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Qantas turnaround wizard Joyce has a one-word lesson for Cathay: Adapt

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by Bloomberg

Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce, who is steering Qantas Airways Ltd. through a successful three-year transformation, has one word of advice for Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. – adapt.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s flagship carrier reported its first annual loss since 2008 as declining demand for business travel and competition from Chinese rivals eroded earnings. While Joyce’s restructuring at Qantas is set to deliver A$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) in cost savings by the end of June, the marquee Asian airline just recently set out on a similar course, vowing to improve returns and operational efficiency.

“It is a lesson to all carriers around the globe to adapt and change,” Joyce told Rishaad Salamat and Haidi Lun in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday in Hong Kong. “That’s the way you survive.”

Alan Joyce, chief executive officer of Qantas Airways Ltd., speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Qantas' first-half earnings dropped 7.5 percent, less than the company expected, as overseas competitors rolled out more routes and international air fares fell. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Alan Joyce

Irish-born Joyce has cut thousands of jobs, deferred aircraft, retired older planes, and dropped unprofitable routes while partnering with ex-nemesis Emirates to help stem losses on international routes. Qantas in August announced its first dividend since 2009 and handed bonuses to 25,000 workers following a record annual profit. He has also targeted to save A$400 million annually in cost and revenue benefits.

Qantas shares have more than tripled in value in the past three years, while those of Cathay have declined 26 percent in the same period.

While Cathay has given scant details of its business revamp, it has said changes “will start at the top” and it would eliminate some positions. Key changes take effect by mid-year. At a press conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Chairman John Slosar and Chief Executive Officer Ivan Chu said they will share more information once the process is complete.

“We do believe there’s structural piece to it,” Slosar told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve got to become better, lower cost, more agile in terms of how we approach the market.”

Cathay’s passenger yields – the money earned from flying a traveler for one kilometer and a key measure of profitability – dropped 9.2 percent in 2016, while cargo yields declined 16 percent. The Asian carrier said the operating environment in 2017 would remain challenging, while Jefferies Group LLC said losses could continue in the current year.

“Airlines go through these phases – we’ve gone through it a couple of times in our history,” Joyce said in the Bloomberg interview. “They are going through it now. Cathay have a good management, have got a great brand and a great franchise. Everybody needs to make sure that they allow Cathay to do the right thing and change their business.”

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