Air Canada's Rovinescu set to retire, CFO named to top job
Calin Rovinescu will retire as Air Canada's top executive in February and hand the reins to Chief Financial Officer Michael Rousseau, who takes over an airline with a strong balance sheet but a huge rebuilding task ahead of it.
Rovinescu rejoined the Montreal-based airline in 2009 and has been credited with saving it from a second brush with bankruptcy. Its 3,575 per cent gain made it the top-performing stock in the S&P/TSX Composite Index for the 10-year period that ended Dec. 31, 2019. Like other major airlines, it lost much of its value since COVID-19 hit, with the stock dropping 68 per cent this year amid the crushing restrictions on air travel.
“I have enjoyed a unique and very special relationship with Air Canada and our outstanding people for over three decades, on the front lines of many of the company's defining moments,” Rovinescu said Friday in a statement. “I am especially proud of the company's transformation over the last dozen years during which we built Air Canada into one of the world's leading carriers.”
Rovinescu criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the summer for Canada's COVID-19 travel restrictions, which have been stricter than a number of other developed countries. A mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travellers and a lack of airline-specific government support have put Canadian airlines at a disadvantage compared to global competitors, he said.
Rousseau joined Air Canada in 2007 to head its finances after a stint as president of Hudson's Bay Co. He added deputy chief executive to his list of titles in 2018 in a move that saw him gain significant oversight over fleet planning, pension fund administration and Air Canada Rouge, the company's budget carrier, among other functions.
“We expect a smooth transition and business as usual following the CEO succession in early 2021, particularly given AC'S Covid-19 mitigation plan is almost complete,” Bank of Nova Scotia analyst Konark Gupta said in a note to investors. “We believe a lot of credit goes to Mr. Rousseau for AC'S enviable balance sheet heading into the current downturn and for strengthening the liquidity position this year.”
Analysts have been anticipating a leadership succession. National Bank of Canada analyst Cameron Doerksen said Rousseau was the “obvious choice,” and ATB Capital Markets analyst Chris Murray said the plan was “logical” given the CFO has been intimately involved with many parts of the business.