Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has advised the company board that he will bring forward his retirement by two months to help the company accelerate its renewal following the revelations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that the airline could face “hundreds of millions” of dollars in penalties.
The ACCC alleged that the company engaged in deceitful advertising and sold tickets for flights that had already been cancelled.
“In the last few weeks, the focus on Qantas and events of the past made it clear to me that the company needs to move ahead with its renewal as a priority,” Mr. Joyce said in a media release on Sept. 5.
“The best thing I can do under these circumstances is to bring forward my retirement and hand over to Vanessa 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.”
The move has been supported by Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder, who said that Mr. Joyce had kept the best interests of the airline at the forefront of his actions.
“On behalf of the board, we sincerely thank him for his leadership through some enormous challenges and for thinking well ahead on opportunities like ultra-long-haul travel,” he said.
“This transition comes at what is obviously a challenging time for Qantas and its people. We have an important job to do in restoring the public’s confidence in the kind of company we are, and that’s what the Board is focused on, and what the management under Vanessa’s leadership will do.”
The Qantas CEO was set to retire in November, with Qantas’s Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Hudson selected as his replacement following a formal vote by the company shareholders at Qantas’ Annual General Meeting in November.
Back-to-Back Controversies Hit Airline
The decision of Mr. Joyce to leave earlier than expected follows ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb warning the regulator were investigating whether to fine the company for allegedly selling tickets to 8,000 cancelled flights.
Ticket sales continued for two weeks and some for up to 47 days after the flights—due between May and July 2022—were cancelled.
“We think the penalties should be in the hundreds of millions, not tens of millions, for breaches,” ACCC Chair Cass-Gottlieb told ABC Radio National on Sept. 1.
“We allege that Qantas’ conduct in continuing to sell tickets to cancelled flights and not updating ticketholders about cancelled flights left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices to fly at a particular time not knowing that flight had already been cancelled,” the ACCC said.
Qantas is also facing controversy on another front after revelations Chief Executive Joyce lobbied the federal government to deny a request from Middle-Eastern airline Qatar Airways for additional flights into Australia.
Discussion of the rejected request was part of a Senate Inquiry that saw Mr. Joyce grilled over a swathe of issues.
One focus was how the national carrier’s attributable statutory profit after tax reached $1.75 billion (US$1.12 billion) and the airline’s move to continue charging high airfares.
Qantas is also facing a class action lodged by firm Echo Law, which represents passengers who failed to receive refunds for tickets they purchased despite not being able to use them due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Qantas Urged To Cancel Executives Bonus
Qantas is also being urged by shareholders to cancel its executive’s annual bonuses amid the fallout of the ACCC investigation.
This follows Mr. Joyce, being awarded $10.8 million in company shares last week under a pandemic-era retention scheme and for long-term bonuses from 2020, 2021, and 2022, which he deferred.
The Australian Shareholders’ Association chief executive, Rachel Waterhouse, told the Guardian on Sept. 4 that the controversies had created a reputational problem for the company and the board needed to act quickly to manage the issue.
“There’s deterioration in the brand and also the share price,” Ms. Waterhouse said.
“They might need to make