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Qantas sues ex-Jetstar Japan CEO for defecting to Velocity

written by Adam Thorn | March 8, 2021

A Qantas A380 and Virgin Australia A330 at YMML (Victor Pody)

Qantas is taking legal action to push back the start date of Virgin Velocity’s new CEO, after it emerged he previously accepted a senior role on its own loyalty scheme.

The AFR reports the flag carrier will take ex-Jetstar Japan co-CEO Nick Rohrlach to the NSW Supreme Court tomorrow, where it will suggest it had shared “highly sensitive” information while onboarding him.

Qantas said the matter is “disappointing at best” and “an inglorious sequence of events”.

Virgin hit back by saying it was “confident it would be vindicated” and said it was disappointing “the dominant market player” had “chosen to attack us rather than get on with the job at hand”.

The case will see the business argue that Rohrlach must serve his six-month gardening leave, which would delay his start date from mid-May until 18 September. Qantas also owns a 33 per cent stake in Jetstar Japan.

The AFR adds that there are similar proceedings underway in Singapore, where he signed the contract with the airline. Justice James Stevenson will oversee the case in the NSW Supreme Court, with a directions hearing set for Tuesday.

“Mr Rohrlach had accepted a senior role in Qantas Loyalty and had received highly sensitive information in preparation for starting in that role,” Qantas said in a statement.


In response, a Virgin spokesperson told Australian Aviation, “As is appropriate with matters before the court, Virgin will put its evidence and arguments to the court under a court-mandated timetable.

“We are disappointed that Qantas has chosen to criticise us the way they have today in a media statement while court proceedings are on foot in relation to this matter, and categorically deny that we have been anything but proper and appropriate in Mr Rohrlach’s recruitment.

“At this particularly critical juncture, with vaccines rolling out and new virus variants emerging, Australian airlines need to work to get our country flying again.”

In January, Australian Aviation reported how new Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka’s refreshed senior team included just one executive remaining from predecessor Paul Scurrah’s era.

It included Qantas’ chief operating officer, Paul Jones, who left the airline after just three months to become Virgin’s new chief customer and digital officer.

The appointments also included poaching Woolworth’s chief financial officer to take the same role at the airline.

Scurrah apparently resigned in October 2020 to be replaced by the former head of Jetstar late last year.

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.


Comments (8)

  • Rocket


    “On boarding”
    Seriously???? We’re just making up our own words now, ridiculous.
    The language is there, it doesn’t need a fake word made up, there are sufficient words already.

    • Himeno


      “on boarding” isn’t a made up term. It is a common term used during the recruitment and training process of new hires.

  • Mahoney Mason


    Too many chiefs and not enough indians?

  • Mike


    As a recently redundant airline employee with over thirty years loyalty to the one company I saw numerous managers come and go in that time. There truly was no loyalty to the company by these people. These managers came, tweaked things to make money for themselves, often making conditions for the staff more difficult and demanding, then these managers would leave for their next money making project, sometimes through defecting to the competitor. It is no surprise at all to read this article. Virgin’s CEO used to head Jetstar. Loyalty? What’s that? No CEO should be trusting any of their managerial staff to remain loyal to the business. History shows that clearly. Just sayin’

  • John Phillips


    Headline is misleading here. QF are not suing to prevent the defection; they are suing in an attempt to enforce terms of the employment contract.

    • Adam Thorn


      Hi John,

      I think it depends entirely on how you interpret the headline. They are suing him because he has, effectively, defected too early in wishing to start in May. In all honesty, the trickiest thing about writing headlines is trying to fit complicated stories in a short space. It’s hard to tell this story fully even in the first line.

      Thanks for your comment,


  • John G


    Onboarding is a strange word but I think it is an Americanism. I first heard it mentioned several years ago when my daughter was on-boarded (employed) by a hospital in Qatar which was managed by Americans.

  • Peter


    Its actually a fair call and QF will probably win this one.

    Typically restraint of trade is hard to enforce but this is a pretty dirty deal (nothing to do with Virgin – they were just being opportunistic, the individual has to wear the price not them).

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