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Who is Vanessa Hudson, Qantas Airways’ first female CEO?


Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas Airways Ltd, on Tuesday named chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson as its new CEO, making her the first woman to lead the century-old airline.

Hudson will take over in November from Alan Joyce, whose 15 years in the position have made him the longest-serving current CEO of a major Australian company, and a towering figure in the global aviation industry.

Hudson’s appointment makes her one of the few female executives to run a major company in Australia, although rival airline Virgin Australia also has a female CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka.

“I have an understanding of this organization that is very deep,” Hudson told reporters at her first press conference as CEO candidate.

“I think the experience I’ve had, and also recently, in helping to manage COVID puts me in a great position to look ahead in terms of all the investments that are coming with new aircraft, but also to continue to invest in our customers,” she says.

Qantas chairman Richard Goyder said Hudson’s handling of the financial and treasury portfolio during the COVID crisis was outstanding, ahead of nearly 40 applicants globally that the airline had shortlisted for the job.

Shares of Qantas fell 2.4% on Tuesday against a broader market drop of 0.25%.

“Vanessa has been market-focused as CFO since October 2019, which will have prepared her well for the very public role as CEO of Qantas,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Owen Birrell said in a note.

Hudson joined Qantas 28 years ago and has held several senior roles there, including CFO, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Vice President for the Americas and New Zealand.

While men are still far more likely to fill top positions in Australian-listed companies, a growing number of high-profile CEO roles are being filled by women, including at the No. 1 investment bank, Macquarie Group, top telco Telstra Corp, oil and gas giant Woodside and financial service provider AMP.

Hudson said she was proud to lead the airline.

“Personally, I have two young daughters, 21 and 18, and I’ve always been a mother who wanted to lead by example and it was incredibly meaningful to listen to their reflections last night,” she said.


Joyce, 56, served as CEO of Qantas during a turbulent 14 years as he helped the airline navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, fluctuating fuel prices and competition.

The airline faced a reputational crisis during the pandemic due to flight cancellations, job cuts and accepting government financial support.

Hudson said the airline has been working to rebuild customer confidence. But she has a tough job building ties with the unions, who have had a poor and often acrimonious relationship with Joyce.

Joyce hired bodyguards in 2011 after receiving death threats for his unprecedented grounding of the airline’s entire fleet during a labor dispute.

The announcement is a golden opportunity for a reset at Qantas, Michael Kaine, national secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), said in a statement.

Qantas posted record profits in the first half of the year this year as raging demand for travel from a population shrugging off years of pandemic restrictions drove up rates and profits.

“This transition comes at a time when the Qantas Group is extremely well positioned,” said Goyder.

Qantas said Hudson would continue in her current role until she became Qantas’ 13th CEO at the 2023 annual general meeting.

This story was published from an agency news agency with no edits to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.