Beneath Alan Joyce's softly spoken Irish brogue and calm demeanour lies a steely resolve. The Qantas chief executive is overseeing one of the most stunning turnarounds in Australian corporate history.
On Thursday, Joyce unveiled a first-half pre-tax profit of A$367 million ($378 million).
Remarkably, the result comes just six months after the airline announced a record A$2.8 billion loss and went cap in hand to the Abbott Government for financial support it said was crucial to the flagship carrier's survival.
True, there are lots of external factors working in Qantas' favour. The oil price has halved since July; the damaging capacity war with Virgin Blue is over; and international competition has declined.
But the biggest factor in the turnaround is the Qantas chief executive himself. Joyce has been the driving force behind a programme to cut annual costs by A$2 billion. Six months into the cost-cutting drive it's already paying off; without it, the airline wouldn't have turned a profit.
In some ways, Joyce is a strange choice to run Australia's national carrier. The 48-year-old Irishman has an honours degree in maths and physics, and was turned down by Aer Lingus when he applied to be a pilot because his eyesight wasn't good enough.
But maybe it's this background which has allowed his dispassionate analysis of what Qantas needs to do to survive, not just when things are going in its favour as they are now but when fuel prices rise, as they inevitably will, and competition intensifies once again as it always does. As Joyce acknowledged on Thursday: "The tough times will come again."
Driving change at Qantas has been no easy task.
Founded in 1920 as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services and once government-owned, the airline has many legacy issues to deal with. It has had a lot more staff and paid them a lot more in wages and perks than newer, low-cost rivals such as AirAsia X and NokScoot. It has also been notoriously resistant to change.
Yet Joyce is achieving this, shedding 5000 jobs and- remarkably - negotiating an 18-month wage freeze with some of the militant aviation unions.
He knows he has to do this if the airline is to compete with low cost Asian carriers. Those carriers have the geographic advantage of being located in hubs such as Bangkok or Singapore instead of being based in what is essentially an aviation dead end. They also started with a much lower cost base.
A year ago unionists and some politicians were calling on Alan Joyce to resign, claiming the airline was lurching from crisis to crisis. That's probably unfair, because it's a rare day when there's not a crisis besieging the aviation sector.
Those critics have been silenced for the time being.
Joyce showed his resolve four years ago when he stunned the nation by locking out striking workers and grounding the entire Qantas fleet. All told, it cost the airline around A$68 million and left tens of thousands of angry travellers around Australia and the globe stranded after more than 120 flights were cancelled.
It was a bold move, but Joyce believed he had to send a message to Qantas employees, to the Government and to the public that Qantas had to change or it wouldn't survive.
That gamble appears to be paying off and it will underwrite the long-term future of the airline, when conditions move against it, as they surely will.
The cash paradox While Qantas is remaking itself to survive, a lot of other Australian companies appear to have run out of growth options - or are perhaps just too nervous to take advantage of them.
A recent report by consulting firm Deloitte found Australian companies were hoarding their cash instead of investing it, and destroying shareholder value.
Interestingly, companies spending and investing their cash grew about three times faster in the past five years than those hoarding it.
Deloitte calls this the "cash paradox".
It's part of the malaise that has gripped corporate Australia since the global financial crisis: a lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take any risks.
This was undoubtedly the right thing to do during the GFC. You don't want to be splashing cash around in the midst of a downturn when there's no telling how much worse it could get. Shareholders can be grateful that many of their investments weathered the GFC fairly well in comparison with some overseas firms.
But many firms are still focused on cutting costs instead of seeking out growth. Sometimes, as with Qantas, this is appropriate, but others are forgoing opportunities.
As the head of Reserve Bank of Australia, Glenn Stevens, said recently: "At some stage, the equity analysts, shareholders, fund managers, commentators and so on will want to be asking not 'where's your cost cutting or capital return plan?' but 'where's your growth plan?'."
Christopher Niesche is a Sydney-based business journalist. He is a former editor of the Business Herald and a former deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.