• Engaged employees drive Canadian airline WestJet’s success

    November 30, 2012

    Marcy Woodhull

    They succeed because they care. Owners care.

    That is a mantra of the 8,300 WestJetters, otherwise known as employees  of the Canadian airline WestJet. The  company even made a rap video, on  YouTube, timed with its November 2010 profit-sharing payout. Not only were  employees featured in the video, but  president and CEO Gregg Saretsky was break dancing, decked  out in full rap regalia, as was the rest of WestJet’s executive team.

    They may not take themselves seriously, but they take their jobs  very seriously. Safety, passenger comfort and service are paramount  to the Calgary, Alberta–based airline. In fact, WestJetters strive to  offer all passengers, known as “guests” in WestJet parlance, what  the company calls a “great guest experience”—every step of the way.

    It pays off. WestJet has received praise for its corporate culture.

    In 2010, WestJet was inducted into Canada’s 10 Most Admired  Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors a Canadian company can receive. Its flight attendants were named the  best in Canada in a survey by the Flight Network travel website,  and WestJet was named a JD Power Customer Service Champion,  one of only two Canadian companies to receive the designation.

    “These awards, in particular, speak to the way our culture of  caring translates into a great guest experience,” Saretsky said.

    Founded in 1996 by a team of Calgary entrepreneurs, WestJet  began as a regional carrier with three Boeing airplanes flying to  five cities. Just 15 years later, WestJet has a fleet of 96 aircraft,  all Boeing 737 Next-Generation airplanes, and flies to 71 destinations in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    Since its inception, WestJet has enjoyed sustained profitability  and continued growth. The airline employs cost efficiencies that  benefit WestJet employee owners, as well as airline guests.

    “First and foremost, our WestJetters truly care about their  company,” Saretsky said. “And I say ‘their’ company because  over 85 percent of our workforce owns shares in WestJet. When  you own something, you have a vested interest in its well-being  and, ultimately, its success.”

    WestJet and Boeing enjoy a mutually supportive and successful partnership, said Kevin Schemm, North America and Leasing  Sales vice president for Commercial Airplanes. “We respect each  other and have a collaborative working relationship.”

    Saretsky agreed. “We enjoy a great rapport on all levels, from  the executive suite right through our line managers.”

    WestJet is looking forward to learning more about Boeing’s new  737 MAX and the role it might play in the WestJet fleet, Saretsky  said of the more fuel-efficient 737 now under development.

    By next year, the WestJet fleet will number 100 Boeing 737s.  The airline may add capacity on existing routes or announce new  destinations and routes, according to Saretsky.

    “It’s important to take a long-term view of things,” he said,  “and continue to build this very young airline and reach our objective to be one of the top five international airlines in the world.”