- CFO Vanessa Hudson has chosen to lead the airline
- She is due to take over from Alan Joyce in November
- Airline shares fell 2.4% after the announcement
May 2 (Reuters) – Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways Limited (QAN.AX) on Tuesday appointed Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Hudson as its next chief executive officer, making her the first woman to lead the airline in a century.
In November, Hudson will take over from Alan Joyce, whose 15 years in the role have made him the longest-serving current CEO of a major Australian corporation, and a leading figure in the global aerospace industry.
Hudson will be one of the few female CEOs to head a major carrier in Australia, although rival carrier Virgin Australia also has a woman as its CEO, Jane Hrdlica.
“I’ve come to have a very deep understanding of this organization,” Hudson told reporters at her first press conference as CEO-designate.
“I think my recent experience helping to manage through COVID puts me in a great position to look forward in terms of all the investments that come with the new aircraft, but also continue to invest in our customers.”
Qantas Chairman Richard Goeder said Hudson’s handling of the portfolio and treasury during the novel coronavirus crisis was excellent, putting her ahead of nearly 40 candidates globally that the company had shortlisted for the job.
Qantas shares fell 2.4% on Tuesday against a broader market decline of 0.25%.
“Vanessa has been facing the market as CFO since October 2019, which has prepared her well for the very public role as CEO of Qantas,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Owen Pearl said in a note.
Hudson joined Qantas 28 years ago and has held several senior positions there, including CFO, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President, Americas and New Zealand.
Although men still hold much higher executive positions at listed Australian companies, an increasing number of high-level executive positions are held by women, including at No. 1 investment bank Macquarie Group, Telco’s largest Telstra Corp, and oil and gas. Woodside financial services giant AMP.
Hudson said she is proud to lead the airline.
“On a personal note, I have two young daughters, 21 and 18, and have always been a mother who wanted to lead by example, and hearing their reflections last night was very rewarding for me,” she said.
Joyce, 56, served as CEO of Qantas during turbulent times helping to navigate the airline through the 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, volatile fuel prices and increased competition in the aviation sector.
The Flying Kangaroo, as it is often known, has faced a reputational crisis during the pandemic by canceling flights, cutting jobs and accepting financial support from the government.
Hudson said the airline is working to rebuild trust among its customers. But she has the daunting task of building relationships with the guilds, who have had a tenuous and often bitter relationship with Joyce.
Joyce hired bodyguards in 2011 after receiving death threats over his unprecedented grounding of the airline’s entire fleet during an industrial dispute.
National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Michael Caine said in a statement that the announcement represented a golden opportunity to reset work at Qantas.
Qantas turned in record first-half profits from a loss this year, as surging travel demand from a population weaned off years of pandemic restrictions pushed up fares and earnings.
Joyce, who is gay, has been an outspoken supporter of campaigns for marriage equality, recognition of indigenous people in the country’s constitution and for the advancement of women in the corporate world.
“There are not many CEOs in the airline industry around the world, and it is a credit to this country that 15 years ago a gay man was appointed to be the CEO of the company, and now we have the first certified woman on the board,” Joyce said. At the press conference.
Joyce said he and his husband will remain in Sydney, focusing on community involvement and looking forward to other opportunities that may arise.
Qantas said Hudson will continue in her current role until she takes over as Qantas’ 13th chief executive at the 2023 annual general meeting.
($1 = 1.5088 Australian dollars)
Additional reporting by Roshni Nair in Bengaluru; Edited by Magu Samuel
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