Qantas names Vanessa Hudson as first woman chief executive
Australian airline Qantas named company veteran Vanessa Hudson as its first woman chief executive on Tuesday, replacing the cost-cutting Irish-Australian Alan Joyce.
Qantas, which returned to profit late last year after taking large losses during the Covid-19 pandemic, said Hudson would become chief executive and managing director when Joyce retires in November after 15 years in the top job.
Hudson, who has been in Qantas' executive ranks for nearly three decades, will remain in her role as chief financial officer until then, the airline group said.
"I have worked for Qantas for 28 years and that excitement of the first day that I felt walking into Qantas, I feel still today," Hudson told a news conference.
"We are in an incredibly strong position. We have got many things in the pipeline. That is not to say the past three years have not been challenging -- they have," she added.
"There will be many challenges, I am sure, ahead," she said, stressing that taking care of customers was "absolutely at the centre of everything".
Hudson said she was "incredibly proud" as a woman to reflect both on her own promotion at Qantas and on "some of the other amazing females that are running very big organisations across Australia and across the globe".
- 'Qantas downfall' -
Joyce, who had already been expected to leave Qantas at some point this year, praised his successor as an "outstanding executive".
"There are not many female CEOs of the worldwide aviation industry," he told the news conference.
"And it's a credit to this country that a gay Irish man was appointed 15 years ago to be CEO of the company. And now we have the first female."
Joyce said he had extended his time as chief executive at the board's request to deal with the pandemic. "If it had not been for Covid I would have retired a few years ago."
Qantas posted a profit of Aus$1.43 billion (US$974 million) before tax in the second half of 2022, after accumulating Aus$7 billion in losses across the previous three years, weighed down by the pandemic.
Under Joyce, however, Qantas was heavily criticised by union leaders for sacking or standing down thousands of staff to keep a lid on costs at the height of the outbreak.
"After 15 years of Qantas downfall under Alan Joyce's management, a new CEO has the opportunity to serve the hard-working people who built the spirit of Australia," the Transport Workers' Union said in a statement.
"Current and illegally sacked workers deserve courageous management to take Qantas in a new direction."
The airline has also angered customers post-lockdowns with sky-high fares.
- 'Constructive relationship' -
Qantas says the restructuring, which saved the airline almost Aus$1 billion, was crucial to the company's financial post-lockdown rebound.
Hudson said she looked forward to meeting with the unions and "developing a constructive relationship".
Qantas had been upfront in recognising the "customer experience was not where we wanted it" during the pandemic, she added.
But the airline had invested heavily in improving its performance "and it is back where we were pre-Covid," she said.
Qantas chairman Richard Goyder said the airline was "extremely well positioned", with a clear strategy, strong balance sheet and record profitability.
Qantas shares were trading 2.4 percent lower in mid-afternoon trade.