Leading from 35,000 feet

Vito Culmone, executive vice-president of finance and CFO for WestJet, talks about the importance of fostering community in the workplace and being visible to employees.

Q. The culture at WestJet is known to be employee-focused and collegial. Does that hold true for the finance group?

Our organization has tripled in size in the past several years and in the groups that I manage — finance, supply chain, corporate real estate, legal and government relations — head count has remained relatively stable. The work is demanding and there are long hours. But the culture in the finance group is consistent with the culture of WestJet: inclusion, involvement and transparency are keywords.

How do you communicate with your employees?

Staying connected to my teams is important. But as a member of the executive team, it’s also important that I connect with frontline WestJetters. When I fly, I stick my head into the cockpit and I assist the flight attendants, using the opportunity to talk with them in the back galley. I also use social media to connect with the whole company.

What type of social media do you use?

We’re on Yammer.com, a private social networking site for companies. If people are wondering, for example, about the drop in oil prices and what that means for WestJet — I’ll go on as the CFO and give them my point of view on it.

What’s an example of a recent project or initiative that your group has taken on?

We embarked on something called the Business Transformation Initiative where the goal was to identify $100 million in savings for WestJet through a three-year period. We actually identified savings in aggregate of $125 million, one year early. My role in that was helping other people in the organization understand how cost savings is fundamental to us achieving our objective as an organization.

Vito Culmone joined WestJet in 2007 as the CFO, after holding various finance roles at  Molson Inc. He obtained his accounting designation in 1995 while at PwC.