Union-brawling US millionaire now in charge of Virgin
The new boss of Virgin Australia, a 58-year-old American who cut her teeth at US investment firm Bain Capital, has a history of fractious relationships with unions.
Jayne Hrdlicka's career in Australia has included stints at a2 Milk, Qantas and budget airline Jetstar where she ran up against the powerful Transport Workers Union.
The TWU now fears the difficult relationship between the union and Hrdlicka, relating to a 2011 shutdown and pay freezes, will be replicated in her new position at Virgin, which has just emerged from a bruising restructure costing thousands of jobs.
Throughout the administration and sale process, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine warned the union would take a very dim view of Ms Hrdlicka's appointment as CEO.
Mr Kaine said the removal of CEO Paul Scurrah reflected "slippery private equity doing backroom deals that are not in the public interest"."It's time for them to come clean … build trust with their workforce," he said of Bain.
He said Mr Scurrah was a tough CEO who "when he gave his word, he'd stand by it".
By contrast, Mr Kaine said workers had been left "unnerved and alarmed" by the appointment of Ms Hrdlicka, who quit her $3 million role with New Zealand's a2 Milk late last year.
"In the last 25 hours the world at Virgin has been turned upside down," he said. "The TWU's focus has been on holding Bain Capital to account over the commitments it signed up to before Virgin workers as creditors voted to approve the sale of the airline."
RMIT corporate government expert Warren Staples said Hrdlicka's appointment signals that Bain are looking to slash costs, improve the balance sheet, and exit via listing or making a quick sale. "That's a classic pump and dump strategy," said Mr Staples.
Ms Hrdlicka's arrival in Queensland has already created a stir after it emerged she was allowed to skip hotel quarantine and isolate in a luxury Brisbane residence after relocating with her family from the COVID hotspot of Victoria.
It is understood Queensland Health granted the exemption to Ms Hrdlicka, who was seen being picked up in a limousine from Brisbane Airport in late September, on compassionate grounds. Her husband is battling cancer and required to undertake chemotherapy.
Tennis-loving Ms Hrdlicka, who has been pictured alongside celebrities including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban during Australian Open tournaments, began her climb up the corporate ladder in 1987 when she landed a summer associate job at Boston-based Bain. Bain is a global investment firm that now has 21 offices around the world with $US105 billion of assets under management.
She spent four years at Bain before a stint as a "turnaround" expert in the publishing industry where she was involved in restructuring companies.
She returned to Bain in 1997 where she remained until 2010 when she joined Qantas as an executive for strategy and technology. In 2012, she was appointed as chief executive of Jetstar where she delivered "significant culture change."
Ms Hrdlicka said she was delighted to be joining Virgin Australia at this important time and wanted to "protect and build" on its brand.
"I am determined that Virgin Australia reinvigorates its strong brand and its passion for customer service, while embracing the diversity, talent and strength of its people," she said.
Originally published as Union-brawling US millionaire now in charge of Virgin