General Counsel & Group Executive | Qantas Airways
Team size: 70
What are the most significant cases and/or transactions that your legal team has recently been involved in?
The Covid-19 crisis has represented the greatest ever challenge for the aviation industry, including for Qantas Airways in our 100-year history. The challenges for my team have been intense and manifold, not the least of which have been the industrial and employee relations issues in managing the furloughing of nearly 90 percent of the Qantas workforce for extended periods.
Consistent with a drive to manage down the cost base of our group to meet its post-covid (modest) revenue stream, other critical initiatives led by the legal team included: (i) renegotiating terms with thousands of the group’s suppliers to achieve variabilisation and cost savings commensurate with the airlines’ activities; (ii) managing the health and safety protocols for the group in mitigating Covid-19, including the introduction of vaccination mandates for the group’s workforce; (iii) raising the equivalent of $4bn in debt and equity to bolster balance sheet resilience during the crisis; (iv) liaising with and reporting to regulators, especially the Australian competition regulator, in relation to capacity deployments across the Qantas network; (v) managing the exponential increase in freighter demand during the absence of regular passenger services, including key customer contracts; (vi) negotiating a range of Government support contracts for our employees, training and education, freight and minimum aviation services to Australian regions.
More recently, with a view to a brighter future, the legal team has begun the negotiation of the Australia’s largest single aircraft order, reflecting the renewal of the Qantas domestic fleet via an Airbus commitment over the next decade.
How do you feel the pandemic has changed the world of work for in-house counsel and the function of the general counsel?
The role of the legal team, including the general counsel, has become much more centrally focused on crisis management and mitigation. The legal team is a hub in times of crisis that efficiently and proficiently manages the spokes of a complex business to deliver critical outcomes. During this crisis, however, that key project management role has morphed into a more significant strategic role for the legal team, initiating and driving programmes across the organisation to address the challenges of the crisis. There would be few initiatives in the organisation now that fail to have a legal team member at the key decision-making table.
Looking forward, what technological advancements do you feel will impact the role of in-house legal teams in the future the most?
For the strategic partnering and high-value-add work of my team, while technology will assist at the margins for more efficient data analysis and integration, I see slight change to the fundamental role or responsibilities of my legal team.
General counsel and group executive, office of the CEO | Qantas Airways
Australia’s flag carrier and the third oldest airline in the world, Qantas Airways has a large reputational and commercial presence in the market that requires constant, comprehensive and prompt legal...