Virgin Australia CEO to step down

Jayne Hrdlicka is stepping down as the CEO of Virgin Australia.

Jayne Hrdlicka, the chief executive of Virgin Australia, has announced she is stepping down from her role.

Ms Hrdlicka made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon as the airline announced a return to profitability over the 2023 financial year and what they said was a “strong” first half of the 2024 financial year.

“After nearly four years of intensive work and transformation since the dual challenges of Administration and the onset of Covid-19, Jayne has decided that now is the right juncture to ensure that succession is in place to see the company through a future IPO and beyond,” Virgin Australia said in a statement.

“The Board of Virgin Australia will shortly commence a global search process for a new CEO.”

Jayne Hrdlicka, the chief executive of Virgin Australia, is stepping down from her role after four years in the top job. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
Ms Hrdlicka has led Virgin Australia since 2020, guiding the airline out of administration and through the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Ms Hrdlicka has been the company’s chief executive since 2020, after the airline was acquired out of administration by Bain Capital.

She remained leader throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, including a tumultuous period where planes were grounded and borders were slammed shut.

Her resignation follows the airline announcing they had returned a profit for the first time in more than a decade, doubling its 2022 revenue with a reported $5bn.

Revenue for domestic, international. regional and charter flying increased 126 per cent from the 2022 financial year, with Virgin citing record travel demand as the driving factor behind its return to pre-Covid levels.

It has been 11 years since the company first turned a profit.

As a result, Bain Capital delayed plans for an initial public offering (IPO) in response to the profits

In a statement, Ms Hrdlicka said it was the right time to step out of the major role and “pass the baton on”.

“This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but the last four years have been heavy lifting across the organisation during the toughest of times,” she said.

“We are in the midst of the next phase of our transformation program and there is a lot to do and an IPO to deliver.”

“I am very proud of what the Virgin Australia team have accomplished together since the depths of administration and the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms Hrdlicka said.

Senate Aviation Inquiry
Ms Hrdlicka (pictured) said she was proud of what the airline’s 7500-strong staff had achieved since they returned to profitability. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Jono Searle

“I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to guide the team to this point on its journey, and I very much look forward to seeing the continued success of Virgin Australia.”

Throughout the early years of the Covid pandemic, Ms Hrdlicka was a vocal advocate of opening Australia’s borders, which were closed amid fears of new infection clusters emerging in the community.

She faced heavy criticism for suggesting in a memo to staff that borders should be opened even if it meant “some people may die”.

Ms Hrdlicka later clarified her comments were made in response to questions about whether vaccination numbers would prompt the international border to reopen and were not meant to be interpreted in isolation.

She was also vocal about allowing more flights from Qatar Airways to land in Australia, claiming it would lower airfares and boost tourism.

In their statement the company said the airline had been repositioned as a value carrier under Ms Hrdlicka’s leadership and “rebuilt to deliver great choice and value to travellers” while returning the airline to a sustainable future.

Jayne Hrdlicka was a vocal advocate of opening the country’s borders at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing controversy for some comments made in a memo to staff. NCA NewsWire / Sarah Marshall

“Our people have been the centrepiece of this period and have enabled a successful phase one to Virgin Australia’s transformation,” the company’s statement reads.

Virgin Australia is currently entering the second phase of its transformation, targeting “continued growth and margin expansion” to secure its long-term financial sustainability.

Chairman Ryan Cotton congratulated Ms Hrdlicka’s leadership during one of the airline’s most turbulent times of its history.

“Her leadership was fundamental to repositioning the airline back to its roots as a value carrier, returning Virgin Australia to profitability for the first time in 11 years,” he said.

“It has laid a strong foundation for continued growth and margin expansion that will underpin Virgin Australia’s competitive position in the Australian market. To do this required a lot of heavy lifting and the rebuild of many parts of our organisation.

“A big part of this was resetting our talent pipeline for the long-term, which serves us very well now.”

Ms Hrdlicka’s resignation has prompted a response from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to seek an “urgent” recommitment from Bain Capital regarding the sale of Virgin Australia.

TWU members of Virgin’s ground crew, cabin crew and pilots last year served a claim on Bain Capital for respect and secure jobs, amid threats of a strike.

An agreement was reached between the airline and union, preventing any industrial action.

The union has urged the new CEO to engage constructively on workplace concerns and initiatives as Virgin returns to profit.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine acknowledged the work from Ms Hrdlicka towards meeting the commitments made to workers during the sale to Bain Capital.

“Bain Capital must now reassure workers that the commitments made to remain with the airline long-term and to prioritise good, secure jobs and loyal workers are unchanged,” Mr Kaine said.

“The recruitment of the next CEO must carefully consider attitudes towards workers and experience collaborating with the workforce to achieve the best results for a business.”