Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce was forced to defend his staggering salary this week. Picture: Gary Ramage
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce was forced to defend his staggering salary this week. Picture: Gary Ramage

Why this man deserves $24m

OPINION

WHO knew we were such a jealous bunch?

One short man earns a gigantic pay packet and we're frothing at the mouth about equality and entitlement.

Never mind that that one man has turned around a failing company, put thousands of dollars in shareholders' pockets, boosted the superannuation of Mr and Mrs Average and prevented thousands more from losing their jobs.

No, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is officially a fat cat and like a moggy who's relieved himself on the best rug, we want to rub his nose in it.

Few things seem to irk us more than our perception that someone has risen above their station. We throw around words like "disgraceful" and "obscene" as if being good at your job and well remunerated for it is greedy at best and criminal at worst.

The fact is Mr Joyce took a beleaguered company and transformed it into a thriving global business with a record profit of $1.6 billion.

Yes, at $24 million his pay packet may be 270 times that of the average worker and, yes, he may make $459,000 each week.

But his earnings are just 1.5 per cent of the money he made. A dud CEO could have cost the company and shareholders many more millions than he was paid.

The fact is that the best CEOs are so much more than their demure and dated titles suggest. Chief Executive Officer sounds like a job description from the era of pinstripe suits, novelty ties and Amstrads. It's redolent of little more than exemplary paperclip bending and paper pushing.

In reality, the best CEOs are alchemists, strategists, innovators and geniuses. They have the sort of agile brains that produce solutions to problems which seem intractable. They lead not from a textbook but from an internal well of brilliance that seems constantly replenished.

What's more, the buck stops with them. They stuff up and we all lose. Conversely, when their dexterity and instincts and big sky thinking come together with precision, we all win.

And yet we display an odd double standard by being selective with our envy.

Chris Hemsworth gets paid $122 million, making him the world's second highest paid actor, yet we don't sneer at him. Rather, we champion him for entertaining us for 90 minutes in his Thor costume while still having sufficient time off to bake a birthday cake for his children.

Likewise, Patty Mills. We glow with pride when America's NBA offers him a $73 million deal because he's tall and talented at shooting hoops.

How warped are we to eulogise those who find success through luck, good looks or physical prowess yet treat with derision those whose fine brains and sound judgment boost our superannuation and secure our retirement. Honestly, we should be grateful.

But like some dowdy outpost left behind in the last millennium, we allow ourselves to be sucked into tall poppy syndrome when it comes to our business giants.

Europe and Asia are full of gifted people pushing the boundaries in corporate life. They're admired and celebrated.

Wear a suit here, however, and you'll be branded a "w**ker". Yet for every dodgy CEO exposed in the banking royal commission there's 100 others working their butts off to do the right thing.

Australia may have big dick energy but we're increasingly guilty of little dick mentality. We should be aspiring to grow more people like Mr Joyce. We want those who are best in class internationally, who bestow a culture of excellence and drive their agendas hard so that many, not just themselves, might profit.

When we pay them well, we're rewarding the risks they take, the entrepreneurship they exhibit, the education they've invested in and the particular brand of brilliance that comes along all too rarely.

If we insist on anything from them, it should be that they succession plan. Indeed, one of their key performance indicators, insisted upon by the board, should be that they talent spot and nurture two or three potential replacements from the company to take over when they retire.

If all ASX companies followed suit there would be little need to hire from overseas and CEO salaries wouldn't need to be so high.

In any case, in a week when welfare cheats fraudulently claiming payments led the news, surely we should celebrate a bloke who makes us money rather than steals it from us.

Alan Joyce might've earned a tidy $24 million, but a fair chunk of that will have gone straight to the tax office.

Good on him. Now if he could successfully stop the airports rorting us on coffee and parking prices, we'd be most grateful.

Angela Mollard is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @angelamollard



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