Mr Joyce’s exit was “welcome news for workers” and “the first good decision the Qantas board has made for a very long time”.

Mr Joyce, who was Qantas CEO for almost 15 years, is reported to be leaving with a $24 million golden handshake.

Last week it was revealed he was rewarded with $10 million worth of bonus shares for guiding the airline through the Covid pandemic.

“After finally receiving the public scrutiny he deserves for trashing one of Australia’s most cherished companies, Alan Joyce is exiting with a $10 million bonus, announced on Friday,” Mr Kaine criticised.

“This is a classic Joyce move: pretend to take responsibility while pocketing obscene amounts of money. He must be stripped of those bonuses immediately.”

Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner said he was “quite surprised” by the sudden departure but believed Ms Hudson would be in a good position to take over two months early.

Mr Turner is confident the airline will improve its reputation.

“Qantas the brand will recover back to being one of the top brands. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” he told the Today Show.

Helen Bird, a corporate governance expert from the Swinburne University of Technology, said Mr Joyce’s legacy would depend on which position you assess it from.

“If you were a Qantas shareholder, you will remember the years of solid profits, good dividends, and buyback schemes. There have been plenty of these,” she said.

“If you were a worker, customer, or resident of a regional area and a taxpayer, you might be more inclined to concentrate on the fact that Joyce was known for paring Qantas costs to the bone, often at the expense of other stakeholders.

“He benefited directly from all the share buy backs he set in train too – through bigger bonuses.

“If you are an Australian citizen, you have grown up with the image of Qantas as quintessentially the decent, safe Australian company. That image has been somewhat tarnished in recent times, in no small part due to Joyce’s management style and indifference to its impact on others.”

Ms Bird said it was important to remember that Ms Hudson was a protégé of Mr Joyce “and may simply want to continue business as usual, in the Joyce way”.

“Time will tell,” she added.

Mr Joyce announced his big decision on Tuesday morning.

“In the last few weeks, the focus on Qantas and events of the past make it clear to me that the company needs to move ahead with its renewal as a priority,” he said.

“The best thing I can do under these circumstances is to bring forward my retirement and hand over to Vanessa and the new management team now, knowing they will do an excellent job.

“There is a lot I am proud of over my 22 years at Qantas, including the past 15 years as CEO. There have been many ups and downs, and there is clearly much work still to be done, especially to make sure we always deliver for our customers. But I leave knowing that the company is fundamentally strong and has a bright future.”

A fortnight of controversy

The Australian Consumer and Consumption Commission’s allegations the national carrier had “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct” by selling tickets for more than 8000 already-cancelled flights between May and July last year has not been the airline’s only controversy in recent weeks.

Qantas and Jetstar also scrapped the expiry date on Covid travel credits following intense public backlash and questioning at the hearing for the cost of living inquiry, which Mr Joyce was issued a summons to appear at.

At least $470 million of credits remained unredeemed and were due to expire at the end of this year.

“We’re doing this because we’ve listened,” Mr Joyce said in a video message last Thursday.

“We know the credit system was not as smooth as it should have been and while we’ve improved it recently, and extended the expiry date several times, people lost faith in the process. We hope this helps change that.”

It was revealed at the hearing on Monday, August 28 that the value of unredeemed credits Mr Joyce quoted the week prior when discussing the Qantas Group’s full-year results – $370 million – did not include Jetstar credits or international customers.

During questioning, Jetstar CEO Stephanie Tully, who also appeared at the hearing, revealed there were about $100 million in unredeemed Jetstar travel credits.

Four days before the Qantas Group posted an underlying profit before tax of $2.47 billion for the financial year, class action law firm Echo Law announced it had lodged proceedings against Qantas in the federal court over the airline’s handling of credits and refunds.

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