Launch a new no-frills airline. Prepare for international expansion.

Meet with employees. Seek labour peace with pilots.

Protect a unique corporate culture.

The sheer number of items on the plate of new WestJet CEO Ed Sims are daunting.

But the 54-year-old airline veteran, promoted to the top job last month after the sudden retirement of Gregg Saretsky, has to knock them off quickly.

That includes working on the frosty relationship with WestJet’s pilots who unionized last year and are trying to negotiate a first contract with the Calgary-based airline.

One of the first things Sims did after taking the position five weeks ago was to meet with officials from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The two sides, in contract negotiations since last fall, are now in a conciliation process that ends this month.

Saretsky was openly combative dealing with WestJet’s first union.

Sims, who has spent three decades in the industry working at Air New Zealand, Virgin Groups and Thomas Cook, won’t be trading barbs in the media.

“I will not negotiate in public. But I will aim to reach a settlement as quickly as we possibly can,” Sims, who is originally from Swansea in south Wales, said in an interview Monday.

“But I will not reach a settlement for the benefit of one work group that has the potential to work to the detriment of any or every other work group.”

Sims joined WestJet last spring as executive vice-president of commercial, having previously worked as CEO for Airways, New Zealand’s air navigation service provider.

One of his first challenges will be to reach a deal with the pilots while protecting WestJet’s cost base, which has been a competitive advantage over unionized rivals such as Air Canada.

He will also need to preserve the company’s unique culture, built around the philosophy of customer service and the slogan, “Owners Care.”

“Culture is organic. Culture has to change,” he said. “I think values are enduring and I think the values of this organization … are long lasting and effectively the culture will revolve around those.”

Sims said he intends to be combative toward the company’s biggest competitor based in Montreal — Air Canada — not WestJet’s employees.

“I don’t believe in an enemy within,” he added.

Last month, an official with ALPA, which represents about 1,500 WestJet pilots and approximately 500 WestJet Encore pilots, was optimistic the two sides could come to an agreement within a few months.

But Capt. Rob McFadyen, chair of the WestJet unit of …read more



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Varcoe: ‘I don’t believe in an enemy within,’ says WestJet new CEO as labour talks continues

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