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

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.

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.”

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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