AIB Featured Business Leader – Alan Joyce

AIB Featured Business Leader – Alan Joyce


Running Qantas is no easy feat, but chief executive Alan Joyce he has embarked on the biggest transformation in corporate Australian history, turning a $2.8bn loss into a $900m profit.

Irish born Joyce grew up in a working-class town on the outskirts of Dublin called Tallaght. Education was the focus for Joyce and his siblings and despite his humble upbringing, he went on to attend the prestigious Trinity College Dublin where he studied Mathematics and Physics.

While destined for airline management, Joyce began is illustrious career as a research analyst for Irish airline Aer Lingus, where he worked for eight years. He also unsuccessfully applied for a job as a pilot, but his mathematical skills have been far more useful to his aviation career than a pilot’s licence.  Joyce holds a Master of Science degree which has proved invaluable for facing complex revenue management issues he now faces on a daily basis.

In 2000, Joyce joined Qantas and was appointed CEO of subsidiary airline Jetstar Airways in 2003. This was his biggest career break to date, and Joyce credits then Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon for giving him the job. Then in 2008, Joyce was appointed the top job of CEO and Managing Director of Qantas. In the years that followed, he has turned Qantas around profitably and effectively through some very difficult issues, resolving a raft of legacy issues which were not of his making, such as aircraft issues and industrial relations issues.

The 49 year old is also transparent admitting to making crucial mistakes in his career, including setting up Jetstar without assigned seating. Research showed that a lot of customers, especially in the lucrative business sector, would not even try the airline if they didn’t have an allocated seat. Joyce revealed, “The only way to deal with a mistake was to admit it and act immediately.”

Jetstar’s low-cost model launched in May 2004, four years after Virgin Blue made air travel affordable for most Australians. Among Joyce’s challenges were external communications and the intense media scrutiny over issues such as the 30-minute closeout and unallocated seating.

Joyce says, “Both strategies helped keep prices down because they force people to check-in earlier, rather than in a big clump at the end, so Jetstar can roster two rather than three staff on the desk. And because people rush on board to get a good seat, turnaround time between flights is reduced from 30 to 25 minutes, which also saves costs.”

In such a phenomenally logistically complicated business, the word “inclusive” is repeatedly used to describe Joyce’s management style. His ability to make colleagues feel included, sought after and valued makes him a very good executive to work for. Joyce notes his biggest career achievement as pulling such a competent group of people to run Jetstar. Joyce recalls it as “an experience, such a great project, the environment was just perfect.”

Known as one of Australia’s more affable chief executives, Joyce focuses heavily on numbers and cost which is a shift from former Qantas CEOs. He has traversed through some minefields that many would not have been able to get through, and seems to be slowly working out that high-quality service is what makes a successful airline.

What do you think?

Qantas has faced a lot of pressure beyond the control of management. Alan Joyce has displayed a steady hand, while running the airline through one of the toughest periods in history. Are you inspired by Joyce’s journey and battles that define his legacy? Comment below and join the AIB conversation.

This article was written by Jelena Milutinovic on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: The Age; The Australian Business Review; Business Insider; news.com.au; Qantas and Wikipedia

Image credit: The Australian

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