“He informed the board of his decision and quite a few were in shock – they didn’t know this was coming. This was Alan absolutely taking the initiative – there was no suggestion they were going to ask him to leave at all,” one company source familiar with the matter said.
Last week, Joyce had been preparing to fly overseas this Friday on a roadshow through Asia, the US and London to meet with international investors.
Goyder has repeatedly said Joyce was the best chief executive in the country and has routinely batted away criticism the Qantas board has not intervened more.
He did concede on Tuesday Joyce’s departure gave his successor, current chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson, “clear air” to carve out the next chapter for the airline business. When Hudson was announced as Alan Joyce’s successor in May, she told investors to expect business as usual. She’d now be forgiven for hoping they have short memories.
Hudson told staff on Tuesday it was clear the company “needs to move ahead” with restoring customer trust, and said she was prepared to steer it towards that goal despite being thrust into the big chair months ahead of schedule.
Joyce was in many ways an unlikely hardman of Australian business: a short, soft-spoken Irishman who rose through the airline’s ranks to lead its fledgling budget offshoot Jetstar in 2003, and was then appointed CEO of the Qantas Group in 2008.
Calls for his resignation were a constant feature of Joyce’s career since the moment he grounded the Qantas mainline fleet in 2011 in an attempt to break a deadlock with unions.
The explosive move made Joyce a figure of admiration among corporate peers but one of loathing among the trade union movement and much of the travelling public.
Every year his eye-watering pay packet – reaching a peak of $23.9 million in 2018 – rubbed salt in their wounds.
Through it all Joyce’s board and investors – who eventually saw the financial benefits of his tough cost-cutting – backed him to the hilt.
Qantas’ former chairman Leigh Clifford, whom Joyce worked under for 11 years, said leaving early was the right thing for Joyce to do, given it would be a “constant pile-on” until his scheduled departure.
“I think he led the company very well. I’m sure there are things which – particularly of late – Alan on reflection would do differently, but we’re all in that situation,” Clifford said.
Clifford said that despite his vocal detractors, Joyce made necessary cuts to Qantas’ cost base so it could compete against foreign state-owned airlines.
“There’s a lot of disenchantment out there, but the travelling public want better planes, a lot more legroom and lower cost, and it’s not always possible,” he said.“When he came in, we struggled … but he took steps to tackle the cost structure and make Qantas competitive.”
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