Alan Joyce took over as chief executive at Qantas Airways in November 2008. The then-42-year-old leader had just completed a successful five-year run as founding chief executive of Jetstar, Qantas’s low-cost carrier. He was being called upon to spin his magic at the parent company, no easy trick during the darkest days of the Great Recession. Air travel was in decline, and Qantas—the second oldest airline in the world—was not nearly as nimble and entrepreneurial as Jetstar.
Despite this challenging start, Qantas reported pre-tax profit of U.S.$146 million for the fiscal year ending June 2009 and U.S.$81 million for the first half of fiscal year 2010. (By comparison, the global airline industry was projected to lose several billion dollars in 2009.)
As chief executive of both a start-up and an incumbent, Joyce has relied on classic leadership qualities—decisiveness, communication, accountability, and teamwork—to drive results. Decisions may take longer at Qantas than at Jetstar, but Joyce says he's used the same leadership style at both firms.
Over the next several years, Joyce has ambitious goals to boost the level of employee engagement and innovation at Qantas. He does not want simply to import what worked at Jetstar but to call upon the traditional strengths and proud heritage of Qantas.
In his conversation with Andrew Dyer, a senior partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group and global leader of its Organization practice, Joyce discusses leadership challenges. Excerpts from their conversation follow.