by Ian McMahon
‘Tis the season for composing lists of books for summer holiday reading. I recommend Game Changer – how John Borghetti changed the face of aviation in Australia by Doug Nancarrow.
The first half tells the tale of a migrant lad who joined Qantas as the lowliest of mail boys and, by dint of hard work, climbed to the upper management echelons only to be denied the top job when it was seemingly within his grasp.
Long before I met the man in Melbourne in the 1970s, I knew of him through travel agents who would tell me: “If you’ve got a problem you need solved at Qantas you get in touch with John Borghetti.” Nancarrow captures those times, vividly recounting how Borghetti’s “can do” attitude, under mentors such as Mario Borg and Ron Rosalky, saw him stand out from contemporaries.
The book also tells of Borghetti’s talent for managing people and forging relationships and his crucial role in forging Qantas’ alliance with the then ethnic Italianbased consolidator, Concorde Travel (now Air Tickets). It will warm the hearts of many travel agents to read Nancarrow’s account of Borghetti championing their cause when airlines generally were abandoning them. Nancarrow quotes former AFTA chief executive Mike Hatton: “At a time when a lot of the world was talking about the demise of travel agents, he (Borghetti) could see that there would still be a place for them.”
Hatton speaks warmly of the relationship he forged with the “principled” and “loyal” Borghetti. Those who were around at the time will contrast this with Hatton’s disgust with the treatment he received from Alan Joyce’s team when Jetstar started up (although Nancarrow does not report this.)
Joyce, of course, was the man who pipped Borghetti for the top job at Qantas and the second half of the book deals with Borghetti’s subsequent move to Virgin Blue (now Virgin Australia). It depicts a strategically brilliant Borghetti transforming the former budget airline with limited growth prospects into a formidable full-service international and domestic rival to Qantas. Qantas executives, once confident that Virgin would run out of cash, have been forced to retreat from their 65 per cent “line in the sand”.
But the battle is not yet over. As Nancarrow’s account makes clear, Borghetti still faces the challenge of turning a healthy profit from the millions invested in the carrier. And the providers of those millions, the major overseas airlines with directors on Virgin Australia’s board, have their own potentially conflicting agendas. This could be a ticking time-bomb.