John Borghetti will leave Virgin Australia next month – nine months earlier than previously announced – as newly-appointed CEO Paul Scurrah steps into the corner office.
Experienced tourism and transport and logistics exec Scurrah has previously racked up years at both Qantas and Ansett Australia, helped establish Regional Express Airlines (REX) and more recently held down executive roles at Flight Centre, Tourism Queensland and Queensland Rail.
Virgin Australia Group Chairman Elizabeth Bryan predictably praises Scurrah as "a highly regarded business leader in Australia and his appointment is testament to his strong leadership credentials which include more than 20 years’ experience in transport, logistics, travel and aviation."
Scurrah will officially punch the clock from 25 March 2019, and will divide his time between Virgin's operational headquarters in Brisbane, where Scurrah lives with his wife and two children, and the airline's corporate headquarters in Sydney – so the airline's Sydney-Brisbane travellers should expect to see a lot of Scurrah as he shuttles back and forth.
John Borghetti will step down as CEO on 25 March 2019, ending nine years in a role which has seen him transform the airline from a low-cost carrier to a more capable challenger to Qantas through the introduction of competitive domestic and international business class and a string of new-look domestic airport lounges.
A 45 year veteran of the aviation industry, Borghetti – the son of working class Italian immigrants to Australia – famously started his career in the Qantas mailroom in 1973, aged 17 years.
He delights in recounting how he first set his eyes on a job with Qantas: sitting in a theatre with his best schoolmate to see the James Bond film Live and Let Die, the 007 flick was preceded by a featurette showing the Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro "showing all these beautiful, half-naked women," Borghetti has often recalled.
Borghetti and his friend quickly agreed they needed to get to Rio – but how? Working for an airline would be the means to a cheap ticket to Brazil.
Over the next 35 years the driven and hard-working Borghetti had climbed Qantas' corporate ladder one rung at a time from mailboy to sales rep to Executive General Manager – where he assumed responsibility for the airline's debut of the Airbus A380 and the creation of its award-winning first class lounges and invitation-only Chairman's Lounge.
But in July 2008 he lost out on the prized role of Qantas CEO to then-Jetstar chief Alan Joyce.
Borghetti resigned early the following year, and in May 2010 took the helm at Virgin Blue, embarking on transformation to turn the decidedly low-cost airline into a Qantas competitor with a broader customer base than just the bottom end of the leisure market.
With the airline quickly rebadged as Virgin Australia, Borghetti oversaw the launch of domestic and later trans-Tasman business class, upgraded its east-west Airbus A330 business class seats – a move which arguably spurred Qantas to its launch its Airbus A330 Business Suite product – developed a lounge network including the invitation-only The Club, and relaunched the Velocity frequent flyer program to sharpen its edge against the powerhouse Qantas loyalty program.
In more recent times Borghetti saw the airline's US-bound Boeing 777 fleet upgraded with the same business class as the A330s and pushed expansion into Asia with flights from Melbourne and Sydney to Hong Kong.
A famously well-dressed workaholic and car enthusiast, Borghetti can at least look forward to spending some time tinkering with and driving a few favourites from his Porsche-heavy collection cars, although he's expected to take on a number of boardroom director roles in his post-Virgin life.