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An Irishman moved to Australia two decades ago, became an Australian citizen and is running the whole show at Flying Kangaroo. Alan Joyce had never been on a plane until his job took him from Dublin to Chicago, business class, at 22 and today he is the CEO of Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia and its largest airline by fleet size, international flights and international destinations. This calculated risk-taker have had a broad spectrum of work experience before adorning the CEO role. He was named as a Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia’s highest civil honour in 2017 and was voted as the boss most Australian employees would like to work for.

The first flight to the industry....

Irish born Joyce started his career with Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national carrier. Straight out of the university, his love of numbers and probabilities led him to his first job as an operations research analyst. The physics and maths graduate used the mathematical models to solve problems with overbooked flights, spare engines, problems of passengers, schedules, rosters, risks and loyalty. His first task was to design a mathematical model to determine how many seats the airline should overbook to fill any empty seat on each flight, assuming a small percentage of passengers won't show up. He eventually fell in love with the industry. This boss of thousands of pilots of 'Flying Kangaroo' was knocked back when he had applied to train as a pilot in Aer Lingus back in the 80s. In the eight years with the airline, he held various roles in sales, marketing, IT, network planning, operations research, revenue management and fleet planning. He stepped down from the position of Head, Revenue Management and Fleet Planning in 1996 and relocated to Australia.

The big leap...

Moving to Australia, he worked as the Head of Network Planning, Schedules Planning and Network Strategy at the now-defunct Ansett Australia in its dying days.

In 2000, he joined Australian airline Qantas Airways and has been handling similar roles before becoming the founding CEO of Qantas’s low cost subsidiary, Jetstar Airways in 2003. He considers this job offer as the biggest break in his life. When he got an offer to return to Aer Lingus after its CEO Willie Walsh left to run British Airways in 2005, he chose to stick with Jetstar and turned down the offer. In his five years tenure, he developed what started off with 14 aircrafts to a nationwide domestic network business with operations in Australia and across Asia. Again, a European carrier offered to hire him to start up a low-cost carrier with them. But Qantas offered him a big pay rise and promised a golden future at Qantas.

Being on the top and the challenges...

Alan Joyce was appointed as the first non Australian chief executive at Qantas and has been in the top job for nearly a decade now. He has had a hard time battling industrial unrest, global financial crisis, a bitter price war with rival Virgin Australia, naysayers, engine malfunctions and economic conditions over his time at Qantas. He is known for taking hard decisions. Being a math wiz, he relies on facts, analytics and data and concentrated on the rational as against to the emotional. Following a dispute with pilots, ground staff and engineers over pay, conditions and the outsourcing of jobs overseas, Joyce grounded the fleet and shut down the entire airline in 2011 losing $20m a week. In 2014, as part of company restructuring, domestic competition, high costs and rising oil prices, he cut down 5,000 jobs sparking industrial unrest and its share price was below $1. In 2011, the shares crashed 97%. Fast forward to 2017, Qantas is one of the most profitable airlines in the world, with shares at a nine-year high of $6.45.


Alan Joyce put his shoulders to the wheels to modernise the airline, restructure its workforce and bring it back to profit. The Group has taken delivery of more than 120 new aircrafts and made huge investments in infrastructure, technology and training to improve customer service. In 2013-14, Qantas posted a $2.8 billion loss. In three years, the world’s oldest continuously operating airline is at its second-highest underlying profit result in the 97 year history of the national airline — $1.4 billion. The man behind one of the biggest turnarounds in Australian corporate history was remunerated $24.58 million in 2017 as against $12.96 million in the previous year, thus becoming the first CEO to break through the $20 million barrier since the financial crisis. Politicians, customers and unions that were against Joyce were proved wrong. He never had any questions regarding turning around the company from huge loss to soaring profit.

A strong believer in innovation and creativity in business, he says a diverse team, a clear vision, collaboration and teamwork, rewarding people for being decisive, asking questions and empowering, taking calculated risks, owning up and cleaning up the mistakes are a few essentials to be a good leader.

Community involvement...

In addition to his eminent service in the aviation industry, he contributes to global economic forums. He is highly passionate about aviation, education and technology. He has been vocal about the development of the national and international tourism, gender equity, inclusion and diversity, and indigenous education, a big-thinking attitude and collaboration. He is proud of the increasing number of women in senior leadership roles and is aiming for more women employees from STEM in his company. He has been the Ambassador of Australian Indigenous Education Foundation since 2012. A cancer survivor himself, he has been an ambassador of Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. He has also been the most prominent openly gay business leader in Australia and supported the campaign towards legalising same-sex marriage.

Personal life...

Born to hard working parents who could not get formal academic education beyond secondary school, Joyce and his siblings were given the best possible education. His pocket money was taken away until he was 16 as he was caught smoking his first and the last cigarette when he was 6. He became a paperboy learning to respect the value of hard labour. His parents are his biggest influence. Joyce graduated with Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Science (Physics and Mathematics) from Dublin Institute of Technology and did his Master of Science degree in Management Science from Trinity College, Dublin.

An advocate of same - sex marriage, Joyce lives with his partner Shane Lloyd in Sydney. He collects antique airline schedules as souvenirs and follows soccer and AFL. He is a supporter of Liverpool FC. His suggestion to the younger generation is to travel first, putting off the career ambitions for a little while – especially to Asia; Asia being the power pack that will shape the global economy in the 21st century.

Associations and memberships...

Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Governor, Board of Governors, Oneworld Alliance
Director and Member Board of Governors, International Air Transport Association
Board Member, Business Council of Australia
Founding Member, Male Champions of Change
Presiding Officer of the Board of Management for Charles Sturt University’s Assocciate Degree in Policing Practice

Awards and accolades...

Named as a Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia’s highest civil honour in 2017
Named as the Business Leader of the Year at the GQ Men of the Year awards in 2017 and in OUTstanding / Financial Times list of "Top 100 Leading LGBT Executives"
Honoured for Outstanding Contribution to Global Aviation by the Irish Aviation Industry in 2016
Received Orient Aviation Person of the Year in 2016
Received the Airline CEO of the Year, CAPA Centre for Aviation, 2015
Named as the most influential business leader by The Australian in 2011
Received Airline Business Magazine’s Low Cost Leadership award
Received Australian Airports Association award for Personality of the Year in 2007


If you have an opportunity to do an MBA grab it, but make sure you get a lot of different on-job experience around [your specific] industry and even in different industries
There’s six million moving parts on an aircraft, things can go wrong…but how you recover is really key to customer loyalty.
If you aren't out there disrupting yourself, then someone else is going to come along and disrupt you.
You can either live life and do all that you need or you can go into a room and lock your windows and die a safe death. I think you have to go out there and live life.
The only way to deal with a mistake is to admit it and act immediately.

Hope readers caught up the spark …