The 2022 Million Dollar Club

The pandemic may be over, but just like the rest of the travel and tourism sector the pay packets of the big earners at Australia's publicly listed companies in the industry continue to bear the brunt of the last two years of austerity. BRUCE PIPER investigates.

PREPARING the annual travelBulletin “Fat Cats” issue each year used to be a highlight. Hours of calculation while poring over the annual reports of companies like Qantas, Helloworld, Flight Centre, Virgin Australia, Webjet, Corporate Travel Management and more provided an intriguing insight into how the other half reaped the benefits of their hard labour – and how some of those large pay packets were comprised. Salacious details of bonuses paid, long-term share benefits and in some cases those juicy, juicy dividends made for compelling reading – and perhaps some raised eyebrows among coworkers in the various companies as their bosses’ remuneration packages were revealed.

This year – and indeed for the last couple of years – it hasn’t been so much fun. Just like the rest of us, the chiefs at ASX-listed travel and tourism entities have had a relatively lean time, and after doing this year’s maths it appears we’re not out of the woods quite yet – although there are certainly plenty of positive indicators on the horizon.

Travel agency groups – a mixed bag this year

This year’s top earners among our listed travel agency businesses continued a trend seen since 2020, where an understandable inability to pay dividends saw CEOs who are also major shareholders taking home significantly less than before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. The highest pay packet among this cohort this year went to Webjet MD John Guscic – whose company was the only Australian listed travel business to make a payout to shareholders in 2021/22. The previous year Webjet had prudently decided not to pay out a previously declared dividend, as it scrambled to conserve cash amid the downturn. However improving trading conditions – not to mention some very canny financing deals as the business recovered – left Webjet in a strong cash position and so Guscic’s overall package was topped up with a $571,000 dividend on his somewhat diluted shareholding in the business.

That was on top of a $1.6 million base pay package and almost $2.5 million in non-cash share based incentives, meaning his total statutory remuneration of $4,512,087 was a healthy 85% higher than the $2.45 million Guscic was paid in 2020/21. Other Webjet executives also appeared in our top travel agency earners table, including Group Chief Commercial Officer and AFTA Director, Shelley Beasley, in 10th position with a $1.22 million package – just ahead of her colleague, Webjet CFO Tony Ristevski in 11th spot with remuneration worth $1.09 million for the year.

Flight Centre MD Graham “Skroo” Turner has for many years topped the Million Dollar Club table – but that’s generally been because of the very healthy dividend flow from the company as it continued its stellar pre-pandemic annual performance. So it’s not really surprising that this year his offsider Melanie Waters-Ryan significantly outstripped his pay packet, coming in second among her listed travel agency peers with an overall $2.23 million package for the year. That included a $1.23 million base pay plus more than $750,000 in long-term share-based incentives – but no dividends at all on her 55,000-odd shares.

Several other Flight Centre executives also topped their big boss in terms of their remuneration this year. CFO Adam Campbell was third on our list of travel agency top earners (below) with an overall $2.07 million pay packet – including $990,000 in base pay which was more than doubled with share-based long term incentive payments worth just over $1 million. Other Flight Centre Travel Group staffers in this cohort included Chris Galanty, CEO of Corporate, with a $1.93 million total package, MD Australia James Kavanagh who took home a total of $1.3 million, just ahead of  Charlene Leiss, MD of Flight Centre’s Americas business with a $1.27 million package, and MD EMEA Steven Norris whose total remuneration was worth $1.23 million. That foursome – in positions five to eight on our list – were way ahead of Skroo who in 2021/22 took home a significantly smaller $732,000 – a far cry from the almost $50 million pay day he enjoyed in 2019 thanks to a special Flight Centre dividend payout. And for the prior two years in 2017 and 2018 Turner’s overall package was worth more than $20 million annually, with the relative paucity of this year’s package yet another indication of the brutality of the pandemic on travel.

It was a similar story over at Corporate Travel Management, where CEO and significant shareholder Jamie Pherous missed out on his customary flow of dividends. That meant Global Chief Operating Officer, Laura Ruffles, appeared fourth on our list overall with her $2.069 million remuneration just ahead of CTM CEO North America, Kevin O’Malley who took home $2.04 million. Other top earners at Corporate Travel Management included CEO Europe, Debbie Carling, in 12th position with a $964,000 package; then CFO Cale Bennett with $933,000 in remuneration. Both of them were ahead of Pherous who ended up in 14th spot with a package worth $906,000 – notably less than one tenth of his 2019 income when thanks to a strong flow of dividends he earnt over $9.1 million. Other CTM staffers in our list include CEO Asia Larry Lo in 15th position with $814,000, and CEO Australia/New Zealand Greg McCarthy who ended up just scraping into the top 20 with a $663,260 package.

Helloworld Limited is the other major listed travel agency group included in our summary, and the impact of the pandemic was clearly reflected in its top executive pay packets. In fact Rohan Moss, Helloworld GM Government Services, who has recently transferred across to Corporate Travel Management as part of the acquisition of Helloworld’s corporate operations, was Helloworld’s highest paid executive, taking home $754,215 including a bonus worth more than $500,000 – a package which put him in 16th spot on our list. He was just ahead of Andrew and Cinzia Burnes, in 18th and 19th position with packages worth $718,000 and $678,000 respectively. That compared to hefty remuneration packages for both of the Burnes’ in 2020, when they each took home more than $4.5 million thanks to a dividend payout just as the world was slamming shut. No dividends for them in this year’s Million Dollar Club table – but the recent $90 million profit thanks to that sale of the corporate division saw Helloworld recently declare a 10c per share dividend which will once again have the Burnes replete with cash in 2022/23.

The top earners list was rounded out by several other HLO executives, including former CFO David Hall with remuneration worth $532,000 – down about 8% on the prior year. Former Group GM Corporate Nick Sutherland took home $488,662 for his partial year’s service, while GM Retail and Digital Transformation Nic Cola’s package was worth $298,331 and Chris Hunter, GM Helloworld NZ since October last year took home $193,097.

2022 Travel Agent top earners

Airline incomes set to take off

There’s always keen interest in the pay packets of those who sit in the pilot’s seat of our airlines – but again much of the excitement has gone out of things with the demise and then private equity resurrection of Virgin Australia, which means it no longer publishes the remuneration details for its top executives. That leaves Qantas and Air New Zealand as the only carriers seeming to pay eye-watering sums to their chiefs – in clear contrast to the relatively parsimonious packages on offer for the Rex Airlines and Alliance Airlines teams.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is the perennial leader in this group, and 2022/23 was no exception with his total package worth $5.575 million. That included a $2.146 million base pay and share-based long-term incentive worth $3.27 million, making him the clear top earner. Joyce’s total package was worth more than twice that of his direct reports, with the closest being outgoing Jetstar Group CEO Gareth Evans with a $2.296 million package, just ahead of CEO Domestic and International, Andrew David whose remuneration was $2.12 million for the year. Despite the stellar profit contribution of Qantas Loyalty, that division’s CEO Olivia Wirth was the lowest paid Qantas staffer falling in the Key Management Personnel category, with total remneration worth $1.822 million – less than Qantas CFO Vanessa Hudson whose package was also worth around $2.12 million.

This year we’ve tabulated the top 15 airline earners (below) and unfortunately the disclosure rules for the NZ-listed Air New Zealand complicate things further because it doesn’t publish the details of individual packages apart from CEO Greg Foran, who appeared second on the list behind Qantas chief Alan Joyce. Foran’s total remuneration was NZ$3.609 million, including a handy $900,000-plus short term bonus and another $900,000 in long term share incentives. We can only speculate about who’s who in the NZ management zoo in terms of what each person earnt, but it’s a fair guess that the unnamed next highest earner is Chief Commercial Officer Leanne Geraghty, who was probably the person paid the next highest amount of NZ$2.65 million. Unfortunately given the lack of detail, we can only list the rest of this Air New Zealand crew as “Unnamed” in our top earners table.

By contrast to the sums at Qantas and Air NZ, the pay packets at Rex Airlines are more like pocket change. Executive Director, Lim Kim Hai, took home precisely nothing from the carrier, with no dividend at all payable on his stake of almost 25 million shares. Despite running things at Rex, Lim takes no salary or bonus, so in a lean post-pandemic year he didn’t earn a cent from the airline. Rex Chief Operating Officer, Neville Howell, was the top paid executive with a package worth $475,000, while GM Corporate Services Irwin Tan’s remuneration totalled $390,000 – just ahead of Rex GM Engineering Png Yeo Tat with $384,000 and GM IT & Communications, Mayooran Thanabalasingam who was paid $382,000. Other Rex Key Management Personnel included GM Network Strategy & Sales, Warrick Lodge with a $374,000 package; National Airports Manager, David Brooksby whose package was worth $363,000; and Paul Fisher, GM Flight Operations with $350,000 total remuneration.

It’s a similar story at takeover target Alliance Airlines, where the top paid executive was Managing Director, Scott McMillan, whose total remuneration was a smidgin over $700,000 for the year. Former Executive Director and CEO Leo Schofield, who departed suddenly in July due to personal reasons, was paid $490,550 for his final year’s tenure at Alliance, while Alliance Chief Financial Officer Mark Devine earnt a total package worth $365,000.

2022 Airline top earners

Pandemic not so bad for some!

The outstanding earners in this years travelBulletin Million Dollar Club aren’t from travel agencies or airlines – but rather shot the lights out at diversified entertainment and hospitality group Ardent Leisure. During the year a juicy US$1.1 billion takeover bid was lobbed for Ardent’s US operations, which trade under the Main Event brand and comprise 44 entertainment centres offering bowling, video arcades and restaurants. The deal was understandably overwhelmingly approved by Ardent shareholders, seeing Main Event become part of NASDAQ-listed behemoth Dave & Busters. That also meant that Main Event CEO Chris Morris and the division’s CFO Darin Harper went along with the deal, at the same time crystallising long-term incentives for the pair alongside “stretch bonus payments” which reflect and reward the “significant value creation that has been achieved”. In effect, Morris’ US$750,000 annual base salary was massively eclipsed by these add-ons, meaning his total remuneration for 2022 came in at a whopping US$28.8 million. A similar formula applied to CFO Harper, whose package ended up being US$13.8 million – putting the pair right at the top of this year’s Million Dollar Club.

Top earners at other listed entities (non-travel agency or airline) included Event Hospitality (now simply known as EVT Limited) CEO Jane Hastings who was paid total remuneration of $2.997 million for the year – just ahead of Kelsian (formerly SeaLink) CEO Clint Feuerherdt, who received $2.88 million including an $807,000 dividend payment as the company continues its transition into a diversified coach, transport and tourism operation.

Usually big pay packets in the hospitality sector also go to the chiefs of our listed casino operators – but the widespread probity scandals that have engulfed the sector also washed through to their hip pockets too. Crown Limited was taken over by private equity firm Blackstone so we no longer have visibility of remuneration there, but over at rival Star Entertainment Group the top paid executives included former CEO Matt Bekier ($1.73 million), former CFO Harry Theodore ($1.51 million), former Chief Casino Operator Greg Hawkins ($1.42 million) and former Acting CEO Geoff Hogg ($1.04 million). Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of this huge cull of the executive team were paid any of their short term performance-related bonuses.

Other notable top executives in the listed travel and tourism space included Experience Co CEO John O’Sullivan, whose total package was worth $1.025 million, and Serko CEO Darrin Grafton who took home NZ$789,000 for the year.

Other listed companies top earners

So here it is… the 2022 Million Dollar Club

While this year’s list has a couple of unusual outliers with the Ardent Leisure US executive bonuses, the 2022 Million Dollar Club is also notable for the absence of Flight Centre Travel Group MD Graham Turner, Corporate Travel Management’s Jamie Pherous, and Helloworld Travel Limited’s Andrew Burnes and Cinzia Burnes. But you can be sure that will change over the next 12 months, as dividends once again start to flow. Barring another industry catastrophe, it appears that normality is returning to the market and that in turn should see these listed companies once again able to pay dividends.

And having endured a couple of torrid years, who can blame the major shareholder executives, who have brought these businesses through the pandemic, for wanting to reap the rewards. Once again compiling the 2023 Million Dollar Club in 12 month’s time is likely to bring back some of the fun – at least let’s hope so.

2022 Million Dollar Club


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