HIS NAME is in the frame as the man behind one of the most audacious union confrontations in airline history.
And while only time will tell if Alan Joyce has the mettle to weather out the storm, it’s not the first time the Qantas boss has had to face tough challenges.
Just a few months ago, he successfully fought a battle against prostate cancer.
And as he steered through a string of cost-cutting measures in the build-up to the shut-down, he has had to employ extra body-guards after receiving a string of death threats.
Among the letters he has received is one which referred to him as ‘foreign filth’ – a common racist slant that has dogged him since he emigrated to Australia in 1996.
U2 and Enya fan Joyce – who admits to reading books on maths for ‘relaxation’ – was born and raised in a Tallaght tenement block.
His mother worked as a cleaner while his father was a tobacco factory worker.
The oldest of four brothers, he was regarded as a maths prodigy.
So impressed was a Dublin secondary school teacher with his mathematical prowess that she would call his headmaster into class while the gifted 12-year-old proved theorems on the class room blackboard.
‘That really reinforced my interest,’ he recently told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘At an early stage, she showed me the power of the mentor and I have been lucky enough all the way through my career to have that.’
He eventually went onto to study at Trinity College where he graduated with honours maths and physics.
Joyce joined Aer Lingus where he worked for eight years Alan spent eight years. He held a variety of positions in sales, marketing, IT, revenue management and fleet planning.
Then, in 1996, he left to join the ill-fated Ansett Airlines, where he would impressed the company’s CEO Rod Eddington enough for him to recommend him to his next employer Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon who took him on in 2000 and eventually appointed him head of Qantas’ no-frills airline, Jetstar in 2003.
He took the fledgling Jetstar business from just 14 aircraft to a nationwide domestic network business that also expanded out to destinations in Asia and Hawaii.
In November 2008, he took over from Qantas Dixon, who airline insiders say had treated Joyce ‘like a son’ and had even been heard to refer to him as ‘my little Irishman’.
Beforehand, he had won a string of awards – winning the Centre for Asia Pacific’s (CAPA) Low Cost Carrier CEO of the Year award and Airline Business Magazine’s Low Cost Leadership award while in 2007, he won the Australian Airports Association award for Personality of the Year.
Since taking the Qantas helm, Joyce has also had to field extraordinary comments about his roots from one leading senator calling him an ‘Irish bomb maker’.
The slur came earlier this year when Joyce attended a senate estimates hearing into pilot training in Canberra.
During the session, Joyce was asked by a Senator Bill Heffernan if he came ‘from a long line of Irish bomb makers’.
And he then went on to ask him directly: ‘Mr Joyce if the power was yours, you know from being an old Irish bomb maker, if you had the choice what would be the ideal pilot training?’
The exchange was the latest in a string of instances Joyce had had to put up with during his tenure at Qantas in Australia.
Last November, for example, he was mocked by a columnist in The Australian newspaper over his thick Dublin accent.
At the time, he had been asked to explain an incident in which one of his aircraft had suffered an engine malfunction while in flight and which had led him to ground his entire fleet of Airbus A380s.
He was quoted as saying: ‘Tiz too arly ter judge waaat dat issue is an’ ‘oy long it ‘I’ll take ter be fixed… It cud be ahn issue wi’ de casin’ or it cud be an issue wi’ de turbo-ines,’.
Despite Qantas’ push for more and more cost-cutting measures, the board recently agreed an astonishing 71% pay rise for its embattled chief.
This took his pay to more than AUS $5million, much to the annoyance of the unions whose members stand to suffer most from his attempts to slash costs.
His prostate cancer was discovered early this year – as a direct result of a health initiative he started at Qantas.
It had followed the departure of a senior executive who everyone had thought had been suffering from stress only for a thyroid problem to being diagnosed.
So he launched a programme of health checks for all senior staff and was the first to volunteer and early stage aggressive prostate cancer was discovered.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald last month: ‘I was very lucky. I caught it early.
‘They said if I waited till I was 50, which is the recommended age for a test, there was probably an 80 per cent chance I would have been dead.’