Virgin Australia’s CEO Jayne Hrdlicka will step down after four years in the role, citing a desire to transition the role to someone new ahead of the “next phase” of the company’s transformation following its return to profitability in FY23. 

Hrdlicka has led the airline since it was bought out of voluntary administration by Bain Capital in 2020 and oversaw the company’s turnaround as it recorded a net profit after tax of A$129m in FY23, its first profitable financial year for more than a decade. 

However, the CEO said that she had decided to “pass the baton on” as the company entered a new phase that she expected to last another three to five years, including following through with an intention to begin an initial public offering (IPO) after announcing the plan at the beginning of 2023. 

In a shock announcement, she said: “This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but the last 4 years have been heavy lifting across the organisation during the toughest of times. We are in the midst of the next phase of our transformation program and there is a lot to do and an IPO to deliver. 

“The next phase of this journey is another 3-5 years, making now the perfect juncture to begin the process of leadership transition to deliver the next few chapters of what I’m sure will be a significant long-term success story.” 

While Hrdlicka has announced her intention to step down, it is not yet clear when she will be replaced with Virgin Australia only saying that its board would soon begin a global search process for a new CEO. 

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The news has prompted the Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWU) to call on Bain Capital to recommit to promises made to Virgin Australia’s workers during the sale of the company to the private investment firm. 

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said that though the union “did not see eye to eye” straight away with Hrdlicka, it acknowledged the efforts that had been made to meet the commitments made to workers during the sale of the company. 

He said: “The decision to answer workers’ calls with more insourced airport jobs in stark contrast to Qantas’ destructive model of fragmentation was, in our view, one of the best leadership decisions made by Hrdlicka and her team. 

“It showed that listening to workers’ ideas on the best way forward for the airline is a valuable attribute for the CEO of Virgin Australia. Bain Capital must now reassure workers that the commitments made to remain with the airline long-term and to prioritise good, secure jobs and loyal workers are unchanged.” 

The unexpected announcement by Hrdlicka will mean Virgin Australia becomes the second major Australian airline to welcome a new CEO following the early retirement of Qantas’ Alan Joyce who was succeeded by Vanessa Hudson amid a series of controversies including the airline’s illegal sacking of thousands of ground support workers.