Aimia Inc. has named Nathaniel Felsher as president and chief strategy officer less than a week after announcing a deal to sell its flagship Aeroplan loyalty program to a consortium led by Air Canada.
Mr. Felsher, who joins Aimia from Deutsche Bank in New York, where he co-headed the firm’s aviation corporate and investment banking group, will report directly to chief executive Jeremy Rabe.
“Having worked with [Mr. Felsher] in the past, I believe his knowledge of the global loyalty and aviation space, strong relationships and corporate finance skills will be a huge asset to our business going forward,” Mr. Rabe said in a statement on Monday.
Aimia announced last week it would sell its Aeroplan loyalty program to the Air Canada-led group, which includes Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Visa Canada Corp.
The future of Aeroplan had faced questions since Air Canada rolled out plans to start its own loyalty rewards program in 2020 after its partnership with Aimia expired.
The tentative $450-million Aeroplan deal reassured members they can continue to redeem their points for Air Canada flights, but left Aimia’s direction up in the air.
Aimia chairman Robert Brown has called the transition a “pivotal period in our corporate history.”
Aimia’s other assets include a 48-per-cent stake in Aeromexico’s loyalty program, PLM, and a 20-per-cent share of AirAsia’s loyalty program, Think Big.
Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University’s business school, called Aimia’s focus on data analytics a “hot, hot area” with potential for growth.
“They’re saying, ‘We need to figure out what to do here, so we brought in a senior person to do that.’
“Data analytics in a specific industry set – frequent-flyer miles and loyalty programs – is very useful. And they have some global experience, not only themselves, but the new hire,” Mr. Moore said in an interview.
Aimia’s global experience has sometimes come at a cost. In February, the company announced it had sold Nectar, a British loyalty program, to British retailer Sainsbury for $105-million, 11 years after Aimia bought the scheme for $755-million.
“Theoretically, they’re well-positioned. But the devil’s in the details of what is the strategy and how do you deliver it,” Mr. Moore said.
Aimia management said in a conference call earlier this month it has considered further asset sales and a wind-up of the company. GMP Securities analyst Martin Landry speculated that Aimia “could resemble a holding company with limited assets.”
The agreement would leave the Montreal-based analytics firm with more than $1-billion in cash to invest elsewhere, according to Mittleman Brothers, Aimia’s largest stakeholder at 17.6 per cent.
Analysts predicted about 1,000 Aeroplan employees – roughly 60 per cent of Aimia’s workforce – would transfer to Air Canada if the deal goes ahead.
“With the sale of Aeroplan, the focus for Aimia investors will shift to actual net proceeds received from the sale and the company’s subsequent capital redeployment strategy,” RBC Dominion Securities analyst Drew McReynolds said last week.
The Aeroplan deal is expected to wrap up this fall.