Qantas’ First Female CEO Readies For Bumpy Ride

Qantas’ new CEOVanessa Hudsonhas spanned roles both onshore and offshore across the commercial, customer and finance segments of the company.

Qantas' first female CEO Vanessa Hudson will take over the company soon.

Vanessa Hudson is to become Qantas’ new CEO when current chief Alan Joyce retires from the role in November, the Australian airline announced. Hudson has been with Qantas for nearly 30 years and is currently group CFO.

Although it recently posted a record $1 billion Australian dollars (US$654 million) first-half profit, the flag carrier has faced a bumpy ride following a post-pandemic deterioration in service quality and soaring airfares, compounded by confrontation with its unions over pay and conditions.

In contrast to Joyce’s combative dealings with labor, Hudson says she is looking forward to developing a constructive relationship with the unions. Qantas is currently appealing a 2021 ruling by Australia’s federal court that it illegally outsourced almost 1,700 ground staff jobs during the pandemic.

Hudson also intends to stick to a recovery plan, released in 2020 in response to the impact of Covid-19, which prioritizes financial stability and cost-cutting to ensure profitability. It includes a multibillion-dollar spend to renew Qantas’ aging fleet. The modernization program, dubbed Project Winton, will cost $5 billion over the next five years, the airline estimates, but analysts from Morningstar and UBS put the figure at more than $12 billion. The average age of a plane in Qantas’ fleet is 15 years: five years longer than planes owned by competitors Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Hudson’s career at Qantas has spanned roles both onshore and offshore across the commercial, customer and finance segments. She started as an internal auditor before becoming catering product manager three years later. Other senior roles she has held include chief customer officer and senior vice president for the Americas and New Zealand. She has been CFO since 2019. 

That post, says RBC Capital markets analyst Owen Birrell, prepares her well for the very public role of CEO, for which she was selected over 40 other candidates.