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Qantas' reputation is in the bin. What can the new CEO do to retrieve it?



In all the turmoil Qantas has faced over the past week and a half, one person has been kept firmly out of the spotlight.

But attention is now turning to Vanessa Hudson, the woman anointed as Alan Joyce's successor earlier this year who is now CEO two months earlier than expected after the latter's early retirement.

Facing her is what seems an unenviable task: turn around the airline's reputation after the battering it has taken in the court of public opinion and – in the last week at least – the share market, all while the national carrier faces legal action from a consumer watchdog hunting a record $600 million fine.

READ MORE: Hopes for Qantas 'circuit breaker' after Alan Joyce exits early

"Joyce has taken himself out of this because he's become a lightning rod for all the problems of Qantas and broadly, the aviation industry," aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief at Airline Ratings, told

"Coming out of COVID has been a nightmare for the airline industry because so many people were laid off.

"Now, Vanessa Hudson has got to just simply continue what Alan Joyce was already doing."

Research firm Roy Morgan said last month Australians consider Qantas to be the country's "13th most distrusted brand in the economy" – worse than budget airline Jetstar at 16th, which is also owned by Qantas Group.

Just three years ago, the national carrier was the third most trusted brand.

While this year's record pre-tax profit of $2.5 billion had indicated customer complaints weren't getting in the way of shareholder success, even that's starting to waver.

READ MORE: Alan Joyce expected to exit Qantas with final $24m payout

Former Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce

Qantas's share price has dropped 13 per cent over the past month and continued to dip even after Joyce's resignation on Tuesday.

But Hudson's task isn't quite as onerous as what it might seem, according to Thomas, who said Joyce had laid much of the groundwork for the airline's recovery.

"The airline's on the right trajectory," he said.

"I think that she's going to benefit from all the things that have been put in place … and now we're really getting to the point where the next six months it really is going to get a lot better, and it's gaining momentum.

"So she's going to ride that momentum."

In a video message sent to staff after Joyce's resignation, Hudson had little hesitation in identifying her top priority as CEO.

"As a company, our job is to get the balance right between looking after our customers; you, our people; and the business itself," she said.

"Right now, achieving this balance must start with our customers, and that's what we will be focused on with our new management team."

READ MORE: How to claim your unused Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin flight credits

Vanessa Hudson and Alan Joyce

Thomas says Hudson needs to continue Joyce's work to turn around the airline's reputation – continue refunding and redeeming flight credits, buying new fuel-efficient aircraft, and allowing international factors out of the airline's control to subside.

But others have called for far more drastic action.

"The Qantas board cannot hide behind Joyce's resignation. (Chairman) Richard Goyder should go next," Labor senator and long-time Joyce critic Tony Sheldon said after the CEO's departure was announced.

"The board has backed Joyce's behaviour at every step and must be held equally accountable for the disgraceful state of the company."

Sheldon also called for 1700 illegally sacked workers to be reinstated by the airline, and for the board and shareholders to withhold Joyce's bonus.

"If the board allows (the bonus to be paid) after illegally sacking 1700 people, gouging customers and while subject to an ACCC prosecution, it will be the swindle of the century."

Thomas doesn't expect critics to be so vociferous towards Hudson, even though, as a near-30-year veteran of Qantas, her hiring doesn't offer the same feeling of a fresh era as an external candidate might have.

"I think the Australian sense of giving someone a fair go will reign supreme and I think that she will have a fair go and I certainly sincerely hope she does," he said.

"But give it six months' time, if the changes haven't been made or things aren't better than they are right now, I think the knives might come out.

"But I think that she's got six months' grace."

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