Qantas Picks Finance Chief Vanessa Hudson as First Female CEO

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Vanessa Hudson has her work cut out at Qantas. Although the airline may have weathered the storm of the pandemic, the journey towards normality and profitability has been one bumpy ride.

Australia’s flagship carrier, Qantas Airways, on Tuesday named finance chief Vanessa Hudson as its next CEO, making her the first woman to lead the century-old airline.

Hudson will in November take over from Alan Joyce, whose 15 years in the job has made him the longest-serving current CEO of a major Australian company, and a towering figure in the global aviation industry.

Hudson’s appointment makes her one of the few female executives leading a major company in Australia, although rival carrier Virgin Australia also has a woman CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka.

“I come with an understanding of this organization that is very deep,” Hudson told reporters in her first news conference as CEO designate.

“I think that the experience that I’ve had, and also recently, in helping manage through Covid, places me in a great position to look forward in terms of all of the investments that are coming with new aircraft, but also continuing to invest in our customers,” she said.

Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder said Hudson’s handling of the finance and treasury portfolio during the Covid crisis was outstanding, putting her ahead of almost 40 candidates globally that the airline had short-listed for the job.

Qantas shares were down 2.4 percent on Tuesday against a broader market decline of 0.25 percent.

“Vanessa has been market-facing as chief financial officer since October 2019, which will have prepared her well for the very public role as Qantas CEO,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Owen Birrell said in a note.

Hudson joined Qantas 28 years ago and has held several senior roles there, including chief financial officer, chief customer officer and senior vice president for the Americas and New Zealand.

Though men still account for far more top executive roles in Australian-listed companies, a growing number of high-profile CEO roles are occupied by women, including at the No. 1 investment bank, Macquarie Group, top telco Telstra Corp, oil and gas giant Woodside and financial services firm AMP.

Hudson said she was proud to lead the airline.

“On a personal note, I have two young daughters, 21 and 18, and I’ve always been a mother who’s wanted to lead by example and to listening to their reflections last night was incredibly meaningful to me,” she said.

Succession Plans

Joyce, 56, served as Qantas CEO during a turbulent 14 years as he helped navigate the airline through the Covid-19 pandemic, fluctuating fuel prices, and competition.

The airline faced a reputational crisis during the pandemic for flight cancellations, cutting jobs and accepting financial support from the government.

Hudson said the airline has been working to rebuild trust among its customers. But she has an uphill task to build ties with the unions, who have had a poor 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.

The announcement is a golden opportunity for a reset at Qantas, Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) National Secretary Michael Kaine said in a statement.

Qantas swung to a record first-half profit from a loss this year, as raging travel demand from a population shaking off years of pandemic restrictions jacked up fares and profits.

“This transition is happening at a time when the Qantas Group is extremely well positioned,” Goyder said.

Qantas said Hudson would continue in her current role until taking over as Qantas’ 13th CEO at the 2023 annual general meeting.

(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye and Roushni Nair; Editing by Maju Samuel and Gerry Doyle)

This article was written by Praveen Menon and Roushni Nair from Reuters and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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