Qantas’ Jayne Hrdlicka moves the odds

Not that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is planning to leave for now, but it is a fine media game to speculate on who comes next. Ms Hrdlicka’s departure from Qantas – scheduled for Mar-2018 – rules out one of the front runners, at least as far as popular opinion was concerned.

As Jetstar CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka was in her element. A consultant with Bain in her earlier life, this was the real thing. It was a challenging job, with a lot of travel and cultural varieties that demanded very different strategies across the various Jetstar brands around the region.

She talked at length about this at CAPA’s Australia Pacific Summit in Aug-2017.

And, as the Qantas board and Mr Joyce seemingly designed a future succession plan, Ms Hridlicka was recently shuffled to the role of Chief Executive Officer Qantas Loyalty and Digital Ventures. Other apparent potential future leaders were also moved around. The other popular pretender for the crown, Gareth Evans, was given Jetstar, after a successful spell as CEO of Qantas’ international operations.

Even though it is a highly profitable and future-looking business, Qantas loyalty’s just not as sexy as running one of the world’s leading LCCs.

Whether that change was the spur to jump ship, or whether the simple attraction of becoming Managing Director and CEO – albeit of a much less sexy milk company – was too much to turn down isn’t clear. She’s joining a company that’s on the up; the A2 Milk Company’s shares have trebled in value this year, with a market capitalisation today of just over NZD5 billion (Qantas, by way of comparison is at AUD9 billion; in 2017 its shares doubled in value to Oct-2017, but have now slipped to an increase of around 80%). Since the Hrdlicka announcement A2’s shares rose 2.6% today. Sexy, perhaps not, but probably more financially attractive than an airline in the medium term.

So as Ms Hrdlicka exits, Mr Evans is propelled to the top of the bookies’ chart. You’d have to think he’s prepared to be patient and in any case he’ll need a while to get his head around the very particular issues confronting Jetstar. That would put a time frame of at least two more years on his being ready for the top group job.

Then again nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Who knows, there’s still the matter of finding a permanent CEO for Virgin Australia. It might be Rob Sharp, but then again…..And there’s nothing really like being CEO, is there?