Skip to main content

Michael Rousseau in 2004.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Michael Rousseau, 61, was tagged as the successor to chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu in 2019, when he was promoted to deputy CEO. Mr. Rousseau, an accountant, assumes the top job at Canada’s biggest airline as it slashes costs, lays off thousands, drops routes and abandons regional airports while bleeding about $16-million every day.

“It’s not the best time to take over the job,” said Jacques Roy, a professor of transportation at HEC Montreal.

Mr. Rousseau, who left Hudson’s Bay Co. as president in 2007 to become Air Canada’s chief financial officer, steered the airline’s efforts to amass a cash cushion as the pandemic halted most global airline traffic. Beginning in March, the airline tapped credit lines, lenders, and stock and bond markets to secure more than $9-billion in liquidity, including $6-billion in cash.

Story continues below advertisement

“Mr. Rousseau played a critical role in Air Canada’s transformation over the last several years,” said Walter Spracklin, a Royal Bank of Canada analyst.

Last week, Air Canada sold and leased back nine Boeing Max 8 aircraft, raising another $485-million as it tries to weather a collapse in demand for air travel expected to last another four to five years. “It’s a question of having enough cash to get through that period,” said Prof. Roy, who predicts demand could rebound to 75 per cent of prepandemic levels in as few as two years.

Mr. Rousseau, whom Air Canada declined to make available for an interview, has also worked at business forms printer Moore Corp. in Chicago, convenience-store operator Silcorp Ltd. and retailer UCS Group. He was born and raised in Cornwall, Ont., and studied at Toronto’s York University.

Mr. Rousseau takes a regular turn presenting Air Canada’s story at investor conferences throughout Canada and the United States, but has a low profile with the public. That is about to change, as he leads Canada’s flagship airline through the crisis and finds himself thrust to the forefront of a battered industry appealing for looser travel rules and government aid.

John Gradek, who teaches aviation leadership at McGill University, said Mr. Rousseau has deftly fostered relationships with the financial community and bolstered Air Canada’s balance sheet. “He really understands the business because he has spent a lot of time in the back office, doing all the things that he has to do to understand what’s going on at Air Canada,” Mr. Gradek said.

After raising enough cash to survive, Mr. Rousseau will sit atop a company heavily indebted. How Mr. Rousseau manages that, in addition to the airline’s relationships with customers, labour, global industry groups, competitors, partner airlines and especially government regulators, will define the next span of his career.

“He’s an Air Canada guy now but I think that the question’s going to be, how is he going to play in the political realm?” Mr. Gradek said. “The jury’s still out on how he can stand up to [Transport Minister Marc] Garneau and the rest of the team.”

Story continues below advertisement

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies