Most of their grin-a-minute flight attendants could get booked as a headliner at Yuk Yuks.
When you board a WestJet 737, they don’t say “g’morning.” They slap your back, and say: “We just flew in from Winnipeg, and, boy, are our arms tired.” The company’s been saluted in Parliament. Copycat outfits are springing up down east, faster than ’hoppers on a haywagon.
The CEO flips you a business card, and points to the reservations number on the back. Then he tosses an aside to a passing office worker: “Have fun, or you’re fired.”
On WestJet, there are no passengers. Only guests. Clive Beddoe maintains there’s a difference.
When the CEO flies WestJet, he pitches in and helps clear the cabin of litter during stopovers. So do the pilots. “We save $2.5 million a year that way. Why wouldn’t we do it?” Beddoe’s eyebrows lurched skyward, dismissing the stupid question.
Why indeed, when each of 1,500 employees partakes of a profit-sharing plan? Why indeed, when this semi-miraculous monument to customer service and a satisfied workforce has turned a buck in all but four of 56 months, since its birth on Feb. 5, 1996?
On the heels of a troublesome merger with Canadian Airlines, monolithic Air Canada — which has discussed plans to whomp up a separate, low-cost airline, to try and horn in on WestJet’s market — warns shareholders that profits will tank in the second half of 2000.
Among the reasons: A new contract with union pilots; gunshy consumers, scared off by fears of a summer pilots’ strike; and sky-high fuel prices.
Meanwhile, Beddoe points proudly to his PACT — the pro-active communications team which he insists does the job of unions within WestJet. It allows for grievance procedures and, claims Beddoe, offers “all the benefits of a union, but it isn’t a union.”
“We’re even talking about adding a PACT representative to our board of directors,” he said.
Happy customers. Contented workers, treated as partners, rather than produce-or-pack drones.
Add a 154-per-cent increase in net earnings for the second quarter of 2000, or $7.4 million, compared to $2.9 million for the same period the year before. Result: Happy . . . no, ecstatic shareholders.
Now, a question: Why is this formula so revolutionary, when it’s such a testimonial to common sense, not to mention the Golden Rule (if anyone out there still recalls it).
Why don’t more corporate execs hang their stuffed shirts in the closet, and learn from WestJet’s example?
It’s well known that the WestJet attack was modelled on that of Southwest Airlines, the low-fare, high-energy posse of good-time Charlies who got rolling with three planes in 1971.
Two scribes wrote a corporate history of Southwest, a “zany, irreverent” hymn to moderate costs and high productivity. They called it Nuts. But, like Southwest’s fabled CEO, Herb Kelleher, and like his three WestJet co-founders, CEO Beddoe, 52, is anything but.
This is a canny business mind.
Beddoe picked up the flying bug when he joined a Calgary gliding club, age 12. But he acquired his savvy in the trenches. The original customer-service, employee-friendly “culture” (another WestJet buzzword) is sacrosanct. Which is why Beddoe is contemptuous of those who suggest he erred in getting rid of Steve Smith last month, before reclaiming the CEO’s chair. Smith was bounced 18 months after coming aboard, only a month after announcing those kick-ass, second quarter returns.
He left, not merely because he didn’t mesh with the WestJet “culture,” but because Smith’s management tack posed a distinct threat to the corporate fabric.
“We had no choice, but to ask him to leave,” Beddoe shrugged.
Have fun. Or you’re fired.
To paraphrase Neil Young, long may they run.