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Five years after taking over Qantas, chief executive Alan Joyce says his tough decisions are set to pay off
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There must have been a time when Alan Joyce wondered what he had got himself into. His appointment five years ago as chief executive of Qantas came in a decade of constant shock in the aviation industry. And as he took over, in November, 2008, the airline industry was about to be rocked by the global financial crisis.
“All we need now is a plague of locusts,” he observed drily in 2009. By October the following year, a plague of locusts had duly arrived.
The fresh-faced Irishman recalls the comments with a laugh as he reaches his fifth anniversary in the job. He has weathered a global financial crisis, volcanic eruptions, an Airbus A380 engine explosion, industrial action, increasing competition from foreign players on international routes and Virgin Australia on domestic routes as well as the airline’s first financial loss since privatisation. His survival in this tough environment, while at the same time coping with the personal crisis of aggressive prostate cancer, demonstrates an underlying toughness as well as a savvy tactical flair that was evident in his unprecedented move two years ago to ground the airline and bring a crippling industrial dispute to a head.
He has lost none of his enthusiasm and remains convinced that he will achieve his goal of setting up Qantas for a sustainable future with all its major units profitable and mainline international growing again — subject, of course, to the usual caveat about unpredictable external shocks.
But his self-professed “glass-half-full’’ optimism makes way for a serious side as he outlines what he sees as the hardest challenge of his first five years, the significant restructuring he saw as essential to the airline’s survival.
“And that’s not one event; it’s an accumulation of things that were probably there,’’ he says. “Having to make people redundant, pulling off routes — it’s bloody hard. It’s not the thing that