Virgin reshuffle leaves one survivor from previous top team

written by Adam Thorn | January 18, 2021

New Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka has announced her new senior team, and it leaves only one executive remaining from predecessor Paul Scurrah’s era.

Long-serving COO Stuart Aggs is last man standing as the business revealed there would be four new exits to take the total exodus to six. Most notably, the incoming appointments include poaching Woolworth’s chief financial officer to take the same role at the airline.

Scurrah apparently resigned in October 2019 to be replaced by the former head of Jetstar late last year.

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The new exits include chief commercial officer John MacLeod who is retiring; chief financial officer Keith Neate, who will leave the business at the end of March; chief legal and risk officer Dayna Field; and chief information officer Cameron Stone.

Velocity chief executive Karl Schuster and chief people and culture officer Lucinda Gemmell left the business in January and April 2020, respectively.

Hrdlicka said the old executive team played a significant role in setting the business up for the future.

“I thank them all for their hard work, passion, resilience and commitment to Virgin Australia’s success,” said Hrdlicka. “The foundations they have laid during administration are vital for the next chapter in Virgin Australia’s history.”

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The new appointees are:

  • Lisa Burquest will join Virgin Australia as chief people officer on 1 February 2021 from her previous role as chief people, safety and sustainability officer at The a2 Milk Company. She was previously was executive manager of human resources at Qantas and executive manager of people and communications at Jetstar between 2013 and 2018;
  • Alistair Hartley will oversee Virgin Australia’s strategy in the newly created role of chief transformation officer. He joins following more than five years at International Airlines Group (IAG) in the UK, as its own director of strategy;
  • David Marr will join as chief financial officer in February 2021 after six years in the same role for Woolworths;
  • Nick Rohrlach will become Velocity’s new chief executive. Rohrlach arrives from Jetstar Japan, where he has been co-CEO and executive director since September 2017;
  • Susan Schneider, currently general manager legal and compliance, will be promoted to become chief legal and risk officer; and
  • Moksha Watts will become chief corporate affairs officer on 1 March, after a stint VP of corporate affairs and sustainability at Arnott’s. She also worked at Etihad, Jetstar and Qantas.

Australian Aviation previously reported how Qantas’ chief operating officer, Paul Jones, left the airline after just three months in his current role to join Virgin as chief customer and digital officer.

“These people deeply understand our market, and they know our customers,” said Hrdicka of the new appointees.

“Our new executive team will be at the forefront of helping our team members to deliver that strategy. All the new appointees have a demonstrated commitment to staff, customers and the community and are a perfect fit with the Virgin Australia culture I have come to know intimately over the past few months.

“We have made significant changes to the business and have real momentum despite the current aviation industry challenges. We’ve re-opened lounges in major cities, we’ve matched Qantas’ Frequent Flyer status challenge and included Qantas’ oneworld partner airlines, and we’ve increased flexibility for our customers with fee-free flight changes as our domestic borders remain uncertain. While far from finished, we are off to a good start.”

The announcement of Hrdlicka’s new senior team underlines her breakneck start at the company, which culminated in her sealing a surprise deal over working terms with staff in December 2020, despite unions previously walking away from negotiations.

In an exclusive interview with Australian Aviation, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine even praised management and Hrdlicka.

“They’ve stuck to the arrangements they said they would put in place to keep the scope of the company,” Kaine said. “And holding to that means the starting points of a bridge of trust being built between us.”

New owner Bain has always resolutely defended the appointment of Hrdlicka, arguing that she would provide a “different form of leadership” needed to survive.

“We need a hands-on CEO with deep aviation, commercial, operational and transformation experience,” said Bain Capital managing director Mike Murphy last year. “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.”

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6 Comments

  • Trevor

    says:

    Yeah, right! Let’s see how long the ‘newbies’ last in their various roles!
    They’ve still got only a few flights’ operating daily to various destinations’, depending on State borders’ current status.
    Their opened Lounge numbers’ pale into insignificance compared to QF’s.
    Why would any QF FF shift their allegiance to them?
    And they’ll soon get sick of Staff being tied up doing 1000’s of Flight/Date changes for no fee, which will eat into their ‘bottom line’ financials.
    Really wonder how long they’ll last, especially when Rex starts on the ‘golden triangle’, in March.
    QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce did ‘predict’ last week that one airline won’t survive, post covid.

  • John

    says:

    All puppets to the Bain board.

  • AgentGerko

    says:

    Oh, but these CEO’s speak a lot of codswallop. “These people deeply understand our market”. Yes, people who worked for Woolies, A2 Milk, Arnotts Biscuits plus airlines in Japan and the UK. They deeply understand the Australian airline market ……. not!

    • Murray

      says:

      You’re spot on! Couldn’t agree more!
      Interesting Avn times’ we live in.

  • jfgj

    says:

    “chief financial officer Keith Neate, who will leave the business at the end of March”

    So the person responsible for the financial situtation of a business that went into administration is still there? For another two months?

    What a world we live in.

  • Rocket

    says:

    Good start Jayne, now make sure the new team thoroughly cleans out the next layer down to and including airport and cabin crew management because if not, the company will not move one inch forward with case studies in the Dunning- Krueger Effect in place. Endless funereal meetings that serve only to exercise the use of every management weasel word known to humanity (think; “reaching out”, “going forward”, “what that looks like”, the “education piece”, “issues around”, “celebrate success” and all the rest of the piffle) will not provide anything the company needs to survive.

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