CFO of the Year keeps Air Canada flying high

Michael Rousseau’s strategic balance of analytics and insight keeps improving the Air Canada experience, both on the ground and in the air. Here’s how this CPA makes it happen.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada’s executive vice-president and CFO for the past 10 years, never expected to win Canada's 2017 CFO of the Year Award. In fact, the CPA, CA, didn’t even know he’d been nominated and received the call while dining in a Montreal restaurant. “It was an unknown number, so I wasn’t sure if I should answer,” he recalls. Good thing he did: “The whole selection committee was on the line, congratulating me on winning the award.”

Rousseau’s accomplishments speak for themselves: an investment strategy that more than doubled the company’s bottom line over the past five years, a pension-plan facelift that turned a $4 billion deficit into a $1.9 million surplus, a growing list of long-term investors, etc.

Sponsor FEI Canada presented Rousseau with the award in May. Here he talks to Member News about his vision for Air Canada and some tricks of the CFO’s evolving trade.

How has the CFO role evolved in recent years?

CFOs have always been important to the success of a company, but I would say our role has become more strategic in the past 5 to 10 years. For example, I’m taking the lead on investor relations and travel across the country to secure long-term investors. After the 2008-09 financial crisis, we’re also focusing more on risk management. We don’t want to be caught with a spike in fuel costs and no strategy to manage that.

How has Air Canada changed since you began working there?

One, our financial situation has turned around, largely as a result of the new investment strategy we launched in 2013. Two, we’re much more engaged with our employees. We now have top management flying all over the country to connect with staff and ensure they have the tools and training to do their jobs.

Finally, we’re doing a much better job with our customers, which flows naturally from our improved employee engagement. We’ve also invested in better on-site and mobile technology to give customers a better airport experience.

Have you made any changes in marketing strategy?

We’ve put a customer relationship management system in place, which allows us to know our customers better and target their needs. For example, we might offer a flight/hotel/rental bundle to a top-tier business customer, but not to someone who goes on cruises. I think we’re still at the front end of this opportunity and can go a lot further as we get smarter.

How does sustainability inform your business decisions?

Sustainability and improving our footprint on earth are key values for Air Canada. We’re now buying more fuel-efficient planes, and we’re about to test the environmental benefits of biofuel blends in a series of Montreal-Toronto flights. We’re even using a more environmentally friendly aircraft paint for our logo redesign.

How do you see Air Canada and air travel in general changing in the future?

I see the customer experience getting better and better: online, at the airport, on the plane. There’s no reason a customer stopping in Toronto from the US on the way to London needs to see their checked bags, and we want to make sure they don’t!

How would you advise CPAs on driving change within their organizations?

You’re only as smart as the people around you. When I introduced our new investment strategy, I brought in a brand-new team to execute it. As for decision-making, I think it needs to balance analytics with the ground-level knowledge gained from experience. Live and work through enough corporate changes and you acquire some instincts.

A profile of Michael Rousseau will run in the July/August 2017 issue of CPA Magazine.


Editor’s note
The next issue of Member News will land in your inbox on July 10, 2017. Enjoy the issue and, as always, let us know what you think!