Harry Taylor, Executive Vice-President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer, WestJet, is exactly how we picture WestJetters – energetic, positive, and deeply committed to growing the company.
A strategy-oriented accountant, Taylor also has an MBA and deep roots in finance and operational leadership. He joined WestJet three-and-a-half years ago, and says he has seen the culture evolve and the company change – both of which he says were necessary to increase profitability and continue pushing towards becoming a hub and spoke airline.
The WestJet story had humble, simple beginnings, and according to Taylor, analysts and investors often ask why the organization had to complicate things. But the strategy is working.
“We started out in 1996 with 220 staff, three aircraft, and we flew to five destinations,” said Taylor to a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce audience of more than 140 members at a May 29 MBiz Breakfast. “Today, we have 14,000 employees, three unions, 120 aircraft, three hubs in Canada, and we fly to almost 100 destinations including overseas. That is significant growth, so yes, things have changed, but we stay true to our principles and continue to strive for the highest standards of service and success.”
Here are some of the company’s current strategic initiatives as shared by Taylor during the MCC event:
- Swoop: WestJet’s ultra-low-cost carrier, or ULCC, is called Swoop, and there are NO frills (“You want a drink, you pay. You want to check a bag, you pay. You want to bring a carry-on, you pay.) But Taylor says that the extremely low seat price makes up for it if you’re just looking for family & friends travel options. ULLCs have been notoriously unsuccessful in Canada, but Taylor says that this is the only country in the world where the business model hasn’t taken hold. “WestJet is committed to Swoop’s success, and our ULCC isn’t going anywhere.”
- Customer segmentation: WestJet is determined to make waves in the premium and business class markets, a segment that Taylor says is not typically synonymous with the brand. “We know and deeply appreciate that people think of us first for jaunting around, visiting loved ones, and for taking family vacations, but we are segmenting our service so flyers will also think of us first for business travellers.”
- Partnerships: “We are in the process of working through a proposed joint venture with Delta Airlines,” says Taylor. These types of arrangements enable WestJet to expand its routes and schedule density without contravening anti-competition legislation. “We also take great pride in working with our partners here in Winnipeg — Standard Aero and Boeing — and we remain committed to our Max 737 fleet. We grounded the planes to comply with orders, but we have complete trust in the aircraft. When we are given the go-ahead to fly them again, we will, and our executive has committed to taking the inaugural flight to demonstrate that commitment.”
- Loyalty Program: “We believe that WestJet has the best loyalty program in the industry, because our points are valued based on many factors such as destinations, time of year, etc. And no, we are not changing the program.”
Two weeks prior to the MBiz Breakfast, WestJet announced they were to be acquired by Onex Corporation. “I know there are always concerns during acquisitions, but we believe that this acquisition will be good for the company. Onex is aligned with our vision, so we see that WestJet will simply now be working towards their goals as a privately-held company.”
Very special thanks to Mr. Harry Taylor for joining us in Winnipeg to share his update on WestJet, a true Canadian success story. Thank you also to MBiz Breakfast series presenting sponsor, 6P Marketing, and to Winnipeg Airports Authority for their generous event support.