Qantas flies in Boston Consulting Group to polish reputation

20 September 2023 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read

Once one of Australia’s most trusted brands, under siege national carrier Qantas has brought in BCG to help mend its fallen reputation, although the consulting alliance hasn’t gone down well in all circles.

The reported extension of Qantas’s long-term relationship with Boston Consulting Group to help fix the airline’s tanking public image has only created further ructions, with calls from the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) for chairman Richard Goyder to resign from his position for being out of touch.

Between Qantas and the consulting industry, it’s difficult to tell which is more on the nose of the Australian public at the present time.

Qantas flies in Boston Consulting Group to polish reputation

The ALAEA letter to Goyder, and new CEO Vanessa Hudson, didn’t hold any punches: “To repeat this mistake says to us that the new CEO will seek advice of the same kind that put Qantas into the reputational hole they currently occupy. Engaging BCG says the board neither hear nor understand the problem. If Qantas is determined to fix problems and deliver consistency, you cannot engage BCG or other similar consultants. These bean counters are the problem.”

The ALAEA went on to state that the situation was so bad at present that Qantas employees are being harassed on the streets for simply wearing their uniforms. Once a cherished national brand, Qantas has been under fire since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic for poor customer service, labour law breaches, dodgy flight sales, and a litany of other failures, with former long-term CEO Alan Joyce’s millions in bonuses a particular bugbear amid a current cost-of-living crisis.

Meanwhile, PwC’s government tax policy breach has also angered the Australian public, with the majority thinking the firm should be banned from any future public sector consulting contracts. BCG, an American-based strategy consultancy, is already unpopular for its role in undermining another local institution – the ongoing dismantling of Australia Post – so the combination of Qantas and a foreign consulting firm in BCG strikes as a particularly unholy union.

Hudson, who won the top job over Olivia Worth, the partner of KPMG consulting boss Paul Howes, now has to deal with a poisoned chalice, a supposedly common occurrence of women or minorities only being promoted to top jobs in a time of crisis, dubbed in a recent PwC report as the “glass cliff theory”. Hudson will meanwhile go head-to-head against seasoned Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka, once a senior partner at Bain & Company.

Hudson will also have to contend with a former BCG insider in Nick Rohrlach, who spent seven and a half years at the consultancy before joining Qantas as head of strategy & planning and later being promoted to co-CEO of low-cost subsidiary Jetstar’s Japanese operations, before defecting to Virgin in 2021 to head its frequent-flyer program Velocity. Sitting next to Hudson however is another Bain partnership alum, Rob Marcolina, who takes up her former CFO role.

The MBB ties run deeper still, with newly-appointed Qantas Domestic CEO Markus Svensson a one-time consultant at Bain, and his replacement as chief customer (and digital) officer Catriona Larritt previously spending almost a decade and a half at BCG. Across the aisle at Virgin is former Bain US senior partner Dave Emerson as chief commercial officer, and chief strategy & transformation officer Alistair Hartley, also a one-time consultant at the management firm.

According to reports, Hudson has also been courting PwC’s Catherine Walsh – head of the embattled Big Four firm’s People & Culture function since 2020 and a recent board appointee – to take on a newly-created chief people officer position at the airline combining human resources and industrial relations responsibilities, while BCG has been drafted in to help accelerate existing internal programs aimed at winning back aggrieved former customers.