Generally speaking, Canadians love to hate Air Canada! I fly them a lot, and I am well aware of my good fortune as most of my experiences have actually been positive. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand why people get frustrated when flights are delayed, luggage is lost, and concerns and complaints either fall on deaf ears or are met with indifference. Which is why recent actions by Air Canada’s new CEO Calin Rovinescu have caught my attention. For the first time in recent history, a CEO at this organization actually seems interested in what customers and employees have to say. Predecessors Montie Brewer and Robert Milton unfortunately created a culture in which both employees and customers felt both unimportant and unheard. Not so with Calin Rovinescu.
Over the past few weeks, he has been meeting with groups of frequent fliers in cities across Canada. In a casual reception format, he and several members of his senior executive team have met, face-to-face, with the company’s principal customers. We’re not necessarily talking about meetings with major companies here; we’re talking about one-on-one conversations with the individual people who sit in Air Canada’s seats, the actual people who schlep carry-on bags from gate to gate, the road warriors who log over 100,000 miles a year in Air Canada’s planes. And at these meetings, Calin and his managers are not only listening, they’re also taking notes, they’re asking questions, and they’re committing verbally to take action. Not on everything mind you, but a commitment to at least listen to the suggestions and make positive changes to enhance a customer’s travel experience. How do I know this? Because I was at such an event a few weeks ago, and I must say that I was cautiously pleased.
Not only is Calin making overtures to disillusioned customers, but it seems that he is making similar efforts towards his employees. Not surprisingly, many battle-scarred employees are still holding to a “wait and see” attitude, but in my numerous airport and in-air conversations with Air Canada employees, I am sensing a shift in momentum, a willingness to at least acknowledge that there may be positive change afoot. Big news indeed in a company that has a reputation for a disengaged workforce.
It is still early in Rovinescu’s tenure as CEO (he only began in April), so the jury is still out as to whether he will be able to turn Air Canada’s negative perception around, both in the minds of his customers as well as his employees. But he’s certainly taking steps in the right direction. In my leadership development practice, I have repeatedly seen leaders turn negative situations around once they began to listen to their employees and customers, and act on what they heard. I, for one, am willing to give Rovinescu and his leadership team a chance. Bravo Calin! Now please follow through and don’t disappoint!