giovedì 11 settembre 2014



09 SEP 2014: Duncan Bureau, Air Canada’s vice-president, global sales appears at first meeting to be an affable and approachable guy with whom you would be happy to share a pint or two at the local pub.  What belies his amiable nature is a very shrewd and skilled business executive with his eye on the prize – generating profit for Air Canada.  Bureau is a man who accepts and relishes challenges and his career has taken some surprising twists and turns.
There’s no pretentious stuffiness with Bureau. 

Enter his downtown Toronto office at Air Canada and other than being a larger size it’s a typical white collar worker office.  Since joining Air Canada in June 2014 finding time to personalize his office hasn’t been a priority.  But one personal touch is evident.

On a whiteboard that would normally be used for writing down corporate strategies, a simple “Love Megan” adorns the whiteboard – a message from his 12 year old daughter.  Megan keeps Bureau grounded.  “She is 12 years old going on 28,” he quips.

From tragedy to opportunity

Prior to his current positon at Air Canada, Bureau was senior VP, Global Sales & Distribution for Malaysia Airlines.   The airline has been hit hard with the tragic flight MH370 which disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board and on July 17th when flight MH17 was shot down with 298 people on board.  Layoffs of 6,000 people have recently been announced. 

Today, the effects of those tragic losses of passengers and crew still deeply resonate with Bureau.   “It’s a small airline, the loss is massive – it’s a family owned airline,” Bureau says.

Looking for new challenges Bureau was focused on either working in the Gulf region which has seen explosive growth or moving back to Canada.

When Bureau met with Air Canada president & CEO Calin Rovinescu and president, passenger airlines (his new title) Ben Smith, to discuss the opportunities - joining the Air Canada team was a no brainer.  Bureau was impressed at how Rovinescu and his team had turned things around, saw tremendous opportunity and wanted to be part of it.

His daughter Megan also helped sway Bureau to Air Canada.  She was going to be starting high school this fall and felt being back in Canada would be a smoother and more welcome transition for her.

Times change

When Bureau’s appointment to Air Canada was announced it was no surprise there were some raised eyebrows by industry types.  Isn’t this the guy that worked tirelessly for WestJet Airlines for ten years up until 2012 with his last position as vice president, sales?   Wasn’t Air Canada the “enemy?”

How times change!  Bureau admits his attitude has altered.  “It’s been fantastic (here at Air Canada), the culture, the leadership – the reality is different than the perception.”

Bureau still admires and respects WestJet, the management team, and what they have achieved.  They are a formidable competitor for Air Canada but Bureau welcomes the challenge and will do everything to keep Air Canada profitable.

Culture and profit

A major priority for Bureau is instilling a corporate culture that reflects the airline’s goals in achieving profitability and being renowned worldwide for providing outstanding service to its passengers.  Let’s face it – the culture at Air Canada especially after the merger with Canadian Airlines years ago and with the various unions has not been always amicable.  This has changed in recent years but Bureau knows there is still more work to do, and he is up for it. In Calgary he even taught corporate culture.

However, in his position, the number one priority is profit.  Bureau makes no apologies for making it his mantra.  Profit breeds confidence which fosters growth and helps create the corporate culture he envisions.  He wants employees to feel proud and tell the world that Air Canada is making money.   Shareholders insist on it.

No doubt the obsession with profit can irk some – in particular some in the travel trade where Air Canada has had a rocky relationship at times when it comes to commissions and other issues.

“The travel trade is an important part of our distribution channels and critical to our success,” explains Bureau.  But he is adamant that it has to make economic sense for the airline in terms of its arrangements with the travel trade.

Growth and Game Changers

Serving more than 180 destinations on five continents and flying more than 35 million passengers in 2013, Air Canada, voted Best Airline in North America in 2014 by Skytrax, isn’t resting on its laurels.

For Air Canada the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with six 787’s joining the fleet this year is a “game-changer.”  Its design and fuel efficiencies will allow the airline to expand into new destinations especially in Asia.  A total of 37 planes are on order.

Plans are forging ahead with the discount carrier Air Canada rouge and new routes, despite criticism from the travel trade and customers.  Bureau stands behind the product but admits they need to do a better job in, “Preparing the agent community and guests on what to expect with the rouge product.” 

They will continue to use the A319 and Boeing 767-300ER for rouge flights but have reconfigured seating and service levels to Premium rouge, rouge Plus and rouge.   With the price differential Bureau believes rouge is a key component in its profitability and growth strategy. 

Long work hours have prevented him from his preferred leisure activities like golfing, kayaking, spending time with Megan or visiting some of his favourite destinations like the Maldives and Bali.  Bureau also has a passion for the Maritimes and loves its friendly people and the food and music (Lower Deck in Halifax is a favourite spot).

Bureau intends to deliver on increasing profits and fostering a positive corporate culture and enhancing relationships with travel trade partners – a formidable task indeed.  Now, if he can only find time to work on personalizing his office – perhaps his daughter Megan can add some more personal touches. 
Chris Ryall

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