Westjet’s Ed Sims to retire

Sims becomes the second major airline executive to retire during the pandemic, following Air Canada’s Calin Rovinescu

Ed Sims retire
Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO (CNW Group/WESTJET).

Ed Sims, who led Westjet through a transition to a full-service global airline, will retire at the end of the year, he announced Wednesday.

“After four wonderful years here in Canada and with Westjet, I’ve made the difficult decision to Aotearoa, New Zealand,” he said in a video statement. Before joining Westjet in 2017, Sims served in leadership roles at Air New Zealand and Airways New Zealand.

His decision means leadership changes at both of Canada’s major airlines will. Sims joins former Air Canada President and Chief Executive Officer Calin Rovinescu who retired in February.

“One of the outcomes of the pandemic, and the agonizing travel restrictions in place around the world, is the powerful reminder that family matters and comes first,” he said. Both New Zealand and Canada enacted strict border measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. By the end of the year, Sims said it will have been two years since he saw two of his children.

“One of the comforts I take in making this announcement,” he said, “is where we are on the road to recovery. Our Westjetters and our Swoopsters have taken the absolute worst this pandemic can throw at us, and we’re still standing. For more than 15 months, we have operated with a significantly reduced network. And we have said goodbye to many of our colleagues.”

Westjet laid off thousands of employees as it struggled to survive passenger loads that were 90% lighter than 2019.

Highlight of 35 years

Sims also oversaw Onex buying the airline and taking it private. That move fufilled a longtime ambition of Onex principal, Gerry Schwartz to own a national airline. Sims often commented that going private would remove the burden of having to publicly report results every quarter. Sims will take on an advisory role with Onex.

“Ed was a critical part of Onex’ investment in WestJet,” said Tawfiq Popatia, a WestJet board member and Senior Managing Director at Onex. “With the WestJet transaction closing in December 2019 and the pandemic hitting Canada in February the following year, we had only a few weeks between closing and the onset of the pandemic and it’s hard to overstate the importance of Ed’s leadership through this exceptionally challenging period. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Ed.”

The Westjet board has started the search for a new chief executive.

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