Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Airline CEO Joins Pie-in-the-Face Club Gracefully

Alan Joyce stayed composed after he was assaulted on stage, though the incident highlights the importance of investing in CEO safety.

It has happened to former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, among other business leaders. Now, the head of Australia’s key airline carrier, Alan Joyce, has joined the club.

The Qantas CEO was speaking at an event in Perth this week when a man calmly walked up behind him on stage and smeared what appeared to be a lemon meringue pie in his face. Someone got upset with ticket prices, apparently. Although, I happened to check out these options – rates are pretty fair.

Joyce’s reaction is a lesson in composure: he didn’t panic, or get angry in a way that would suggest he was too important to suffer such an affront.

“I don’t know what that was about,” Joyce told the audience of around 500 before briefly excusing himself and returning to deliver his speech, minus his jacket. “Now, if there are any more pies can you get it over with now,” he said.

Gates was similarly good-humored when he was “pied” in 1998 while on a trip to Brussels. The world’s richest man at the time, Gates didn’t press charges. “The pie wasn’t even that good,” he reportedly said later.

“I think when you’ve been CEO of an airline for nine years there are a lot of things that happen over that period of time. This is different. It’s an unusual event, but these things happen.”

Joyce didn’t sample his pie: “I didn’t have a chance to test it— it was mostly on my glasses,” he told reporters. Police are investigating the incident and motive remains unclear, he added.

On a more serious note, the incident highlights how exposed CEOs can be to attack and could prompt Qantas to review its security policies. How much companies spend on protecting their CEOs can very wildly: Snap in February raised eyebrows when it disclosed the company spent almost $900,000 protecting CEO Evan Spiegel.

A subsequent Business Insider analysis of tech company disclosure documents found Facebook shelled out close to $5 million protecting Mark Zuckerberg, while Apple spent a comparatively modest $220,000 protecting Tim Cook.

For his part, Joyce said the pieing incident wasn’t such a big deal, given some of the more harrowing challenges facing CEOs today. Joyce, for example, has survived a long, heavy battle with unions in his time at the helm.

“Well I think when you’ve been CEO of an airline for nine years there are a lot of things that happen over that period of time,” he said. “This is different. It is an unusual event, but these things happen.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.