WestJet’s CEO step down: The first sign of the leadership apocalypse?

Posted March 18, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

The times they are a-changing my friends.  CEO Sean Durfy steps down from the top spot at Westjet for “personal reasons” and is replaced by industry veteran Gregg Saretsky.  One has to wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg for what’s about to hit high grinding organizations.

There’s lots of speculation going on as to whether Durfy was bumped out of the top gig or not.  Frankly, if his step down was a result of performance hiccups, that’s something you can wrap your head around.  The “personal issues” reason is a much more slippery one and has me wondering if we are seeing what happens when a GenX mindset leader steps into an organization with a value-set grounded in boomer mentality.

Durfy’s replacement, Gregg Sartesky, is a 50 something exec who’s grown up in the high grind airline industry.  Read: Sartesky is a baby boomer who’s used to sacrificing his personal life for the good of the business.  The brilliant generational and balance expert Linda Duxbury of Carleton University refers to baby boomers as “boiled frogs”… put a frog in a pot of boiling water and slowly increase the heat and they’ll actually cook themselves to death.  That’s the boomer approach to work (they term it “team playing”).

Sean Durfy is a GenX guy in his early 40’s with young kids and wife who’s battling a serious illness.  He’s had a track record of stating clearly that family are his #1 priority and seems to be living his personal values and opting out of the boiling WestJet cauldron.

Interesting to see how this scenario will start to play out across industries.  My guess is that, unless organizations take a long-hard-look at what they’re expecting from their senior ranks, we’ll continue to see an ongoing exodous of talent.  Quick…someone pull the stats on how many new entrepreneurial businesses were started last year…

For all the hype and money organizations are spending on “succession planning” and getting the “next generation” of executives ready for the top jobs, one has to wonder if we’re focusing on the right things.  Top performers won’t stay in broken systems and baby boomer execs like Clive Beddoe at WestJet, may need to seriously consider making some internal changes to the system if that really do want to move beyond the boomer ranks to fill top leadership spots.

Are you trying to slot next generation leaders into your old boomer structure?  What do you need to start to change to engage and retain your best and brightest GenX and Y talent?  The best time to have initiated those changes was 1995.  The second best time is now.

Happy leading!


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