Tourism

Women in Travel: Olivia Wirth

We talk to Qantas’ Group Executive, Brand, Marketing and Corporate Affairs about iconic brands, backing yourself and having perspective.

Can you tell us a little about your career progression? How did you get your start in the travel industry?

It actually wasn’t a conscious decision to go into the travel industry, although I have now worked in a number of roles in the industry.

After university, where I was studying communication, I took a job at Tourism Council Australia in their PR team.

Bruce Baird was the CEO of the company, and he had a great passion for the sector. He was a great first boss and I really enjoyed my time working with him.

Since that time I’ve worked for Tourism Australia, the TTF and for the last six years with Qantas.

What would you say is your defining career achievement or the thing you are most proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of being part of a team involved with the transformation of Qantas over the past few years and, as a result of that, the re-invigoration of the Qantas brand.

And from a marketing and communication perspective, we’ve transitioned from being a company that communicated defensively to one that communicates proactively and in a much more diverse and sophisticated way using the new channels and technologies that we have now.

When you’re this big, iconic brand – the national carrier – carrying tens of thousands of people a day, you have to be out there telling your story and engaging with people and explaining your decisions and your strategy. I think the team at Qantas today does that really well.

What have been the biggest challenges to success you’ve encountered professionally?

Any version of that old phrase, “that’s not how we do things around here”.

You have to be open to change and challenge yourself to do things in a different way, but you also have to take the time to explain to people why that’s necessary when you’re the one pushing for the change.

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With the benefit of wisdom, what advice would you give your 21 y/o self when you were starting out in your career?

Have broad goals and aspirations but be relaxed and open to the opportunities that come along – especially the surprising ones. Be brave and back yourself.

How would you describe your business/management style? What sorts of things are most important to you professionally?

I really believe in building highly motivated and engaged teams with talented people and giving them the opportunity to realise their potential.

I like people who work hard but also people with a sense of humour and perspective. I try to build teams that are diverse both in terms of background and skill set because I think the quality of work and decisions you get is so much better that way.

And I always challenge people to think big and try new things because I think that’s what make a job interesting.

This is a hugely exciting time for Qantas with such great opportunities and I want my team to share that sense of excitement and potential.

Who are the people you admire most professionally or in any field/walk of life?

In general, I have admiration for people who choose to spend their time to help others, campaign for change and contribute to making a difference to our society. I think it’s quite easy to be sucked into professions that are driven by money and ego.

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What do you do to unwind when you aren’t working? What is most important to you outside the office?

Time with friends and family. Someone like Alan [Joyce] is brilliant at compartmentalising and I’m a lot better at it today than I was earlier in my career.

You have to take time to unwind and find a balance so that you’re sharper and more focused when you’re at work.

For you, what’s the best aspect of working in the travel industry?

You meet some incredibly talented, motivated people and also unique characters that you don’t necessarily get in other industries. For many people in this sector, it’s their true passion — it’s not just business.

Travel is a fascinating industry in its own right but when you step back, it’s an industry that holds a mirror up to the way the world’s changing.

People care about travel because it’s so tied up with their aspirations and experiences and memories in life. A brand like Qantas captures that and that’s why it’s so powerful.

What one thing gets you through a stressful day?

It’s probably the unknowns of the airline (you never know what will happen on any given day). So, it’s the variety really.

Each day presents different situations and that really gives you a new challenge and new energy.

And to be honest, also having a great team — they’re people who I trust and I also really enjoy their company. Sharing a stressful day makes it far easier.

You can see the other ladies from our exclusive Women in Travel series here:

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