How Qantas chief Alan Joyce became the master of drama

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is becoming the master of the dramatic decision.

On Wednesday he canned a $44 million partnership between Qantas and Tourism Australia. The current agreement will run to the end of this financial year, and then Tourism Australia will be facing a future with $44 million less in its budget, and the antipathy of a key stakeholder in the tourism sector.

This is the second time Joyce has shocked observers. Last year, Joyce took the extraordinary action of grounding his entire airline without notice in order the end a protracted industrial campaign with the union. The move was condemned by many, including the stranded travelling public, but most commentators believe Joyce won the day on that decision. The union standoff was abruptly concluded. The public forgot their frustrations. The government, annoyed, moved on.

Will Joyce’s decision to pull the plug on the Tourism Australia partnership serve his leadership?

Certainly, many would see him as justified.

The chairman of Tourism Australia, Geoff Dixon, who is also a former CEO of Qantas, has teamed up with another former Qantas executive, Peter Gregg, and investment banker, Mark Carnegie, in a bid to try and change the airline’s strategy.

To add a personal sting to their undermining action, Dixon was once Joyce’s mentor.

Andres Puig, a director of crisis communications consultancy, Civic Group, says: “If I were in Joyce’s position, I would be pretty angry. I’d be thinking what is the best way to hurt them.”

But Puig does not think that Joyce’s decision was a hasty one, made amid crisis. “There is no way he would have taken that decision without legal advice about whether Tourism Australia could have sued them for the breach of the partnership. That kind of advice takes time.”

Puig says the conflict of interest argument stacks up enough for Joyce to argue that he is acting in the company’s best interests. “On the one hand, you have the head of Tourism Australia potentially being activity involved in an attack on Joyce’s position, and therefore his company. And his [Dixon’s] job is to promote the tourism industry, not to attack a player in it. You can’t do both. Joyce would have sat there thinking, he can’t be both chairman of the tourism industry, including Qantas and, on the other hand attack Qantas, a key player in the tourism industry.”

But to others it looks like a dummy spit. Image consultant, Jon Michail, of Image Group International, says Joyce’s personal branding strategy is a failure. “The real agenda driving his personal branding is to always look like the tough guy. But I don’t think that is who he really is, and when he comes up against real tough businessmen, it looks like he is the one wearing the emperor’s new clothes,” he says.

“The fallout is clearly indicated,” Michail says. “It is on the front page. That is not doing him or the company any good because it is not the way you do business. If he had a problem, he should sort it out behind the scenes. Handle it, rather than making a showy splash.”

Noel Posus, executive coach and director of Incredible Awareness, says there is an upside to the dramatic nature of Joyce’s decision.

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