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Robert Cummings Westjet Airlines Ltd. (TSX: WJA) Years at company: 3 Age: 44
Next challenge: Continue to grow and expand, while maintaining low cost structure and WestJet culture.
In turbulent times, most airlines struggle with competition, unpredictable fuel prices and customers who keep an eye on every penny. WestJet Airlines Ltd., however, is not most airlines. Although it’s hardly immune to harsh realities, the Calgary-based company keeps soaring to new heights.
Bob Cummings, executive vice-president of guest experience and marketing, plays a critical role in the continued success of the airline. “Bob is my pride and joy; he truly is the brains behind the marketing of this company,” says president and CEO Sean Durfy. Cummings was the driving force behind the hugely successful Owners campaign (“Why do WestJetters care so much? Because we’re also WestJet owners.”). “We have two holy grails: they are low cost, and our people and culture,” says Cummings, who has been with the airline since March 2005.
He will be the first to admit that the success of WestJet is directly related to the underlying values, commitment and attitude of its employees. “We put on about 250 employee events a year, we physically hand out cheques sharing in the company’s profits, we shake people’s hands, pat them on the back, and give them a sincere thank you,” Cummings says. “It’s really walking the talk.”
As WestJet grows in size and scope, part of Cummings’ job is to make sure there is steady maintenance of culture. The airline now has more than 7,300 people all over North America and a lot of partnered and contracted employees in many Caribbean countries. “There has to be connectivity between us all; we have to make sure everyone understands our strategy and is able to communicate with the company,” says Durfy. “The effort to communicate and to have all the lines of communication open becomes tougher, but we do it very well.”
The culture-driven company seems to be doing something right: its three-year rate of revenue growth from 2005 to 2007 was 26.69%; and by 2013, its fleet of 75 aircraft will expand to 121. Cummings says that while WestJet has grown very quickly, the evolution is happening at a prudent rate. And he stresses that the airline will maintain its low-cost ways and stay true to its culture, a combination that has engendered much pride and success. As Durfy puts it, “People look at WestJet and say, ‘Yeah, that’s us.’”