The Week in Focus: Qantas gets its man at JTG helm

The Week in Focus: Qantas gets its man at JTG helm
By admin

He may no longer be part of the inner sanctum, and no longer be invited to the Christmas party, but make no mistake, Rob Gurney is still part of the Qantas family.

In this column two weeks ago, I wrote how Gurney had friends to win over in the agent community after being named Jetset Travelworld Group’s new chief executive.

He might not have been many people’s first choice to take the reigns from Pete Lacaze – a handover which formally takes place on Monday – but for Qantas, it got its man.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce didn’t quite say as much when questioned by Travel Today during the airline’s financial results announcement yesterday (more on that later) but he wasn’t slow in articulating his pleasure at seeing his former commercial chief appointed to the role.

“We expect Rob to energise where the business needs to go and make the appropriate turnaround,” he said. “I am glad to see Rob has taken the role of chief executive.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. Qantas is the single largest shareholder in JTG and it needs to significantly increase the value of its stock before exiting the company, as it intends to do with all non-core assets.

Who better then than Gurney, a man with Qantas in his blood, to look after the interests of his former paymasters?
It has been suggested that the loyalty once felt by Gurney towards Qantas may have dissipated following his unexpected departure from the airline. It’s an argument not without merit.

Nevertheless, Qantas knows that Gurney will do whatever it takes to improve profitability of JTG and in the process provide the airline with the appropriate shareholder value to sell out.

Certainly, other airlines are nervous, and none should be more edgy than Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand. Virgin does not have a formal deal with JTG, and any hopes it may have harboured of securing terms have now surely vanished with Gurney at the helm.

Air NZ, as an increasingly close friend of Virgin, may also be wary of Gurney’s appointment as, for that matter, will Etihad and Singapore Airlines, Virgin’s other alliance partners. Interesting times.

As for the financial position of Qantas, it was much as expected. A strong Jetstar, domestic and frequent flyer performance was undermined by big losses in its international division and by a mammoth fuel bill, the latter a familiar story for airlines. It seems ironic that this loss making operation is still regarded as it flagship. A flag at half mast on a sinking ship is a more apt analogy at this moment in time.

Joyce insisted the transition of Qantas International is “on track” and confidently predicted it will return to profit in three years’ time.

Key to achieving that ambition are alliances. But Joyce, while confirming discussions are ongoing with several prospective partners, was reluctant to elaborate on the progress of those discussions. Which either means he is playing his cards close to his chest or there is not much in the way of progress. Time will tell.

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