APEX Aviation Book Review: Alan Joyce & Qantas 


By Dr Joe Leader

In the vast expanse of aviation literature, few volumes resonate with the power and depth found in Alan Joyce & Qantas, a chronicle of Alan Joyce’s transformative leadership at Qantas. Authored by global aviation luminary Peter Harbison with Derek Sadubin, an incredible leader who long worked by Harbison’s side, this book transcends a mere corporate narrative. It stands as a monumental testament to the indomitable spirit of an aviation leader who reshaped an airline’s destiny.

In advance disclosure, I must share why I wanted to personally review this book prior to its release: Harbison and Sadubin enabled my first personal introduction as APEX CEO to Qantas Airlines GCEO Alan Joyce in 2016.  Based on my pre-pandemic correspondence with him, I firmly believe that Joyce would have joined us at APEX/IFSA EXPO 2020 in a world without the new coronavirus.  When I heard this year that Harbison and Sadubin had worked together for an all-encompassing book on Alan Joyce, I could not wait for the print edition.  While Australians often share warm ties, they commonly share candor in equally sized portions.

The Australian Connection: The bond between Australians and Qantas runs deep. As the book elucidates, most Australians, when prompted, can instantly recognize the CEO of Qantas. By 2023, Alan Joyce had become synonymous with the flying kangaroo, embodying the very essence of the brand. This connection is not just about an airline; it’s about national pride, identity, and a shared journey. The sentiment is aptly captured in the words of Joyce’s predecessor, Geoff Dixon, who once remarked, “Everybody in Australia still believes they own Qantas.” Such is the profound relationship between the nation and its flagship carrier.

From the outset, Harbison and Sadubin establish the intense relationship Australians nurture with Qantas. By 2023, after a decade and a half of steering the ship, Alan Joyce had not just led Qantas; he had become its very embodiment, its soul, its heartbeat.

“By 2023, Alan Joyce had not just led Qantas; he had become its very embodiment, its soul, its heartbeat.”

The book’s structure unfolds like a meticulously planned flight, akin to an ultra-long-haul leg from Sydney to New York. Readers embark on the flight a life in phases of Qantas’ evolution under Joyce’s stewardship:

• Boarding: The initial challenges and setting the stage.

• Pushback: The resistance and foundational shifts.

• Climbing: Ascending to new heights and breaking barriers.

• Cruising: Navigating the smooth skies and consolidating gains

• Turbulence: Battling unforeseen challenges and maintaining course.

• Contrails: Leaving an indelible mark and setting the path forward.

The Challenges and Triumphs: Alan Joyce’s tenure at Qantas was marked by a series of formidable challenges. From navigating the aftermath of the global financial crisis to steering the airline through the unprecedented turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce’s leadership was tested at every juncture. Yet, as Harbison and Sadubin highlight, under Joyce’s stewardship, Qantas evolved from a vulnerable entity to an almost invincible, profit powerhouse that now stands more adeptly positioned for the modern world. His ability to transform adversity into opportunity stands as a testament to his visionary leadership.

A standout feature of this volume lies in its balanced portrayal of Alan Joyce. While celebrating his achievements in morphing Qantas into a formidable, money-making entity, the authors present an unvarnished view of the criticisms and challenges he encountered. His navigation through the global financial crisis, his unwavering stance on pressing social issues, and his leadership mettle after the pandemic all undergo a thorough examination.

“A standout feature of this volume lies in its balanced portrayal of Alan Joyce.”

A Very Personal Journey: Beyond the corporate realm, the book offers a poignant glimpse into Joyce’s personal life. At the age of forty-four, in the midst of professional challenges, Joyce faced a personal battle with prostate cancer. This unexpected diagnosis brought with it profound introspection. Joyce’s resilience in the face of this adversity, his rapid recovery, and his renewed passion for leaving a lasting legacy at Qantas are deeply inspiring moments captured poignantly in the novel. His journey underscores the indomitable spirit of a leader who, even when faced with life-altering challenges, remained unwavering in his commitment to his professional and personal goals.

An essential aspect that the book touches upon is Joyce’s openness about his sexuality. In a world where leaders often mask their true selves, Joyce’s courage in embracing and sharing his identity stands as a beacon for authenticity and acceptance. The authors approach this facet of his life with the utmost respect, highlighting how it added another layer to his multifaceted leadership, fostering inclusivity and diversity in the corporate world.

In the latter part of the narrative, the authors delve into Joyce’s sudden exit from Qantas. While many speculated and pondered over the reasons, Harbison and Sadubin shed light on this decision in the most positive light. They portray it as a culmination of a journey, a graceful bow after a magnificent performance, leaving behind a legacy that will inspire generations.

The Legacy: No matter one’s perspective on the individual, Alan Joyce’s impact on Qantas is undeniable. From his early days at the helm, during the global financial crisis, to the challenges posed by rising fuel prices and intense competition, Joyce’s leadership has been characterized by bold decisions and transformative strategies. The book sheds light on his rivalry with John Borghetti, CEO of Virgin Australia, adding a human dimension to the commercial battles. Through all the ups and downs, Joyce’s primary focus remained clear: to ensure the success and longevity of Qantas. His dedication to the airline’s legacy, combined with his personal journey of resilience and determination, paints a compelling portrait of a leader whose influence will be felt for generations to come. His fervor for the Qantas brand and his unyielding drive to etch a lasting legacy radiate throughout the narrative.

Alan Joyce & Qantas transcends the boundaries of aviation and corporate leadership. It narrates a saga of unwavering determination, unparalleled resilience, and transformative vision. Harbison and Sadubin have sculpted a magnum opus that enlightens, inspires, and beckons readers to delve deeper, to understand more, and perhaps to embark on their own journeys in aviation. This tome stands as an essential read for aviation leadership enthusiasm and as an essential addition for those gleaning insights to craft the future success of our airline world.

About the Reviewer: Dr. Joe Leader serves as the Group CEO of APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association), IFSA (International Flight Services Association), and FTE (Future Travel Experience).