Scurrah confirmed as next Virgin Australia CEO

February 06, 2019
Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia has confirmed that Paul Scurrah will be its new chief executive and managing director, ending an extensive global search to replace incumbent John Borghetti.

Scurrah, who was most recently the chief executive of ports company DP World,  had been widely tipped to get the job and will take over the new role from March 25, when Borghetti steps down.

“The board received enormous interest in the role, both locally and internationally, and Paul’s highly relevant transport and logistics expertise and strong commercial background make him the ideal candidate to consolidate the group’s achievements and continue to build momentum into the future,’’ Virgin Australia Group chairman Elizabeth Bryan said in the announcement.

“Paul’s significant leadership in driving transformation and improving customer satisfaction in complex and challenging businesses is highly impressive and his background in aviation provides the right foundation to steer the Virgin Australia Group into the future.’’

Scurrah will receive a fixed annual remuneration of $A1.3m as well as short- and long-term incentives based on the company’s performance.

Virgin has been working hard to improve its balance sheet and Bryan said Scurrah inherited a strong business. The board was confident he was well placed to deliver the next phase in the group’s strategy, she said.

Scurrah described his new job as an immense honor and a privilege.

“The group has positioned itself as a real competitor in the market with its ability to deliver across all segments and I am excited to be joining such a progressive and innovative business,” he said.

Paul scurrah
Paul Scurrah.

Scurrah is no stranger to aviation — he worked for Qantas and Ansett and has cited former Qantas chief executive James Strong as one of his influences.

He has also indicated his time spent at Ansett in its waning years gave him special insight into the key drivers of business success.

He started his career at Australian Airlines and was a key figure in the establishment of Regional Express Airlines.

His eight-year aviation career included experience in commercial, customer service, government, sales and marketing.

It was followed by executive roles at Tourism Queensland, AOT Holidays and Flight Centre,  where he was responsible for developing the company’s global strategic plan.

Other positions include executive vice resident commercial and marketing at freight company Aurizon and chief executive at Queensland Rail, where he rolled out innovations such as quiet carriages and free wi-fi as well as a customer charter.

His efforts at QR earned him the accolade of CEO of the Year (public sector) from the Customer Service Institute of Australia.

He also led a significant transformation to drive improved commercial results, including the demerger from QR National.

He went on to become executive vice president commercial marketing at rail freight operator Aurizon before moving to DP World where he was responsible for navigating the company through a period of industry structural change and producing an improved commercial performance and a 50 percent increase in customer satisfaction levels.

Borghetti announced in June 2018, that he would not renew his contract past the end of 2019 but it has been widely held that he would depart sooner.

He replaced Virgin Australia founder Brett Godfrey as chief executive in May 2010 and set about reinventing Virgin as a full-service carrier, competing with Qantas for the premium market while acquiring low-cost carrier Tigerair Australia to cover the low-end Australian leisure market.

He came from Qantas where he held a number of senior executive positions after starting his career in the company’s mailroom. He was executive general manager of Qantas for six years prior to leaving the airline.

Bryan paid tribute to him as “a dedicated and talented CEO and managing director”.

She said he had pioneered a major a major transformation in the aviation industry and repositioned the airline as a formidable competitor.

“John has made a significant mark on the aviation industry as a whole and Australian travellers have benefitted because of his commitment and dedication to improving air travel,” she said.