LEADERS SURVEY: Qantas boss Vanessa Hudson on the importance of authenticity

Dylan Caporn
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Vanessa Hudson took over the top job at Qantas last year and says the best advice she’s been given is to be authentic.
Vanessa Hudson took over the top job at Qantas last year and says the best advice she’s been given is to be authentic. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/ BIANCA DE MARCHI

How does the boss of Qantas, which started flying across a sunburnt country more than 100 years ago, tackle its next 100 years?

With authenticity, says its chief executive Vanessa Hudson, who stepped into the role last year after taking over from the airline’s long-standing — and polarising — leader Alan Joyce.

“The best advice I’ve been given is to be authentic,” Ms Hudson told The Nightly for its exclusive Leaders Survey.

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“People appreciate the honesty and sometimes the vulnerability that comes with that, and it makes it easier for people to connect and relate to you.

“That might mean sharing some personal reflections or simply being more candid.”

While still in her first year in the top job, Ms Hudson has worked at Qantas for almost 30 years, moving her way through a range of roles, before being announced as the group’s chief financial officer in June 2019. Last year, after the resignation of the controversial Mr Joyce, Ms Hudson took over with a full range of issues to tackle.

She is focused firmly on future plans, in particular how the airline navigates its “challenging” path to net zero emissions.

“The biggest challenge Australia faces is the same faced by most developed economies, which is how we decarbonise energy and transport,” she said.

“In aviation, this means using sustainable aviation fuel, which is similar to fossil fuel jet fuel but made from sustainable feed stocks. SAF is key because it’s the only viable alternative that can be used in aircraft today. Qantas’ target is for 10 per cent of fuel use to come from SAF by 2030 and 60 per cent by 2050.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 22: Qantas chief executive Vanessa Hudson speaks during a media opportunity at Hangar 96, Qantas Sydney Jet Base on February 22, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. Qantas has demonstrated a significant financial turnaround, reporting a record $2.47 billion profit for the 2022-23 fiscal year, marking a stark change from the previous year's $1.86 billion loss. The airline's strong performance was attributed to robust travel demand and high ticket prices, with domestic earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) jumping to 18.2%, representing a 50% increase in profit margins over the past six years. The company's return on invested capital also increased to 103.6%, reflecting its improved financial position and operational performance. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Vanessa Hudson Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

But Ms Hudson said the fuel was not viable without government support, calling on both the Government and Opposition to prioritise measures in the upcoming Federal Budget.

“Without Australian Government support for producers, the domestic industry cannot meet decarbonising targets,” she said.

“When we look around the world, the EU has progressive blending mandates, the US has financial subsidies for producers and the UK is looking at a hybrid of both approaches coupled with grant funding.

“We strongly believe government policy should include a blending mandate for the use of SAF by airlines, capital grants for producers and price incentives.”

The challenge of net zero though will be made easier, she said, with the next generation of Qantas’ fleet.

“They mean lower emissions, longer range, less noise and better economics,” she said.

“As one example, the QantasLink A220 that’s just entered service uses up to 25 per cent less fuel and CO2 emissions per seat than the Boeing 717s it replaces.

“It’s more comfortable, quieter and has double the range, which really opens the opportunity for new routes.”

As head of the national airline, Ms Hudson said Australia’s great global opportunity had been kickstarted after the pandemic, as people started to connect again.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 22: Qantas chief executive Vanessa Hudson speaks during a media opportunity at Hangar 96, Qantas Sydney Jet Base on February 22, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. Qantas has demonstrated a significant financial turnaround, reporting a record $2.47 billion profit for the 2022-23 fiscal year, marking a stark change from the previous year's $1.86 billion loss. The airline's strong performance was attributed to robust travel demand and high ticket prices, with domestic earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) jumping to 18.2%, representing a 50% increase in profit margins over the past six years. The company's return on invested capital also increased to 103.6%, reflecting its improved financial position and operational performance. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
Vanessa Hudson Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Tourism remains Australia’s big opportunity. People all over the world have once again found their passion to travel and explore.

“We should be taking every opportunity to encourage people from all over the world to find and enjoy what we have here,” she said.

And that’s not just sunny beaches and stunning sunsets, but a reputation for research, development and commercialisation, which Ms Hudson says Australia has the capability to build on.

“We have some of the most skilful scientists and researchers across so many disciplines and as a nation we’re entrepreneurial,” she said

“I believe we need innovative thinking to help address the challenges and Australian know-how can make a valuable contribution.

“I think the biggest threat is productivity, because it’s impacting businesses’ ability to compete and it’s holding back the growth of our economy. I see improving productivity as an exciting challenge that can engage the whole workforce.”

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