As you have likely heard, WestJet will be changing CEOs in April. This comes as a bit of a surprise to business people since Sean Durfy has done a great job of growing the market share of the airline and creating a business model different from the competition, where customer service is the main focus. So why the sudden change? Well, the obvious answers are that profits are down as compared to the industry and WestJet's competitor(s) and there was a major issue with the rollout of their new reservation system. These issues caused people to take off the starry-eyed glasses and realize that WestJet is just another company that is not perfect.
I see a more underlying story in this leadership change–the story of leadership accountability. There is no doubt that Clive Beddoe still has his fingers all over the airline that he created 14 years ago, and he and his board of directors have brought in a level of accountability rarely seen in today's corporations. Beddoe successfully ran WestJet for 11 years and then moved out of the way and passed the torch to Durfy to take WestJet to the next level. Durfy was successful in growing the company over the past three years, and was given an opportunity to continue its growth. However, the recent issues have put into question his ability to take the company forward. It is a breath of fresh air to see a company make its leader accountable for the results that it must achieve. Whether by choice or by being asked to leave, by changing the CEO position, WestJet is showing that it holds its leaders accountable. If Durfy decided to leave on his own, it shows a corporate culture where accountability is king. If you do not perform, then move over for someone who can. If Durfy was asked to leave, we draw the same conclusion, if you do not perform, then move over.
Leadership is an interesting concept these days because we see so many leaders getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to run under-performing companies, the argument being that the company would be in worse shape without those leaders. This is a rare case where a leader did not live up to the expectations of the shareholders and the public, thus is being replaced. The airline industry is a very competitive one and WestJet was poised to really challenge Air Canada for canadian airspace supremacy. The last few months have been a setback, but with a corporate culture focused around customer service and employee accountability, WestJet is destined for even greater success.
Let's just hope that unlike other companies we are currently reading about, WestJet does not sacrifice the quality of its service for the speed of its growth.