Jayne Hrdlicka has officially become the new CEO of Virgin Australia. Here's who she is – and why the unions didn't want to work with her.

Jayne Hrdlicka is the new CEO of Virgin Australia. (Attila Csaszar, SMH)

After months of negotiations, horse trading and backroom deals, Virgin Australia has become the first major Australian airline to emerge from administration with a new strategy.

It does so with a new CEO in Jayne Hrdlicka, having replaced Paul Scurrah who fell afoul of new owner Bain Capital over the new direction of the airline.

Hrdlicka’s ascent to the top job surprised many. She had come on initially as part of Bain’s bid to woo Virgin administrators and creditors. Despite repeated assurances that Scurrah would be kept on as part of its strategy, a few short months later, she’d replaced him.

With Wednesday marking her first official day on the job, Business Insider Australia thought it was time to take look at the chief executive piloting Virgin.

The Australian-American goes back a long way with Bain

Growing up in Kansas, Hrdlicka’s relationship with Bain Capital goes back three decades when she took a job with the consultancy firm in the late 1980s.

She eventually left Bain to move to Australia in 1994 to turn around a sales company called Dynamic Marketing.

While remaining Down Under, Hrdlicka took up with Bain again in 1997, serving as a partner for 11 years.

Coincidentally, she’d also meet Qantas executive Alan Joyce as part of that consultancy work. Joyce would later become a mentor for her.

She’s held a diverse range of CEO and director positions

Hrdlicka truly entered corporate Australia via the Woolworths boardroom, where she retained a place between 2010 and 2016.

She’d go on to become CEO of A2 Milk, a director of Hawaiian airlines, and the chair of Tennis Australia — a position she still holds to this day.

Hrdlicka was mentored by Alan Joyce and minted her cost-cutting reputation

It was in aviation that Hrdlicka came to public prominence, leaving Bain to become head of strategy at Qantas in 2010 and work under her mentor Joyce.

Her tenure was short but it oversaw enormous challenges at Qantas, as the airline locked out and froze staff pay. It would go on to cut 1,000 jobs and push further into Asia.

(Photo by Lisa Maree Williams, Getty Images)

The period would mark Hrdlicka as a enemy of the unions, as they campaigned for workers’ rights.

A little more than a year later she would go on to become Jetstar CEO where she served until 2016, before going on to briefly head up Qantas loyalty program.

She would become known for implementing large cost-cutting programs in order to deliver profits.

She maintains a difficult relationship with the unions

Her tenure at Qantas, and reign at Jetstar, have left the unions in no doubt as to how they feel about Hrdlicka.

During the bidding process, she was sidelined from meetings after the unions expressed concerns over her methods.

The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association meanwhile having backed a rival bid by Cyrus Capital attributed its decision in part at least to Bain’s use of “Qantas methods”.

Former Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah. (Dan Peled, SMH)

When news of Scurrah’s replacement began to leak, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the body representing aviation employees, immediately, albeit temporarily, suspended negotiations.

It sparked immediate concerns for many.

“The replacement of Paul Scurrah by ex-Jetstar CEO Jayne Hrdlicka signals that Bain are looking to slash costs, improve the balance sheet, and exit via listing or making a quick sale – a classic pump and dump strategy,” RMIT school of management professor Warren Staples said.

Bain have disputed those concerns, claiming the intention remains “to create a sustainable and viable airline”. It has also promoted the fact that Hrdlicka recorded the highest staff engagement scores during her tenure.

While the unions have returned to the table to work with Virgin, but all will be watching carefully to see how Hrdlicka steers the airline from here on out.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.