Founded just 20 years ago, Cargojet is now the leading cargo air service provider in Canada. It delivers some 1.4 million kilograms of goods — lobsters, flowers, medical equipment, cars, anything that needs to be moved — across the country every day and has an on-time rate of 98.5%. The company is doing so well, it has acquired nine additional jets, four of them 777s, which have double the capacity, and readied the company for expansion into the international market, Chief Corporate Officer Pauline Dhillon said.
However, none of it would have been possible without its dedicated team of nearly 1,300 people working across Canada. “Our greatest strength is our team. Our team allows us to win every night,” Dhillon (pictured above right with Scotiabank's Jake Lawrence) said.
In 2001 Ajay Virmani, Cargojet’s President and CEO, bought 50% of Canada 3000 Cargo with plans to expand the services and rebrand with a new name and logo. Two months later, Canada 3000 went bankrupt, enabling Virmani to acquire 100% of the business and rename it Cargojet Inc.
Dhillon, who played an active role in developing the brand, spoke with Jake Lawrence, CEO and Group Head, Global Banking and Markets at Scotiabank for a recent virtual event for Scotiabank leaders. Their conversation ranged from how a winning team is the foundation for building a successful company, how to retain top performers and how every stakeholder, from employees, to suppliers, partners and customers, is a valued part of Cargojet’s success.
“When you have a happy and productive team, you will have good end results for your customers. We are all focused on the same end goal, which is to provide our customers with a reliable, safe, value-added service,” Dhillon said.
Cargojet keeps its team engaged by taking ownership from the top down for mistakes or “learning lessons” and fixing whatever went wrong, but also by celebrating the company’s wins with the team, Dhillon said.
To make celebrations meaningful, Cargojet brought onboard some special brand ambassadors: Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, who helped the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship, and Canadian rapper Drake. Once a year, Virmani, Dhillon and the ambassadors fly across the country to meet with staff at barbeques or pizza nights, events that have been on hold through the pandemic. “Someone in Halifax may watch the Raptors but they’ve never had the opportunity to meet them, and these guys walk in and sign some balls and take some pictures. It makes [staff] feel like they are in an exclusive club,” Dhillon said.
These celebrations were also an opportunity for team members who might never get a chance to see a game, to win tickets to the private box at Scotiabank Arena and be hosted by Cargojet for the weekend along with colleagues from across the country.
The strong team spirit at Cargojet is particularly evident when team members are willing to step out of their roles to lend a hand when needed. Recently, the Halifax team had a situation where an employee’s girlfriend tested positive for COVID-19, and that meant he and his 24 colleagues had to be tested and could not return to the job until they were cleared by the provincial health department. It was a Friday evening, Dhillon said, noting there were two flights to load and offload the next morning. Fortunately, Cargojet keeps its maintenance and commercial groups working in close proximity to each other at airports, which meant the maintenance crew were able to go in the next morning and load the aircraft. “At a time when the company needed them, they stepped up,” Dhillon said. “That’s what we do as a team.”
Dhillon also shared how Cargojet has been able to benefit from leveraging its strengths and filling in with good partners in areas where it needs help. “Scotiabank really stepped up for us earlier this year in the deal that we did. You gave us the ability to further grow our brand and our organization,” Dhillon said, referring to the company’s expansion plans.
As for the past year, the most significant changes for Cargojet have been the increase in e-commerce coupled with a decrease in passenger flights. According to Dhillon, before the pandemic, Canada’s e-commerce rate was five to seven years behind the US and UK, but in the past year the five-year lag has been caught up. “We don’t know when … the airlines will be functioning at the levels they were before the pandemic but [this time] has given Cargojet the opportunity to capture those markets,” she said.
Early this year, Cargojet entered an Air Transportation Services Agreement with Amazon Canada Fulfillment Services, expanding on its existing relationship with the giant online retailer as sales heated up. As part of the agreement, Cargojet will operate two Amazon-owned aircraft within Canada starting in mid-2021.
As Cargojet continues to expand, Dhillon is committed to maintaining the team spirit that has made the company successful to date. “We built our core values, we’ve got a strong team, we’ve got an excellent customer base that supports us, we’ve got great partners. It’s just the beginning of a wonderful future for the company,” she said.