Alan Joyce, the long-standing chief executive of Qantas, has decided to step down immediately—two months ahead of his planned retirement date.
Joyce's abrupt departure comes on the heels of a turbulent period for the airline in light of ongoing PR and consumer woes for the Australian carrier, who has been accused of multiple instances of misleading advertising conduct in recent months
Just last week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it be would be taking legal action against Qantas, alleging the airline continued advertising over 8,000 flights for up to two weeks after their cancellations between May and June 2022. The airline also failed to notify customers in time and update their management booking systems accordingly, resulting in out-of-pocket losses for flyers up to AUD$600 and above.
Similarly, earlier in August, a consumer accused Qantas of violating Australian consumer law by advertising return economy flights from Sydney to London's Heathrow airport as one of its "top offers", with costs starting at US$1,576 (AUD$2,455) per adult. But when he tried to book the flights, neither he nor the sales staff at Qantas could find the flight fare—nor did they offer to match based on their advertised promotion.
Joyce (who has been CEO since 2008) is no stranger to scrutiny, often considered one of Australia's most controversial and talked-about corporate leaders. He was heavily criticised for cutting over 6,000 jobs and standing down some 15,000 employees during the pandemic, and faced heavy backlash as Qantas struggled with countless delays and stranded passengers in the US during summer last year.
Joyce was initially slated to retire during the airline's annual general meeting in November as part of a planned leadership transition.
"In the last few weeks, the focus on Qantas and events of the past make it clear to me that the company needs to move ahead with its renewal as a priority," explained Joyce.
"The best thing I can do under these circumstances is to bring forward my retirement and hand over to Vanessa [Hudson] and the new management team now, knowing they will do an excellent job."
“There is a lot I am proud of over my 22 years at Qantas, including the past 15 years as CEO. There have been many ups and downs, and there is clearly much work still to be done, especially to make sure we always deliver for our customers. But I leave knowing that the company is fundamentally strong and has a bright future,” Joyce said.
Qantas also released a statement acknowledging the allegations by the ACCC, citing, "We openly acknowledge that our service standards fell well short and we sincerely apologise. We have worked hard to fix them since and that work continues."
The airline also pointed to the the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic as a key explanation for the disarray with their flight booking systems.
Vanessa Hudson, poised to assume the managing director and group CEO role, will take the reins immediately.
Richard Goyder, Qantas's chairman, expressed his appreciation for Joyce's leadership, particularly during challenging times.
"Alan has always had the best interests of Qantas front and centre, and today shows that," Goyder stated.