Virgin Australia confirms new leadership team for fresh customer push

CEO confirms new chief customer and digital officer, Velocity CEO, finance, people and transformation leaders

Jayne Hrdlicka
Jayne Hrdlicka

Virgin Australia has confirmed the appointment of its chief customer and digital officer and recruited a new Velocity CEO as part of a fresh executive leadership team full of aviation experience announced today.

As previously reported by CMO in December, Velocity has recruited Qantas former chief transformation officer, Paul Jones, as its new chief customer and digital officer. Jones spent more than nine years in senior roles at Qantas including chief operations officer, CIO and executive manager of customer and digital strategy. Prior to this, he was a CIO and VP of integration and transformation at Mars based in the US.  

The appointment comes several months after Virgin’s chief experience officer, Danielle Keighery, left the business after 12 months as chief experience officer and more than 10 years with the group. She has since joined Bank of Queensland as chief customer officer.

Joining Jones on the new-look executive leadership team as Velocity CEO is another Qantas Group colleague, Nick Rohrlach, who was most recently co-CEO and executive director of Jetstar Japan. Prior to this, Rohrlach held several leadership roles across the Jetstar group including executive manager of customer strategy and was responsible for launching the Jetstar business in Hong Kong.

Velocity has been missing a permanent chief since the departure of former CEO, Karl Schuster, nearly 12 months ago. Former Velocity CEO, Neil Thompson, led the business in the interim.

Virgin’s list of other executive appointments announced today includes former The a2 Milk Company chief people, safety and sustainability officer, Lisa Burquest, who takes up the chief people officer’s post from 1 February 2021 after just over two years with the ASX-listed milk producer. Burquest also comes with airline industry credentials, having been executive of human resources and people at Qantas and executive manager of people and communications at Jetstar from 2013 to 2018.

Also joining Virgin as chief transformation officer is Alistair Hartley, who boasts of more than 20 years’ experience in the aviation sector. He has spent the last five years with International Airlines Group in the UK, most recently as director of strategy, and also worked for Virgin Atlantic UK.

Financial leadership has also had a shake-up, with David Marr joining Virgin Australia as chief financial officer from 1 February 2021 after spending the last nine years with Woolworths Group. He replaces Keith Neate, who is leaving after a 10-year run with Virgin that commenced in the Virgin Blue business.

In March, Moksha Watts then joins Virgin as chief corporate affairs officer after a stint with Arnott’s Group as VP of corporate affairs and sustainability. Again, she boasts of previous experience with Etihad Airways, Jetstar and Qantas.

Rounding out the latest executive changes is Susan Schneider, who has been promoted to chief legal and risk officer following the departure of Dayne Field after 13 years at Virgin Australia.

The executive shake-up comes after Bain Capital completed majority ownership of Virgin Australia in September in a $3.5 billion deal. This came nearly six months after the airline went into administration on 21 April 2020 with debts of $6.8 billion, and just weeks after flights were grounded as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.  

It also comes three months after Jayne Hrdlicka was brought in as the new Virgin Australia CEO and managing director, replacing Paul Scurrah.

Hrdlicka said the new-look executive leadership team will be tasked with further driving transformation. She highlighted the world-class experience of each and proven track records in aviation or consumer-focused businesses. 

“Virgin Australia has signalled a return to its mid-market heartland, targeting value-conscious corporate travellers, small and medium businesses, premium leisure travellers, and holidaymakers who are after a great value airfare and better service,” she said in a statement. 

“Our new executive team will be at the forefront of helping our team members to deliver that strategy. All the new appointees have a demonstrated commitment to staff, customers and the community and are a perfect fit with the Virgin Australia culture I have come to know intimately over the past few months.”  

Hrdlicka said the ELT announcement also underscores Virgin’s commitment to build a strong company that will endure for the long term.   

“We have made significant changes to the business and have real momentum despite the current aviation industry challenges. We’ve re-opened lounges in major cities, we’ve matched Qantas’ Frequent Flyer status challenge and included Qantas' oneworld partner airlines, and we’ve increased flexibility for our customers with fee-free flight changes as our domestic borders remain uncertain,” she said.

“While far from finished, we are off to a good start.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

 

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