With investors fretting about its future, Aimia Inc., the parent company of the popular Aeroplan rewards program, has quickly named a new chief executive to cap off a tumultuous year.
Jeremy Rabe, who previously ran Premier Loyalty & Marketing, a joint venture between the airline Aeromexico and Aimia, and was most recently a partner at a private equity firm, has taken over Aimia. The company’s previous CEO, David Johnston, abruptly announced his departure in late April, in what was billed as a mutual decision between Mr. Johnston and the board of directors.
In a statement on Tuesday, Aimia’s board chair Bob Brown positioned the new hire as a victory for the company. “We are thrilled that a candidate of Jeremy’s calibre became available to us so quickly, allowing for a smooth transition in this critical role,” he wrote.
However, the chain of events that led to Mr. Rabe’s appointment was rather chaotic. He also takes over a company whose future has become uncertain – in only one year.
Last May, Rupert Duchesne, the CEO who took Aimia public in 2005, suddenly announced his retirement, attributing it to health issues. (He later revealed the condition was chronic mercury poisoning.) Mr. Johnston was immediately named as his replacement.
One day after the leadership change, Air Canada announced it would not renew its contract with Aeroplan, a partnership that comes due in 2020. The airline also revealed that it would start its own in-house loyalty program, throwing Aeroplan’s future into question.
Investors were spooked. Aeroplan contributes the lion’s share of Aimia’s profit, and the company's shares plummeted 63 per cent in a single day.
In the year since, Aimia has suspended its dividend, sold off a major British business for next to nothing and wrestled with employee departures, including its former chief financial officer.
The company’s financials have also fallen under the spotlight. Aimia’s debt now has a junk rating from DBRS Ltd., largely owning to concerns about its cash flow once the Air Canada contract expires.
Mr. Johnston was initially billed as the man to plot a future without the lucrative Air Canada contract, a deal that allows Aeroplan to buy seats at heavily discounted prices. That task now falls to Mr. Rabe, who joins Aimia after partnering with Mittleman Brothers, a New York-based fund, that became the company’s top shareholder this year.
Mittleman initially threatened a proxy fight ahead of Aimia’s annual investor meeting in April, but the investor reached a deal with Aimia’s board that saw Mittleman gain two board seats – one of which went to Mr. Rabe. The fact that he is now also CEO, and so quickly, puts Mr. Johnston’s sudden departure in a new light. Aimia declined to comment for this story.
In recent weeks, Aimia has start to reveal its strategy for Aeroplan once the Air Canada contract ends. Come 2020, the frequent flier program is likely to allow members to fly on more airlines – although the extent of this freedom is still unclear. Royal Bank of Canada’s Avion program, by contrast, guarantees flights on “any” airline.
Mr. Rabe had yet to be hired as CEO when this strategy was revealed, but it is likely that he and Mittleman were at least briefed on the plans.
Before the two parties teamed up, Mr. Rabe was a partner at private equity firm Advent International, which he joined in 2015. Before that, he ran Premier Loyalty & Marketing for four years, which is joint venture between Aeromexico and Aimia that manages the Club Premier loyalty program. Aimia has a 49-per-cent stake in the company.