Calin Rovinescu will retire on Feb. 21 after nearly 12 years as CEO of Air Canada (TSX: AC), the airline announced Friday. It named Deputy CEO and CFO Michael Rousseau to replace him.

Rovinescu is highly regarded as a top airline chief for having saved Air Canada from bankruptcy and setting it up for sustainable profitability, better labor relations and improved customer service. 

Since taking the helm in 2009, revenues and passenger traffic hit records and Air Canada’s share price experienced huge appreciation — until the coronavirus pandemic this year. 

Under his leadership, Skytrax has named Air Canada the best airline in North America eight times in the last 10 years, while The Globe and Mail reported that Air Canada was the best-performing stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange, in all industrial categories, over the decade ending Dec. 31, 2019, with a total shareholder return exceeding 3,600%. 

Rovinescu led a major expansion that had the airline serving about 220 destinations through 2019. During the coronavirus crisis, Air Canada was one of the first airlines to remove passenger seats to create extra space for cargo on the main deck in an effort to capture more cargo business with passenger operations mostly sidelined. 

On LinkedIn, employees and colleagues posted messages of gratitude to Rovinescu for everything he did for Air Canada. 

“Thank you for always leading us from the front, Calin. Your contribution to Air Canada will never be forgotten,” Konstantinos Georgosopoulos, manager of corporate sales, marketing and pricing, wrote. 

“Best Canadian airline CEO in the last 40 years, well done and happy retirement Calin,” Mike Miguel, an aviation consultant and former executive at Canadian rival WestJet, said. 

Rovinescu, who immigrated to Canada from Romania with his parents at age 5, was outside general counsel to Air Canada for many years before joining the company in 2000 as executive vice president of corporate development and strategy. He then served as its chief restructuring officer during 2003-04. After leaving to co-found an investment bank, he returned to take over the company during the Great Recession.

Rovinescu was chairman of the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board from 2012 to 2016 and the International Air Transport Association in 2014-15. He has won numerous airline industry and Canadian business awards for being a top chief executive.

“I am especially proud of the company’s transformation over the last dozen years, during which we built Air Canada into one of the world’s leading carriers and a global champion for Canada, winning international customer and employee awards, growing our global network to serve all six inhabited continents, creating thousands of jobs and protecting pensions, producing record financial results, strengthening our balance sheet dramatically, delivering significant shareholder value, and above all, developing a lasting, empowered and entrepreneurial culture for our airline. This is directly attributable to the efforts of the wonderful women and men of Air Canada who have supported this multiyear transformation with innovation, hard work and great devotion,” Rovinescu said in a statement.

“While COVID-19 has decimated the global airline industry, fortunately we entered the pandemic much healthier than almost any other airline in the world as a result of our strong balance sheet, track record and engaged workforce,” he added.

Air Canada is finalizing its COVID-19 mitigation and recovery plan. It has already raised about CA$6 billion ($4.6 billion), slashed discretionary and capital expenses and significantly downsized to preserve liquidity while it rebuilds business following the coronavirus shock. In the midst of the crisis, Air Canada also implemented a new reservation system, acquired its Aeroplan frequent flyer program, which previously was independently run, and is in the process of taking over leisure airline Transat AT. 

“Air Canada will be extremely well positioned for the recovery when borders reopen, travel restrictions are lifted and the broader economy is functioning again,” Rovinescu said.

Air Canada Chairman Vagn Sorensen praised Rovinescu’s leadership.

“Calin’s record in successfully transforming Air Canada into a sustainable, global aviation industry leader is directly attributable to his strategic leadership and unflappable courage to make difficult and innovative decisions, always keeping the best interest of all stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and partners at the forefront,” he said.

Air Canada lost another top talent in August when cargo chief Tim Strauss left to head all-cargo carrier Amerijet.

Leadership transition

Rousseau has served as Air Canada’s CFO since 2007, helping Rovinescu with the airline’s transformation. The company said he was instrumental in stabilizing its pension plans. Rousseau also supervised many areas of the company, including low-cost subsidiary Air Canada Rouge, fleet planning, corporate real estate, procurement, and mergers and acquisitions. 

Prior to joining Air Canada, Rousseau was president of Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay Co. 

Rovinescu said he leaves Air Canada in good hands.

“Mike Rousseau has been a key member of our leadership team since the beginning of our transformation, as well as an invaluable partner and sounding board for me on virtually all aspects of our journey over the last 12 years,” he said. “He knows all of our strengths and opportunities and how we can lean into them. I am truly delighted that the board of directors has endorsed Mike as my successor for this next stage and I look forward to working closely with Mike and the rest of our strong executive team through the transition next February.”

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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