Qantas appoints Catherine Walsh as inaugural Chief People Officer

17 October 2023 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read
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As part of an attempt to repair its fractured relations with its employees and the unions, Qantas has recruited PwC leader Catherine Walsh as the airline’s first ever Chief People Officer.

The ongoing senior leadership shake-up at PwC continues, with the professional services firm set to lose its people & culture head Catherine Walsh to Qantas from January, when she’ll become the airline’s first ever Chief People Officer.

Unlike those jettisoned from the firm in the wake of its government tax scandal however, Walsh was described by PwC CEO Kevin Burrowes as a “huge asset” to the firm and he is “sad to see her go.”

Qantas appoints Catherine Walsh as inaugural Chief People Officer

Walsh has been with PwC out of Melbourne for the past three years, joining at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic from an executive general manager role with Spotless Group. Earlier, she spent more than a decade and a half at Australia Post, rising to general manager of human resources, after having kicked off her career as a senior workplace relations associate at Clayton Utz on the back of a law degree with the University of Melbourne.

Just last week, Walsh appeared alongside Burrowes at the senate inquiry into the consulting industry (with former CEO Luke Sayers on the same day revealing previous plans to spin off PwC’s consulting business), having been promoted to the executive board by the new PwC boss amid a ruthless cull. He stated, “We are proud of the fact Catherine’s impact at PwC has been recognised in the market, and we wish her all the best in her new role.”

As part of that new role, Walsh will be tasked with driving a stronger relationship between Qantas and its 25,000 employees, as well as attempting to smooth tensions with the unions. In response, Walsh said it was an honour to be joining in such an important role and at a pivotal time. “I’ve spent a lot of time on Qantas flights and the dedication and professionalism of the people always shines through, so I look forward to being part of the broader team.”

Qantas first declared its intention to recruit a chief people officer in June in response to market pressure over accusations of unlawful labour practices – one of a series of recent scandals which has since seen Boston Consulting Group brought in to help repair the airline’s public image.

Walsh, according to a press release, was chosen after an extensive search, yet was previously reported to have been directly courted by new CEO Vanessa Hudson.

“Building a stronger culture and better relationships with our people is one of my highest priorities and a shared responsibility across management,” Hudson stated. “As our chief people officer, Catherine will support those collective efforts by ensuring we always value the incredible contribution our people make to this organisation and listen to their insights, especially as we welcome thousands more to the group to support our growth.”

Meanwhile, Olivia Wirth, the head of Qantas’ loyalty program and partner of KPMG consulting boss and former Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes, has handed in her resignation after missing out on the top job. Wirth has been with the airline for close to a decade and a half, taking on her present role following the departure of former Bain & Company senior partner Jayne Hrdlicka, who is now at the helm of rival Virgin.