Virgin’s Paul Scurrah gives insight into final months

Former Virgin Australia boss Paul Scurrah has given a rare insight into his final months at the airline and how his initial plan to restructure the airline was put “on steroids” as he worked to save it.

As borders closed around the world, and then around the country, Mr Scurrah was already working to get the company out of financial hot water.

The initial aim of his 18-month stint at Virgin was to overhaul the operation and make it profitable.

That included the future of Tigerair, which he believes would still be operating if not for COVID-19.

But once the borders had slammed shut and Virgin Australia was down to one flight a day – Melbourne to Sydney – the lack of financial security began to hit home.

Mr Scurrah’s restructuring plan for the airline was already in motion when Virgin went into administration, so he was left with no tricks in the bag.

“Basically it was the restructuring plan we already had on the way but on steroids,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“We actually did what we would have done in five years in three months.”

Virgin Australia was forced into administration as a result of the pandemic, despite Mr Scurrah’s efforts.

The process resulted in budget airline Tigerair collapsing, about 4500 staff across both Tigerair and Virgin Australia being made redundant, Bain Capital becoming the new owners and installing a new CEO.

His efforts in steering Virgin Australia out of administration meant he became the public face of the airline through its darkest days.

Not that it bothers him or appears to have done him any harm.

His name is now being whispered in high-powered circles as a potential CEO for Australia Post and chair of Channel 9, vacated this week by Hugh Marks.

There’s even speculation the Queensland Government has sounded the 52-year-old out as a consultant for the 2032 Olympics, should Brisbane be awarded the Games.

And while he’s flattered, Mr Scurrah says he’s unlikely to be sitting behind a desk anytime soon.

“This will be one of those events that is pinned to my name and reputation forever and I’m really proud of the way we did it,” he said.

“I haven’t thrown my hat in the ring for anything, but I’ve been sounded out for a number of roles, which I will not say which ones.

“But I haven’t sent in any expression of interest for anything.”

Relaxing at home, Mr Scurrah said he needed time to unwind and unpack the toughest nine months of his working life but bears no grudge against the airline, which he desperately wants to succeed.

“I made a promise to myself not to say yes to anything pre-Christmas but to be honest I’d be surprised if I am gainfully employed within the next six months,” Mr Scurrah said.

“I’m still consulting to Bain until the end of January, to assist with the transition and set it up for success and I think I owe it to myself to have an extended break and take the opportunity.”

Having been involved in every tough decision since COVID-19 shut down the industry until Virgin Australia found new owners, Mr Scurrah has always maintained his departure was on “mutual” terms.

That’s despite weeks of speculation before his departure that Bain Capital would bring in Jayne Hrdlicka as CEO.

Ms Hrdlicka had experience leading budget airline Jetstar and had served as president of Tennis Australia.

“Jayne is the right person for Bain because she is familiar with them and they are familiar with her and (she is) the right person to execute their plan,” Mr Scurrah said.

He also credits Deloitte administrator Vaughan Strawbridge for his diligence and ability to find a buyer for the airline within three months.

Now it is in safe hands, he said the company would focus on its core customer base of 10 million Velocity members while he expected notable changes for in-flight service.

“In the long term this will create a stronger competitor to Qantas and Jetstar because we have taken the opportunity to completely reset the cost base,” he said.

“The product will stay pretty similar but you will probably end up seeing things like charging for food.”

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