Former AFR columnist to write book on Alan Joyce’s final years at Qantas

Former high-profile Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston is set to write a book on Alan Joyce’s tumultuous final few years at Qantas.

The book, titled The Chairman’s Lounge, will be published by Simon & Schuster Australia in the second half of 2024.

Joe Aston’s book ‘The Chairman’s Lounge’ will be published in the second half of 2024.
Joe Aston’s book ‘The Chairman’s Lounge’ will be published in the second half of 2024.

Aston helmed the AFR’s Rear Window column for 12 years before stepping down at the close of 2023.

His extensive coverage and commentary of the national carrier added to the pressure on the airline during Joyce’s last three years as Qantas chief executive, which ended prematurely in September last year.

The book will primarily cover Qantas’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the immediate aftermath. Aston previously worked for Qantas in its communications team, leaving in 2009.

Toward the end of Joyce’s 15-year career as CEO, pressure mounted on him as the airline faced negative publicity over issues including its record profits at a time of high-cost airfares, allegations it sold tickets on already cancelled flights and the payment of executive bonuses.

Joyce’s handover to successor Vanessa Hudson was brought forward by two months, and chairman Richard Goyder also announced plans to stand down in 2024.

Aston’s commentary included criticism of Joyce’s bonuses, the travel credits saga and his appearance before a heated parliamentary inquiry hearing last year. Aston also revealed details of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s son’s membership of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge.

Joyce was awarded $21.4 million in remuneration in 2023, last year’s annual report showed, and the company copped a shareholder revolt over executive pay at its annual meeting in November. The consumer watchdog filed legal action against Qantas last year, alleging it sold thousands of tickets on already cancelled flights. Qantas has argued it did not behave illegally.

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Aston’s columns sparked a backlash from the airline, which removed copies of The Australian Financial Review from its Chairman’s Lounge. The boycott came to an end in September, shortly after Joyce’s exit.

Aston also reported details of a visit by Joyce and Goyder to the masthead’s editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury in September over his coverage.

Alan Joyce’s 15-year tenure as Qantas chief executive ended abruptly in 2023.
Alan Joyce’s 15-year tenure as Qantas chief executive ended abruptly in 2023.Credit: Nine

Three books have been published on Qantas since Joyce was appointed in 2008. In 2010, a “warts and all” telling of the company was written by Matthew Benns, titled The Men Who Killed Qantas.

In 2015, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Matt O’Sullivan documented the first years of Qantas under Joyce in a book titled Mayday: How warring egos forced Qantas off course.

The same year, the airline blocked a tell-all book by Joyce’s speechwriter Lucinda Holdforth. An injunction meant the details of the book, which included extensive details over Qantas’ controversial grounding in 2011, would remain sealed after Holdforth and Qantas reached an out-of-court settlement.

Finally, in late 2023, a Qantas-sanctioned telling of Joyce’s 15-year career at the carrier, titled Alan Joyce and Qantas: the Transformation of an Australian Icon was published, written by Peter Harbison, Joyce’s biographer.

Publishing director at Simon & Schuster, Ben Ball, said Aston’s column was essential reading for its ability to break a story, and to write about it evocatively.

“The Chairman’s Lounge will do the same over the long form, telling the bigger story of how one company – and a few key individuals – bought the nation’s loyalty and then cashed in on it.

“Joe’s prose is as rare as his access and insight: razor-sharp, funny and fearless, slicing to expose. Like [American author] Michael Lewis, he has an eye for the telling detail and the mind for the big picture, which he’s finally able to show us.”

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