1999: “The mood throughout those early years was very stimulating because every day there was some new venture, some new destination or new aircraft or new hires.” – Clive Beddoe
The turn of the century saw the great anti-climax of Y2K concerns and a Business Person of the Year winner whose name will be familiar to most Albertans. Clive Beddoe, budding entrepreneur and pilot, co-founded a low-cost regional airline with colleagues David Neeleman, Mark Hill, Tim Morgan and Don Bell in 1996. Its name? WestJet Airlines. The company’s first flight was $59 plus taxes to Vancouver. Beddoe says those first years were exciting and overwhelming. “Everyone was so pumped up, excited and the mood throughout those early years was very stimulating because every day there was some new venture, some new destination or new aircraft or new hires,” he says. “It was a constant process of evolution.” Within two years, the Calgary-based airline had acquired 10 Boeing 737 jet aircrafts, hired 1,089 employees and was serving nine cities across Western Canada. WestJet went public in July 1999, and one of Beddoe’s first moves after hitting the public market was to sign a $1-billion deal to acquire the next-generation Boeing 737, which replaced the Boeing 737-200. “That transition from the old 200 series was a big undertaking,” he says. “It was pretty daunting.” But the acquisition proved profitable and WestJet kept rolling. The airline now boasts a fleet of more than 140 aircraft, including the Bombardier Q400 turboprop, about 12,000 employees, and it serves more than 100 destinations spanning more than 20 countries. Last year, the award-winning airline had $4 billion in revenue thanks to its 20-million-customer base. WestJet’s key to success has been simple: its people. Beddoe fondly recalls a proud moment 10 months after WestJet’s launch when staff received their first profit-share cheques. At the time, he insisted that managers hand them out personally. “It was a big day, particularly because no one really knew how big the cheque would be, and they opened those envelopes and saw how big they were,” he says. “They [saw] how the system worked, and how it rewarded them.” Currently, 85 per cent of the airline’s employees own shares in the company. Beddoe stepped down as CEO of WestJet in 2007 to take over as chair of the board of directors. He is also the chair of SQI Diagnostics and a former board member of AIMCo.
The Year that Was 1999
Alberta’s population 2.9 million
The development of the oil sands takes off after the federal and provincial governments give developers breaks on income tax and royalties