New Virgin owner Bain has said it appointed incoming chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka because she would provide a “different form of leadership to survive”.
“We need a hands-on CEO with deep aviation, commercial, operational and transformation experience,” said Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy in a statement. “She has extensive airline experience and I know she, alongside Bain Capital, wants nothing more than to see Virgin Australia prosper and thrive well into the future.”
Bain’s vocal support for Hrdlicka came hours after administrator Deloitte announced that current chief executive Paul Scurrah apparently resigned on Thursday.
His departure is significant because he is synonymous with the airline’s plan to operate as a mid-market ‘hybrid’ rather than reverting back to being a low-cost carrier like predecessor Virgin Blue.
Hrdlicka also had a notoriously fraught relationship with unions in her earlier role at the Qantas Group, where she headed low-cost carrier Jetstar.
However, both Hrdlicka and Bain were quick to emphasis the appointment would not result in a new strategy.
“I appreciate Virgin Australia’s unique culture and I want to protect and build on it,” she said. “And I am determined that Virgin Australia reinvigorates its strong brand and its passion for customer service, while embracing the diversity, talent and strength of its people.”
Murphy added that while this year had been the “toughest in global aviation history”, the business was “committed to the strategy Virgin Australia announced in August, when the company outlined its plans to protect thousands of jobs, invest in technology and honour all employee entitlements”.
In a statement to Australian Aviation, Bain played down Hrdlicka’s bad relationship with unions and instead said she “played a key leadership role in the dramatic improvement in Qantas’ customer experience, working hand in hand with the front-line teams to make this possible”.
“During her time as the CEO of the Jetstar Group, Jetstar became one of the world’s leading airlines and delivered a series of record profits,” it added. “While achieving strong profits, it also recorded the highest staff engagement scores in the airline’s history. During that time Ms Hrdlicka also appointed Australia’s first female chief pilot.”
The handover will take place in early November, when the formalities of Virgin’s sale to Bain are completed.
The news comes despite Scurrah exclusively telling the Australian Aviation Podcast just weeks ago that Bain was “a really good owner” and that the relationship between the investors and the existing management team was like “a good marriage”.
At the end of the show, Scurrah signalled he was keen to appear on the show again to talk through how his plans were developing, suggesting his decision to apparently resign is a recent one.
The announcement of Hrdlicka as the new boss is likely to infuriate the TWU, which had a high-profile falling out with the airline when rumours of her appointment swilled months ago.
Just yesterday, the TWU suspended negotiations with the business over new working terms for its members until it received clarification that Scurrah would not be fired. However, relations were unravelling before that and the union only backed Bain’s acquisition at the last minute.