Featured Profile: Alan Joyce

Bec Fary / July 12, 2013 01:48 PM

Who’s Who entrant Alan Joyce may be from humble Irish beginnings, but now heads up one of Australia’s most iconic brands. 

Alan Joyce Via Crikey

Photo credit: Crikey 

Born to a cleaner and a factory worker in Tallaght, a village outside of Dublin, the Qantas CEO’s immigrant status has attracted divided criticism in the past.

In the midst of the industrial turmoil at Qantas in 2011, which saw the whole fleet grounded and more than 600 flights cancelled, Joyce faced death threats, smashed windscreens and received abusive, racially motivated letters at his Sydney home.

Despite Joyce’s passion for the famous airline, he remains deeply offended by the lack of acceptance and cites the criticism as “insulting and annoying”.

“People say ‘you’re not really Australian and you don’t really know or feel why Qantas is important’,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

''I've even had politicians say that to me...[and] I have said to them, 'I am an Australian, I decided to be an Australian’.

“I'm very proud of this country.''

Joyce holds a dual citizenship after becoming a naturalised Australian citizen in 2003. He remains connected to his heritage and visits Ireland every two years, but is also steadfast about ‘The Spirit of Australia’, Qantas’ famous tagline.

The airline's rich history is deeply embedded in Australia’s social makeup.

'I still call Australia home': Quantas TV commercial (2009 version) 

“I absolutely do know why Qantas is important. I’m probably more passionate about it than a lot of people out there would be,” he explained.

Before coming to Australia, Joyce studied science and management at the Dublin Institute of Technology and worked at Ireland’s major airline, Aer Lingus.

In 1996 he moved to Australia and continued his airline career, working for Ansett Australia, before it was forced into administration and closed in 2002.

After moving between fleet and network planning positions at both Ansett and Qantas, Joyce was appointed founding CEO of Qantas’ brand new budget airline partner Jetstar in October 2003.

Joyce’s work turned heads at Jetstar, winning the Centre for Asia-Pacific Low Cost Carrier CEO of the Year Award in 2008 and Australia Airports Association Personality of the Year in 2007.

Jetstar was rising in the airline ranks too, and has since been recognised as Australia-Pacific’s Best Low Cost Carrier.  

The role at Jetstar provided Joyce the opportunity to be on the Qantas Executive Committee, and in November 2008 he took over as CEO and Managing Director.

Qantas is one of Australia’s most recognisable airlines, and includes the largest fleet of aircrafts in the country.

Last financial year, the Qantas Group (including domestic, international and Jetstar flights) carried more than 32 million passengers, with Joyce overseeing all group operations.

Up by 5am and at the office by 7am, he’s on-call 24/7.

In May 2011, Joyce spent an unprecedented three weeks away from his desk after being treated for prostate cancer.

He spent his recovery time on the phone, keeping a watchful eye on the wings of the red and white kangaroo.

The now-47 year-old says the aggressive form of prostate cancer was picked up remarkably early.

Joyce got tested after deciding to launch a program of health checks for all senior Qantas staff. He volunteered to go first, in what turned out to be a lucky move.

His doctors told him if he waited until he was 50 (the recommended age for a prostate test) “there was probably an 80 percent chance I would have been dead”.

Since then, and thanks to the efforts of Joyce, Qantas is now a a major supporter of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

“Rather than a “speed hump”, Joyce says his illness helped him accelerate into the challenge of running Australia’s largest airline.

In between his commitment to Qantas, Joyce still has time for long beach runs most days, and lives with his partner of 14 years, who chooses to remain outside of the public eye.

“He doesn’t like being talked about,” Joyce says of his unnamed long-term partner.

After his role with Qantas ends, Joyce says he’ll be moving on to charity work, but is adamant that won’t be for some time.

“I really do want to focus on this for as long as the board and shareholders are comfortable with me doing it.

“Hopefully that’s for a long time,” he said, re-affirming his passion for the airline.

“Australia needs a strong Qantas.”

Sources: Ansett, Qantas, Jetstar, Sydney Morning Herald, Adelaide Now. 

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