Features

Andrew Kay – WestJet 

Facing legal challenges to keep WestJet flying 

As an in-house lawyer for WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline, Associate General Counsel Andrew Kay can immerse himself in the industry’s legal challenges. From navigating regulatory compliance to negotiating contracts with suppliers, Kay understands his immense responsibility to protect the company’s legal interest.  

Andrew Kay | Associate General Counsel | WestJet 

Andrew with the Norris trophy (Mark Giordano won this for the Calgary Flames a few years ago and it came to WestJet).

With a diverse background encompassing multiple divisions within the organization, Kay has a wealth of experience and expertise, rendering him an indispensable asset in WestJet’s legal affairs. His extensive knowledge and insights are vital in shaping the company’s framework, ensuring compliance with regulations, and facilitating smooth operations in the dynamic aviation industry. 

Kay’s purview encompasses a broad spectrum of responsibilities, from intricacies in IT and digital domains to tackling commercial and marketing challenges. His deep-seated knowledge extends to areas such as intellectual property, privacy legislation, and vendor acquisition, ensuring that WestJet operates within the bounds of legal compliance while maximizing opportunities for growth and innovation.  

With his dedication and comprehensive understanding, Kay plays a crucial role in shaping WestJet’s legal strategy and safeguarding its position as a leader in the aviation sector.  

“With a focus on detail and a comprehensive understanding of aviation industry intricacies, I am committed to maintaining the company’s integrity and success,” Kay says. 

Transformative projects 

One of the significant projects Kay has been involved in was the creation and dissolution of WestJet’s separate Ultra-Low-Cost Carrier (ULCC) known as Swoop. He is proud of integrating different groups and successfully addressed seniority and job placement challenges, ensuring a seamless transition for employees. Ultimately, Swoop was re-absorbed into WestJet. 

Andrew Kay | Associate General Counsel | WestJet 

Andrew with his Tail 850 for WestJet from Boeing in Seattle

“Although intellectually, it is great to learn new skills when creating, then ultimately dissolving, a business, it is a challenge for the people behind that business,” Kay continues. “Swoopsters lived and breathed magenta, so making sure that these talented people found a place to land in the WestJet Group was really important.” 

Kay played an important role in the acquisition and merger of Sunwing Vacations & Airlines by WestJet. This merger aimed to position the WestJet Group as one of the largest tour operators in North America, enhancing its presence in the vacation planning and booking category. Kay effectively managed numerous legal aspects of the merger, including personnel matters, contracts, vendors and marketing initiatives. 

Looking ahead, Kay remains focused on driving WestJet’s legal operations forward. With an emphasis on getting back to basics after the challenges posed by the pandemic, he aims to elevate the company’s legal framework while embracing new opportunities for growth and collaboration. 

“As we navigate complex legal landscapes, we focus on ensuring seamless transitions and driving growth opportunities. I’m dedicated to contributing to WestJet’s success and enhancing our position in the aviation industry,” Kay says. 

Successful team leadership 

Kay stands as a beacon of leadership within the company’s legal team. Kay strongly focuses on team dynamics and fosters a positive work environment, so he ensures that his team thrives despite challenges. 

Andrew Kay | Associate General Counsel | WestJet 

Andrew with the legal team at a Blue Jays game

Helping to lead a team of 13 individuals, Kay acknowledges the ongoing struggle in recruiting and retaining talent, particularly in an industry where cost considerations often challenge competitive compensation packages. However, he emphasizes the unique perks associated with the aviation industry and the opportunity to collaborate with an exceptional legal team as factors that attract top talent to WestJet. 

Despite the demanding nature of his role, Kay finds solace and fulfillment in the camaraderie shared among his team members. For him, the highlight of his work lies in the collaborative spirit and the bonds forged within the legal department and across other divisions of the company. 

“We often say, ‘we take our job seriously, but not ourselves’ at WestJet. We really like to embody that in the legal team, and I like to keep that alive with all my internal client groups,” Kay says. 

Kay admits that the job isn’t without its difficulties. Examples like the rigorous emergency response training and the relentless influx of work present ongoing challenges. Nevertheless, it’s the unwavering support within the team that propels them forward. 

Navigating the legal landscape in the aviation industry, Kay acknowledges the heightened regulatory environment, which places immense responsibility on his team to ensure compliance and address evolving regulations. With WestJet frequently in the spotlight, the legal team’s efforts often find themselves under public scrutiny, highlighting the critical importance of their work. 

A lifelong passion for law 

Kay’s journey is a testament to his resilience, adaptability and unwavering passion for the legal profession. His interest in law was sparked by academic success and cultural influences. Excelling in school and clinching the grade 12 law award, Kay’s fascination with the legal world was fueled by the captivating narratives penned by John Grisham and televised legal dramas. 

Andrew Kay | Associate General Counsel | WestJet 

Mountain biking with fellow WestJet AGC, Jordan Otrhalek

After obtaining his law degree from the University of Alberta, Kay embarked on a fruitful stint in private practice with McLennan Ross, honing his skills and gaining valuable experience. Despite his initial enthusiasm, Kay questioned his career path and contemplated a change. At this pivotal juncture, an opportunity at WestJet presented itself, offering a new direction and fresh prospects. 

Joining WestJet in 2006 as manager of legal services, Kay’s role evolved over the years, culminating in his current position as associate general counsel. His tenure at WestJet spans almost 18 years, marked by significant contributions to the airline’s legal department and corporate governance. 

“Transitioning through various positions and embracing opportunities has been crucial for my development. I take pride in making meaningful contributions while balancing family commitments and personal pursuits,” Kay says. 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 15, 2024

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