The founder of CAPA has said Alan Joyce’s legacy will be to have transformed Qantas from an “unwieldy” operation into one of the most successful airlines in the world.
In an extract from his new book, Peter Harbison argued it was “only too easy” to take for granted Joyce’s achievements over 15 “enormously difficult years”.
Harbison is one of the industry’s most high-profile figures, and his support comes weeks after the former Qantas chief executive officer brought forward his retirement following a string of damaging headlines about the Flying Kangaroo.
“In recent months, Qantas has been in the firing line of consumer complaints, lawsuits, allegations of political interference, questions over exorbitant executive remuneration, and much more,” wrote Harbison.
“But today, Qantas is well positioned to continue to be profitable, and without that, there is no airline. It is placed to grow its operations, create employment and provide social connections.
“In seeking to make the airline bulletproof, Joyce surely couldn’t have done much better.”
However, Harbison added that Joyce’s greatest failing has been his inability to connect with the popular mood.
“Joyce has been divisive, that’s true. He’s not broadly popular in the community. Mostly, quite the reverse. Joyce the mathematician, with his often tin ear.
“But there’s no doubting his peers in the global airline industry hold him and his achievements at Qantas in the highest regard.”
The intervention comes after Qantas chairman Richard Goyder told the Senate on Wednesday that he is “not going to walk away” from his former CEO.
Facing tough questioning from Senator Bridget McKenzie, he argued, “I think Alan Joyce did an excellent job as CEO over 15 years in what is a demanding industry.”
Goyder was interrogated alongside new CEO Vanessa Hudson and general counsel Andrew Finch on the performance of the Flying Kangaroo post-COVID-19.
While acknowledging there was work to be done to improve the airline’s performance, he later launched a staunch defence of his senior executives and how they navigated Qantas through COVID-19.
“I think the most significant challenge we’ve had at Qantas is the existential threat we had through COVID,” he said.
“And I think the board and management handled that situation as well as we possibly could – the most challenging circumstances of all time.”