Alan Joyce’s Qantas tenure has ended. Here’s what Vanessa Hudson must do


“How does she now set herself apart? It’s very difficult,” says a former airline executive, who requested anonymity. The executive said Hudson needed to be bold and show the public, customers and shareholders how she is different.

To do this, the first step, the executive says, would be to hold a press conference and commit to immediately refunding the $570 million in credits it owes customers for cancelled flights during COVID. “Kill the issue of the credits” by taking such a decisive step, says the executive.

The next step for Hudson in demonstrating that she’s looking to solve Qantas’ problems, rather than just airbrush them away with words, says the executive, is to co-operate with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and not fight it.

The ACCC has accused Qantas of engaging in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by selling fares on flights that were already cancelled, and it’s seeking a penalty in the hundreds of millions. However, it remains unclear if those fares were deliberately sold on cancelled flights by Qantas, or whether it was the result of incompetence. If it’s the former, then co-operating should be a priority.

Joyce’s 15-year tenure was defined by a pugnacious leadership style and a laser-like focus on the bottom line. This was best illustrated in his decision to ground the airline’s entire fleet in 2011, stranding tens of thousands of passengers, amid an industrial dispute. And more recently, by appealing to the High Court after a ruling found it had illegally outsourced nearly 2000 baggage and ground handlers during the pandemic.

Customers and staff are hoping for a less combative chief executive in Hudson. Although, it’s worth remembering that Hudson was involved in the 2011 industrial dispute, fronting a Fair Work Commission hearing alongside fellow Qantas executive Lyell Strambi. It was reported that both Hudson and Strambi were visibly emotional under questioning at times during that hearing.


Also, anyone hoping for a less combative CEO in Hudson should consider that those who become CEOs of large listed companies such as Qantas don’t get the very top job unless they have their elbows out.

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder said on Tuesday the airline’s management and board would show humility and listen to the customer more following Joyce’s departure, and Hudson’s appointment. The two steps outlined above may be a good step toward achieving that outcome.

But perhaps the best foot forward in a new direction is for Hudson to remind herself of her own words from 2018, when she was Qantas’ chief customer officer. “We’ve worked hard to build a reputation through the services we deliver but also by championing the spirit of Australia,” Hudson said then. “It’s the combination of what you do and how you do it. The trust people have in the Qantas brand is something we never take for granted.”

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