“You have to change to survive and staying the same just doesn’t cut it anymore.” – Gregg Saretsky

A man described as having “jet fuel running through his veins” by former Canadian Airlines executive Jack Miles was Alberta’s Business Person of the Year in 2012. Gregg Saretsky had been appointed CEO of WestJet in 2010, just two years after joining the company as vice-president of WestJet vacations. He was busy turning a blue-sky idea into reality with the creation of WestJet Encore, an affordable airline for smaller communities. The airline wouldn’t exist had it not been for his employees’ vote of approval. Saretsky left the final decision up to his 8,600 WestJetters – 92 per cent of whom were on board. “Taking a business proposition to your people and asking them to vote is a bit of a risky thing to do,” Saretsky says. “I’m not sure many companies would do that.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of WestJet, and Saretsky has every reason to celebrate. The airline reported its 45th consecutive profitable quarter in July, with a record 5.3 million passengers and a small growth in revenue from $942 million last year to $949.3 million. But like most companies headquartered in Alberta, WestJet is feeling the pinch. Demand for flights in Alberta has sunk and overall profit is down 40 per cent from last year. “We are so overly dependent on a single industry in this province, and the challenge will be leveraging all that is good about the oil and gas business, but look for opportunities to diversify,” Saretsky says. It’s not just oil and gas that is experiencing a shift in our province. Saretsky says he is witnessing a more mobile workforce in Alberta, a generation of workers less prepared to spend their career with one company or in one field. “You have to change to survive and staying the same just doesn’t cut it anymore,” he says. He knows the need for change; in university he had his sights set on a career in medicine. Then there was his stint at the Bank of Montreal. After a decade of work split between Canadian Airlines and Alaska Airlines, he found his calling at WestJet. To keep his staff invigorated, Saretsky places corporate culture as a top priority, hosting events like Ignite 20, designed to boost morale. Despite turbulence on and off the runway, Saretsky is confident Alberta’s leaders will get its products to market in a cost-effective way and push an economic turnaround. “There are a lot of smart people in Alberta and I am encouraged by our prospects.”

The Year that Was 2012

The Calgary Stampede celebrates its centennial, setting an attendance record of 1.4 million

The Canadian Wheat Board loses its single-desk marketing power

Former Premier Peter Lougheed dies in September