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May 13, 2019

Don't expect WestJet to 'pivot' under Onex ownership: Ed Sims

WestJet CEO Ed Sims vows no job losses after $5B Onex deal

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WestJet Airlines Ltd. chief executive officer Ed Sims said the airline will not be changing direction under the ownership of Onex Corp. which said it would buy the airline for $3.5 billion and take it private on Monday.

“It doesn’t imply any kind of pivot or any kind of change of direction,” WestJet (WJA.TO) CEO Ed Sims told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Monday. “It’s a reaffirmation that the path we’re on is actually a path towards long-term profitability, irrespective of the sort of headwinds that we saw regularly during 2018.”

Earlier on Monday, Onex (ONEX.TO) offered $31 a share for WestJet, a 67 per cent premium to the airline’s Friday closing price. Including debt, the deal is valued to be approximately $5 billion.

WestJet shares soared nearly 60 per cent on Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange, closing at $29.61.

Sims said Onex’s move to take the company private will allow the airline to take more of a long-term approach to its operational strategy.

“We look out on our assets, our 787 aircraft, our 737, we buy those aircraft on a 20 [to] 25-year basis,” Sims said. “When you’re constantly being asked every three months to reevaluate, whether every individual strand of that strategy is profitable in its own right, it can encourage short-term thinking and a transactional approach to the way that we build our fares and the way that we look after our 25 million guests every single year.”

Onex paying 'substantial' premium in agreement in buy WestJet: Analyst

Onex has agreed to buy WestJet in a stock-and-cash deal worth $5 billion. Analyst Chris Murray at AltaCorp Capital offers insight into the deal, why Onex has made the bid, the risks involved and valuations in the deal.

Taking the company private will have repercussions for the company’s employees, which WestJet has long referred to as its “owners” as a result of share purchasing program.

Sims said he and Tawfiq Popatia, a managing director at Onex, addressed 1,200 employees after the sale was announced and ensured that both jobs and entitlements would be preserved under the new ownership.

“We gave our reaffirmation that there will be no job losses as a consequence of this transaction,” Sims said.

“Second[ly] we are working with Onex to preserve the existing entitlements and the terms and conditions of all WestJetters … where some of those schemes were based on public ownership, we’re now ensuring that we have viable schemes to replace that ownership.”

As for Sims himself, he didn’t concern himself much with his future as the company’s CEO.

“I intend to stay here as long as I possibly can,” he said.