Alan Joyce is leader of what is arguably the most recognised brand in Australia and he was adamant the most important relationships in a company are between the CEO and the chairman and the CEO and the board.

Speaking with Conexus Financial CEO Colin Tate as part of the Redefining Leadership Series presented in partnership with MLC Wealth, Joyce said you should “treat your board as the best set of advisers”.

“A lot of CEOs go out and get management consultants in when you sometimes have sitting around the table the best management consultants you could ever tap into,” he said.

“Having a really good former CEO as a chair is phenomenally positive because they have a delineation between what the board should do and what management should do… a board is at a strategic level giving management the right path to go forward and if you leverage that you have a very powerful outcome.”

 

He also stressed good leaders shouldn’t micro manage.

“As leaders you can’t go down and manage every single issue; if you do, you’re not doing your job. I believe you should be operating as leaders at 35,000 feet, you’re seeing the whole environment… We encourage our people to think big.”

Qantas has been hit hard by the Covid crisis with the company losing $11 billion of its $18 billion in revenue but Joyce warned against getting into “analysis paralysis” which could result in no decisions being made.

“The worst thing would be to have done nothing,” he said.

“We had no data as to where people were going to travel when borders opened up so we started 32 new domestic routes. Of those 32 new routes all but one has generated positive cash flow.”

But for Joyce, leadership in business goes hand in glove with social and community leadership, particularly for a flagship company like Qantas. He cited the company’s support for marriage equality as an example.

“Qantas has always been at the forefront of being very active socially we were one of the first companies to have a reconciliation action plan, we were sponsoring Mardi Gras in the eighties so it was part of our DNA to have a social dimension to what we were doing,” he said.

“And there is certainly a business case,” he said. “Deloitte had done a piece of work here in Australia that if you’re part of the LGBTI community, if you’re disabled or [you’re from] the indigenous community, you’re three to four times more likely to pick a brand they think supports or represents them.”

On the future of aviation he quoted what one of his predecessors called “constant shock syndrome”, meaning that whatever happened world-wide would have some impact on the aviation industry.

“You hope for the best and plan for the worst,” he said.

He believed international travel wouldn’t get back to pre-covid levels until 2024.

“But the way the world’s economy’s going, you know, we could have the roaring 20s, there is a possibility we could have a pent-up demand surge once Covid’s under control like we’ve had domestically,” he said.

“We have our 380s which are the bulk of our international capacity in the desert and we’ve put them in long term storage and the plan is not to activate them until December 2023. But if [the situation] is a lot better than we expect it’ll take three to six months to activate the first aircraft.”

On a more personal level, Joyce outlined the importance the role his mother and father had on his ability to lead while growing up in working-class Ireland.

“They taught me the power of education. I was literally the first in my family to get through secondary education… my father taught me the power of hard work, dedication and his work ethic was the best I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“My mother was only four foot five but she was the one who would never let anyone bully anyone out there. That insistence that bullies never win we picked up from her.”

Stewart Hawkins is a financial journalist, editor and TV producer who has worked for Bloomberg, the Australian Financial Review, the South China Morning Post and News Limited. For the past two decades he has covered markets and the broader financial industry in both Australia and Asia.
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