Despite two losses in court so far, Qantas is launching last-minute legal action to prevent a former executive from joining arch-rival Virgin Australia. Former Qantas and Jetstar high flyer Nick Rohrlach was poached by Virgin Australia late last year to head up its frequent flyer program. Velocity. That has left Qantas less than impressed.
After a decade with the Qantas Group, Nick Rohrlach switches to Virgin Australia
Mr Rohrlach is due to start his new role next week. To date, Qantas has made two legal attempts to prevent this. Both attempts have failed. Now, Qantas is making a final effort to prevent their former executive from taking the top job at Velocity on Monday morning. The Australian’s Robyn Ironside is reporting that Qantas has applied to the Supreme Court of Singapore for an emergency injunction.
Nick Rohrlach has spent the last decade working for the Qantas Group. He joined the airline in 2011 as Head of Strategy and Planning before switching over to Jetstar. Mr Rohrlach ended up running Jetstar Japan. In October last year, he returned to Sydney to take up a job with Qantas Loyalty.
But Virgin Australia’s new boss, Jayne Hrdlicka, herself a former Qantas and Jetstar executive with deep connections in the industry, poached Mr Rohrlach to run Velocity. Switching employers in the airline industry is common enough. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has previously worked at Aer Lingus and Ansett Australia.
Qantas says Nick Rohrlach knows too much
But Qantas is upset about Nick Rohrlach leaving the airline because they say he knows an awful lot about Qantas Loyalty. They are concerned that knowledge may give Mr Rohrlach an unfair advantage in his new role running Virgin Australia’s loyalty program. The airline is also unhappy their man didn’t let them know he was talking to Virgin Australia.
“At no point after negotiations between Mr Rohrlach and Virgin began, and right up until he informed Qantas of his new role at Velocity, was it suggested that the flow of information from Qantas should cease,” a Qantas spokesperson told The Australian.
“This is an inglorious sequence of events, to formally accept a new job and as part of the preparation for it receive highly sensitive and confidential information, then turn around just a few weeks later and take a job where that information would give you a real advantage.”
After handing in his notice to Qantas late last year, Qantas elected to enforce a three-month notice period and is now also trying to enforce a six-month no-compete clause. Qantas launched action in the New South Wales Supreme Court earlier this year to do that.
Qantas unsuccessful in legal manoeuvres so far
But Virgin Australian and Nick Rohrlach successfully argued that because the employment contract to head up Velocity was signed in Singapore and included an exclusive jurisdiction clause, the matter should be heard there. The New South Wales Supreme Court agreed. Justice David Hammerschlag said the choice of jurisdiction was “clear.” He also said Qantas’ arguments were “faint.” Qantas appealed the decision and lost that too.
According to The Australian, a directions hearing is scheduled in Singapore in late May. The matter should be heard either in June or July. A decision will follow sometime thereafter. Mr Rohrlach’s non-compete clause is valid until September. Qantas wants its former employee to stay away from Virgin Australia and its loyalty program.
But Virgin Australia and Mr Rohrlach have previously argued the no-compete clause is invalid. A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Simple Flying;
“We are pleased with the unanimous judgment from the Supreme Court of New South Wales Court of Appeal, which dismissed Qantas’ appeal, and ordered Qantas to pay Virgin Australia’s costs.“
Having served out his three-month notice period, unless Singapore’s Supreme Court throws a spanner in the works, Nick Rohrlach is due to start as CEO of Velocity on Monday, May 3.
With Velocity lagging the Qantas loyalty program in popularity, depth, and breadth, it will be worth keeping an eye on what Nich Rohrlach does in the top job at Velocity.