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Business Leader of the Week: ‘Team-oriented’ Vanessa Hudson takes over Qantas’ leadership reigns

IFM_Qantas Airways CEO Vanessa Hudson

Qantas Airways is an Australia-based aviation giant that runs both domestic and international services. The company’s primary business lines include operating passenger flights, offering freight services and running a frequent flyer reward programme. Qantas Domestic, Qantas International, Jetstar Group, and Qantas Loyalty are among the company’s segments.

The Qantas Domestic, Qantas International, and Jetstar Group operate passenger flights as well as expedited freight and airline cargo services. The Qantas Loyalty sector runs segments that reward customers for their loyalty. Its main business is the transportation of customers using two airline brands, which include Qantas and Jetstar. It runs businesses in the Middle East, South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand.

Qantas Airways is also called the “flying kangaroo” of Australia. Due to stronger travel demand, the company has increased its profit projection for the six months ending September 30, 2023.

For the first half of the 2023–24 fiscal year, the company now anticipates an underlying profit before tax of A$1.35–1.45 billion (USD 900–960 million), up from its previous guidance of A$1.2–1.3 billion provided in January 2023. The increased profitability is driven by firm travel demand, allowing Qantas to charge higher fares that offset higher fuel costs.

Despite the aviation giant’s international capacity being about 30% below pre-COVID levels, fuel costs are projected to be A$5 billion in 2023–2024, which would be a record high for Qantas.

The airline has now returned to profitability, following five consecutive fiscal half-years with a cumulative A$7 billion in financial losses due to the pandemic’s effects on air travel. Qantas anticipates its net debt to drop to between A$2.3 billion to A$2.5 billion by September 2023, as revenues accelerate due to strong travel demand.

The company recently named its 53-year-old finance chief Vanessa Hudson as its next Chief Executive Officer (CEO), making her the first woman to lead the century-old airline.

    Who is Vanessa Hudson?

  • Born and brought up in Sydney (Australia), Vanessa Hudson completed her graduation from the University of Technology Sydney with a business degree in 1991
  • The following year, she became an auditor with accounting giant Deloitte
  • Vanessa Hudson joined Qantas in 1994 as an internal audit supervisor, before becoming a financial controller in the aviation giant’s commercial division
  • In 1997 she was appointed the catering product manager, which kick-started her time within product services and saw her ascend to the role of executive manager of product and services in 2005
  • In 2013 she moved to Los Angeles to become senior vice-president of the American airlines
  • In 2016, she returned to Sydney as the executive manager of Qantas’ sales and distribution, where she was responsible to present the airline’s revenue through all sales channels
  • In 2018, Vanessa Hudson was appointed Chief Customer Officer (CCO), overseeing all of Qantas’s customer service and strategy
  • In 2019, she became the Qantas Group’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • During her tenure, Vanessa Hudson’s monthly salary was over A$1 million

‘A Mother Who Wanted To Lead’

In an interview given to ABC News, Vanessa Hudson said that she is ‘incredibly proud’ to be the airline’s first female CEO, while expressing hope that the number of females leading big organisations continues to grow.

“I have two young daughters. I have always been a mother who has wanted to lead by example and getting this chance of becoming a CEO is incredibly meaningful to me,” she said.

Qantas board chairman Richard Goyder said Olivia Wirth, the CEO of the company’s loyalty program, was also in contention for the top job.

“The two outstanding candidates were the two internal female candidates,” he said.

‘I Plan To Be Myself’

Soon after taking charge, in a press conference, responding to a question about handling the unions, Vanessa Hudson began her answer, “I plan to be myself”, before talking about mutual trust and transparency.

“The resilience it takes to be an executive at Qantas is pretty significant … the last three years if I think about decisions collectively we made, it wasn’t for the faint-hearted…coming through that experience is the best training I could have had,” Vanessa Hudson told journalists.

Simon Mordant, a Qantas adviser who assisted Vanessa Hudson with her initial capital raising during the downturn in the aviation industry, believes she will be a different kind of CEO than Alan Joyce, former CEO of Qantas Airways.

“She’s very team-oriented, some leaders are very individualistic…I don’t think she will be shy about being on the front line, but it will be less about Vanessa Hudson and more about the team,” he said, adding that she had very strong communication and analytical skills.

“This is a job where you can’t turn the phone off at any time…she is so resilient, she will obviously be different to Alan,” Simon Mordant concluded.

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