It's been a couple of weeks since Westjet settled with Air Canada for $15 million. As you may remember, Air Canada was suing Westjet for commercial espionage. Westjet was caught illegally stealing data on flight loads from Air Canada's data network. As a result, one of their most senior executives, Mark Hill, was fired. Throughout the legal scuffling that led up to the settlement, Clive Beddoe, Westjet's President and CEO, denied having been involved or having knowledge of what Mr. Hill and his team were doing.
The settlement was hailed by the investment community as a good business move. In the context of these public corporations, the dollars weren't that big and it cleared away a lurking uncertainty surrounding Westjet. As part of putting this issue to bed, Mr. Beddoe admitted to knowing about the scheme.
It has been a couple of weeks since news of this settlement, but it continues to nag at me. I'll tell you why.
I've been a fan of Westjet from the beginning. I like their business model and I like even more that they've stuck to it and executed it beautifully. As a customer, I was so impressed on one occasion (while I was President and CEO at Phillips, Hager & North Investment Management), that I arranged to take a colleague and go see how they ran their call centers. We wanted to be just like them.
The point of all this is to say that my relationship with Westjet has been permanently damaged. Westjet is a company that engages its customers. It keeps things simple, is relatively transparent (as corporations go) and makes its customers feel like their part of the team, or at least, a member of the club. Now we're told that the founder and driving force behind the team, Mr. Beddoe, was cheating. And to make matters worse, he denied the truth for a long time (I do recognize the realities of the legal process, but that doesn't change the fact that he'd didn't step up and admit his mistake when they were caught).
None of this is to say that I won't fly Westjet again. I will when it makes economic sense and fits my travel plans. But I don't want to be part of the team any more. Indeed, I've moved Westjet into the same category as Air Canada. It is now a big, impersonal, ruthless corporation that I will deal with dispassionately.
So to answer the question in my title, I never will feel the same about Westjet again. By dealing with this transgression the way he did, Mr. Beddoe has lost one loyal member of the team.
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