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Virgin Atlantic’s star CFO to lead growth drive

As predicted by Financial Director in 2009, Virgin Atlantic’s chief financial officer Julie Southern has taken a step closer to becoming the airline’s future CEO with her promotion in October to chief commercial officer.

The CCO role has been created especially for Southern, who marks a decade-long career with Virgin Atlantic in 2010, to move her out of finance and into growing the business. She will take responsibility for expanding its network of routes, trade alliances and for driving revenue through pricing, sales and marketing. She remains a key player in the airline’s HR efforts, which is something she has been noted for succeeding in while CFO.

In 2009 we pointed to Southern as a rising star. Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway was in the frame for Willie Walsh’s job at British Airways after the completion of its Iberia merger, and we felt that if he moved, Southern would be a hot ticket for Ridgway’s seat.

“If her boss Steve Ridgway happens to take the BA job in 2010, she may consider stepping up to make her mark outside of pure finance at the end of a decade under Richard Branson’s wing,” we said.

Ridgway remains in his post as CEO at Virgin Atlantic, but as CCO Southern will get an ever closer view of his role and be in a better position to influence the company’s strategic approach to recovery.

Southern has been lauded for shoring the business up after the 9/11 attacks in New York that almost brought the airline industry to its knees – that was one year after she joined the business – and for seeing it through the global financial crisis.

“This promotion and change of emphasis for Julie will enable Virgin Atlantic to change gear in its recovery from recession,” said Ridgway. “Julie’s expertise has enabled the business to steer a course through some very difficult times but now we can utilise her strengths at the front end of the business, driving new relationships, revenues and ultimately our growth strategy.”

Her finance director Tim Livett becomes CFO, joining the company’s main board.

Read more about the FDs we saw as 2010’s rising stars here

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