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Virgin CCO expected to replace Jayne Hrdlicka as CEO, reports say

written by Jake Nelson | June 25, 2024

Paul Jones, Virgin Australia’s chief customer and digital officer. (Image: Virgin Australia)

Virgin Australia’s chief customer and digital officer Paul Jones is tipped to be the airline’s next CEO.

Sources cited in The Australian say Jones (pictured), who sensationally defected from Qantas in 2020, is the favourite to take over from outgoing CEO Jayne Hrdlicka as the airline’s owner Bain Capital reportedly prepares for an IPO by Christmas. Hrdlicka announced her shock departure in February.

According to The Australian, Jones emerged as the top internal candidate this month over other contenders including CFO Race Strauss and Velocity Frequent Flyer CEO Nick Rohrlach.

Bain was reportedly two weeks ago also mulling an external candidate from overseas, the newspaper reported, with former Qantas Loyalty boss Olivia Wirth – now working at Myer – and former Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans both having declined to throw their hats in the ring.

The news comes as Bain Capital is believed to be accelerating its plans to relist the airline on the ASX, with The Australian suggesting the US-based private equity firm is looking to take Virgin public before 2025 in response to a successful IPO by fast food chain Guzman y Gomez.

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Virgin Australia exited administration in 2020 when new owners Bain beat out Cyrus Capital Partners to purchase the company but has posted strong financial results since, recording its first full-year profit in FY2023 after more than a decade of losses.

Speaking to The Australian Financial Review in July last year, Hrdlicka said that there was “no pressure” for a fresh Virgin IPO, arguing that the “timing [needed] to be right”.

“We’re in a very high inflationary environment, and we’ve been through a really difficult period,” she told the Financial Review.

“We’re very, very focused operationally and on delivering new aircraft into the fleet and delivering our schedule. Of course, the IPO is happening in the background, the planning, and as we’ve always said, there’s no pressure on timing when we’re ready.”

Hrdlicka, previously CEO of Jetstar and of Qantas Loyalty, left the Qantas Group in 2017 to head up The a2 Milk Company, before resigning in 2019 due to what she would later reveal was her husband’s cancer diagnosis. She was selected to replace Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah in 2020.

Under Hrdlicka’s leadership, the airline struck a deal with unions for a pay freeze to help the airline recover from COVID-19, increased its order of 737 MAX aircraft to help ramp its short-haul international services back up, and overtook Qantas last year as Australia’s most trusted travel brand.

Her tenure was not without controversy, however, including “hurtful” comments around the reopening of borders in 2020.

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Comment (1)

  • Frankly, I think those at Bain running VOZ have lost their way. Reportedly, their CEO, The Boss Lady, was encouraged to resign without them having an approved available incumbent to fill that role, still haven’t and it appears there is no rushing by suiters to be the major player in an IPO whenever it is to be announced. I get the feeling that Bain is getting “itchy”; they feel that their time at the financial wheel should now be over and they should be back over in the east counting their profits leaving the new player/s to replan the needed direction for what is a great operational outfit just itching to perform. Clearly at this point the question is, – Is VOZ an airline or the operating arm of a financial organization? It’s all in the optics!

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