Can Qantas boss Alan Joyce survive?

ADELE FERGUSON
Last updated 14:02 29/08/2014
Alan Joyce Qantas CEO
Fairfax
NOT POPULAR: Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

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Qantas boss Alan Joyce was not joking when he said "there's always people that are after my head".

Joyce was responding to a question about whether he could get past the A$2.8 billion (NZ$3.1b) loss the national carrier had posted.

Calls for Joyce's head have been a constant theme since his controversial decision to ground Qantas' entire fleet in October 2011 to break the deadlock with unions.

It made Joyce a household name - for all the wrong reasons - as customers were left stranded all over the world. It also drove a wedge between management and staff as he cut through staff numbers.

The calls for his head became louder when he asked the government for assistance late last year, which turned the country's much beloved airline into a political football.

It has prompted shareholders, staff and customers to scratch their collective heads on how he has managed to survive against a backdrop of a falling share price, losses and a shrinking business. The latest loss of A$2.8b, or an underlying loss of just over A$600 million, is in sharp contrast to the near A$1 billion profit the airline made just before he took the reins.

Despite the surveys the company's spin doctors rattle off on its stellar customer satisfaction, anecdotal evidence suggests it is not the service it used to be.

Not surprisingly, Joyce has become one of the most disliked chief executives since Telstra's Sol Trujillo.

But with the backing of the board and the airline's largest shareholder, Balanced Equity Management investment manager Andrew Sisson, who has stuck with the company through thick and thin, Joyce has managed to hang on.

In a series of focus groups conducted in February in Sydney's central business district, one of the participants said each of the eight people in his group agreed "Joyce and his team have ruined Qantas for their own ends" and "Qantas needs to heal the rift between its staff and management to gain more confidence and thus more patronage from the public".

This kind of sentiment is not exclusive to focus groups. A mix of sadness and anger is commonplace when Australians talk about the wounded kangaroo. They need someone to blame and that someone has become Joyce.

The latest speculation is that Joyce is preparing for his exit next year, on his terms. With his strategic review complete, cost-cutting under way, redundancies half-way done and his price war with Virgin Australia over, Joyce is confident the worst is over and Qantas is on the path to redemption, with a return to profitability next year.

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But as one former senior executive said, if he does not make a profit, surely then he will be hung and quartered. 

- Sydney Morning Herald

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