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We speak to the manager of corporate governance implementation at Qantas

What is it like working for Qantas?
The Qantas Group is a dynamic and fascinating business – I am learning every day. It’s a complex business with a premium airline, a low-fare airline Group (Jetstar Group) with operations in Melbourne, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and soon Hong Kong, a Loyalty (frequent flyer) business and a freight business.

This complexity, combined with the uncertainty of operating in the global aviation market, means that no two days are the same. It’s a risk and accounting professional’s dream in terms of career development and continuous learning.

How is the company performing, given the strength of the Australian economy?
The group operates as a global business and is impacted by global demand. Our domestic business is doing well, based on the strong domestic economy, despite a tough competitive environment.

We recently embarked on a five-year transformation programme of our international business, which has suffered due to global economic conditions and, more importantly, a permanent shift in the competitive landscape over the past few years with the emergence of Middle Eastern and Asian carriers. Our Loyalty business and Jetstar continue to go from strength to strength.

How have attitudes to risk in the airline industry changed since you have been working there?
I began working for Qantas just before the global financial crisis of 2008. The crisis, combined with the inherent volatility of the airline industry, means that the attitude to risk has always been on the downside.

The number of shocks the airline industry has faced – 9/11, SARS, bird flu, volcanic ash clouds, record fuel prices and the financial crisis – have only reinforced this thinking. More recently, in order to respond effectively to the competitive environment, the attitude to risk has changed so that taking on measured risk to grow and transform is not only seen as a good thing, it is critical to survival.

This is not to say that the attitude to ensuring the highest standards of safety has changed – safety will always be the number one priority at Qantas (and other airlines around the world).

What areas of sustainability is the airline industry improving in?
A key priority is the reduction of carbon emissions resulting from fuel burn. In 2009, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) set ambitious targets, including improving fuel efficiency by an average of 1.5 per cent per year to 2020, to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and to see a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The Qantas Group has set improvement goals consistent with those targets. Fuel optimisation and efficiency initiatives have contributed significant savings, but fleet renewal with technologically advanced aircraft and the development of a commercial sustainable aviation fuel industry will bring the greatest savings.

Other environmental impacts the industry is focusing on are reducing resource consumption, such as water, the amount of waste sent to landfill and community impacts, such as noise. With high capital costs and thin margins, the aviation industry has always focused on resource efficiency, and with the emergence of sustainability as a global imperative there is an even greater incentive to improve.

Enhancing the customer experience through investment in innovative technology (for example, online and mobile check-in, in-flight entertainment, electronic bag tagging), making flying more comfortable and rewarding passengers have emerged in response to intense global competition.

Global safety, health and security standards have improved significantly to make air transport the safest and most efficient form of transportation.

How and when did you decide to become a management accountant?
After initially studying to become a chartered accountant and working as a tax specialist at Deloitte, I decided I wanted to work in business. While it was an excellent grounding for a professional services role, my chartered accountancy background did not equip me with the range of skills I needed to work in business.

When I moved to London from Australia in 2003, I came across CIMA and its qualification. An opportunity arose to join CIMA as an employee (in its technical department, given my accounting background) so I decided that this was a great opportunity to study for the qualification as well.

What has been your career so far and how did you end up in the airline industry?
At Deloitte I worked in the expatriate tax team in Sydney, which included a secondment to the Toronto office. I then worked in various technical accounting/policy roles, including CIMA, and led a project in Mumbai with the Indian Institute of Bankers while I was working for the Securities Institute of Australia.

When I returned to Australia in 2007 after five years in London, an opportunity came up to join the Qantas Group as a sustainability reporting manager.

I am currently leading a project to implement an enhanced corporate governance framework across the group as it diversifies, using a range of business models and new markets, particularly in Asia.

What are your career highlights so far?
Transforming Qantas’s sustainability reporting framework from basic to best practice is one of the things I’m most proud of. This was recognised externally with first-time listings on sustainability indices such as FTSE4Good and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, as well as winning a prestigious Australasian Investor Relations Award for best ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) Disclosure in 2010.

What I am doing at present – strengthening the governance framework at Qantas – is also very exciting, while the time I spent managing CIMA’s research function taught me the importance of research and development, and bringing new insights and ideas to the profession.

I sit on CIMA’s Research and Development Group and chair the Research Advisory Group. I would encourage all members to read CIMA’s research reports and other technical outputs as part of their CPD activities (see http://tinyurl.com/agd56mj)

How do you see your career progressing in the next few years?
I am lucky that Qantas has an internal culture of providing leadership opportunities in areas where you may not have worked before, based on your capabilities and transferable skills. I am also keen to work overseas again at some point.

Why did you decide to study for the CIMA qualification and how has the qualification helped you?
I knew that to be a leader I had to increase my strategic orientation, but also continue to build on my financial skills, and the CIMA qualification ticked both these boxes.

When evaluating business issues or developing solutions, the CIMA qualification makes me think strategically, but also through a strong financial and risk lens.

And it continues to help me think globally. It’s important to understand developments across industries and markets in order to add fresh insights and challenge the way we do things at Qantas.

What advice would you give to today’s CIMA students?
Be proactive and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Seek out a couple of good mentors to help you work through career options as the diversity of opportunities out there today can be overwhelming and it is often easy to take the safest route.

Sometimes, taking a risk with your career or taking the road less travelled will lead you to where you want to get to.

I am a big advocate for working overseas – this provides both personal and professional growth and gives you excellent life experience.

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