Business Person of the Month

August 2008: Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas Airways

By Business & Finance
01 September 2008
Alan Joyce

Glitter and doom

Just when you thought there was nothing but doom and gloom to be had from the aviation sector, an Irishman steps up and takes the top job at one of the world’s great airlines.

Dubliner Alan Joyce (42) is to become chief executive officer of Qantas upon the retirement of Geoff Dixon at the end of November, on a salary of AUS$2.4m (€1.42m). He is currently chief executive officer of Qantas subsidiary airline Jetstar.

Look up from Aer Lingus

Just like Willie Walsh, who graduated from a career in Aer Lingus to one of the top jobs in international aviation at the head of British Airways, Joyce also served his apprenticeship at Ireland’s national airline (after studying for an applied science degree at Trinity College – later augmenting it with a management science degree from the same university). Indeed he was hotly tipped as a possible successor to Walsh before Dermot Mannion took the job.

He spent eight years at Aer Lingus and held a number of roles in sales, marketing, IT, network planning, operations research, revenue management and fleet planning. He moved to Australia in 1996 and worked first for Ansett and then, since 2000, for Qantas Group in a range of roles.

Rising Jetstar

In October 2003, he was appointed chief executive officer of Jetstar. His stewardship of the low-cost Qantas subsidiary has been highly praised in the industry. This year he won the Centre for Asia Pacific’s Low-Cost Carrier CEO of the Year award and

Airline Business Magazine’s Low-Cost Leadership award, and last year he won the Australian Airports’ Association award for personality of the year. In Jetstar’s four-year history, he has led the carrier to win a range of ‘Low Cost Airline of the Year’ type awards in the region, making his application for the top job at Qantas very hard for the board to ignore.

Storm clouds

Of course, he is taking on the job at an extremely difficult time for the aviation business. He is well-experienced enough to know exactly the challenge he is facing with historically high oil prices (particularly difficult for airlines with major long-haul operations such as Qantas) and the slowdown in the global economy putting pressure on load factors at many airlines.

Qantas itself has begun a process of raising fares and cutting back on its schedules in response to the developing crisis in the industry. It may also fall on Joyce to chop 1,500 jobs from a workforce of 34,000. Indeed, the precarious nature of the airline business was underlined, if he needed a reminder, when Qantas made global headlines in the week of his appointment for two serious safety incidents.

But on the plus side, Qantas is better placed than most to weather the storm. It is cash-rich and in the middle of replacing its aging fleet, something that will increase efficiencies. Joyce looks set to continue an outstanding career and further add to Ireland’s growing list of achievements in the aviation sector.

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Business & Finance, in association with MERC Partners, has been awarding excellence in business through the ‘Business Person of the Month’ award over the last number of years. These awards seek to recognise noteworthy achievements in business leadership, and particularly those that make a telling contribution to the wider business community in Ireland.