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QANTAS: Olivia Wirth, head of Loyalty resigns – WOW!

QANTAS: Olivia Wirth, head of Loyalty resigns – WOW!

Olivia Wirth, who was overlooked to replace Alan Joyce, has announced her intention to leave Qantas in February 2024.

She currently occupies the position of CEO of Qantas Loyalty, which oversees the 15 million Frequent Flyer members of Qantas. In her 14 years of service to Qantas, Wirth has been the Chief Customer Officer and Group Executive – Brand Marketing and Corporate Affairs. She has also headed up Corporate Affairs, Government and Public Relations.

Her achievements include the development of the loyalty program to cover financial services, holidays, hotels, and insurance. During her reign, the frequent flyer program increased its membership by over 20%. Qantas loyalty has been the major profit centre

Cynics would say (count me in) she would be a better leader of Qantas to repair their severely damaged reputation . Instead the board chose current accountant-trained CEO Vanessa Hudson. Whatever you might think about that, to lose a senior executive with that degree of skill and experience is a tragedy. The greatest reputational issue facing the airline is Australians’ view of the organisation after its disastrous performance after the pandemic. It’s made the company slogan ‘The Spirit of Australia’ into a term of wrath.

The AFR is reporting that Wirth has accepted a position on the board of retail department store chain, Myer, and has been rumoured to be in the race to head up Loyalty at Crown Casino. Interestingly, both organisations are based in Melbourne.

I don’t want to make Wirth into a patron saint for Qantas though. Some of the principal criticisms that came up at the recent Senate Committee inquiry into the Australian aviation focussed on the massive increase in complaints about Qantas, some of which targeted the loyalty scheme.

a man in a suit and tie
Alan Joyce addressing the public on flight credit deadline extension [Qantas]

Other executive changes

Starting in January 2024, the airline has appointed a new Chief People Officer, Catherine Walsh. She currently works for Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) which has a lot of recent reputation challenges itself. From the frying pan into the fire perhaps? Her first possible challenge will be negotiating that compensation package for the 1700 ground staff illegally sacked during the pandemic.

‘In this new role, Ms Walsh will help drive a stronger relationship between Qantas and its 25,000 employees, as well as with the unions that represent them. This function will also help lead the recruitment of thousands of new roles across the Group in coming years as it takes delivery of new aircraft and returns to growth.’

Qantas Media Release

I would have thought her major task would have been to repair the broken relationship the organisation has with many of its staff. It will need to do that well before relationships will be ‘strengthened’. After years of staff cuts, illegal sackings, pay freezes, and reductions in service, she’ll have some work to do. Fortunately given the extreme staff shortages in virtually all aspects of the airline industry, employees and their unions have seldom been in a better position to bargain. More power to them.

CEO Qantas, Vanessa Hudson [Qantas]
CEO Qantas, Vanessa Hudson [Qantas]

2PAXfly Takeout

At a time when repairing reputational damage should be the organisation’s biggest priority, it seems inopportune to lose your chief loyalty person. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde:

“To lose one executive, Ms. Hudson, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

After Oscar Wilde

Given the lack of a replacement announcement, it doesn’t look like Qantas has anyone in the wings waiting to replace Olivia Wirth in Loyalty

So, over the last month or so, Qantas has lost a CEO prematurely, lost 25% of its shareholder value, and will lose its chairman, and possibly the majority of its board. Oh yes, and its reputation. It’s also committed to billions of dollars in capital debt with fleet renewal, and now it’s lost one of its most important and experienced executives working in loyalty, public and government relations.

On the positive side, it had a record profit last financial year . . .

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