Mark Williams, President, Sunwing Airlines

Open Jaw

Where were you born? In Toronto. I’ve lived in the GTA all my life except for 12 years in Calgary and two in Dallas.

How long have you been in the business? For 30 years. I got in on the accounting side, as I’m a CPA.

How many people work for you? 2,300.

What’s the best part of the job? The variety of the work. And the people. Despite that, it’s a difficult industry to make money in, and has a high stress level. There are some people who thrive on stress. I like a little stress in my life.

What did you want to be as a kid? Probably a musician. An accountant?  Never! I grew up playing the piano and taking classical voice training. But I’m no Colin Hunter  (Founder and Chairman of the Sunwing Travel Group who is a well-known crooner) – the voice is an instrument and if you don’t use it, you lose it.

What was your first-ever job? When I was in high school, working in a printing factory in shipping, receiving and sweeping the floor.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? (laughs) Start an airline!

Any guilty pleasures? Food. And music. I still like listening to alternative rock music, some obscure stuff. I’ve been to the Coachella Music Festival in California three times.

What’s on your tablet? A lot of work stuff, music, bridge. I love playing bridge. And I have to say I’m pretty good at it.

What do people not know about you? That I really love to cook. I find it relaxing.

Any hobbies or interests? I play tennis, golf, and really enjoy family time. Our boys are now 27 and 24 years old. 

When were you happiest? I’m really happy in our backyard – we have no cottage so that is our oasis.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self? "Be patient."

Who do you most admire in the industry? Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines. He founded an airline in Dallas, against American Airlines, against the odds. I like his philosophy about work and how he treats people: “Our employees are number one and our customers are number two.” – i.e. keep your staff happy and they’ll look after the passengers. 

What skill or talent do you admire in someone? The ability to speak well in public. I’m better than I was, but I used to really dread it.

What’s at the top of your bucket list? Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. 

Ever had a brush with fame? A few, mostly while flying. I once sat next to comedian Catherine O’Hara who was a real sweetheart and talked my ear off.

What keeps you awake at night? It depends on the time of year. This is a tough industry, it might be fuel, the dollar, right now changes in flight duty hours limits.

How do you spend your frequent flyer points? Helping family members come to visit us. My mother-in-law, my brother-in-law.

What is your greatest extravagance? Wine.

How do you stay fit when you travel? Not as well as I should. Walking, mostly. 

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be? Government involvement and the resulting costs and taxes. When you consider that five million Canadians drive across the border every year to board planes in the U.S. to save money, it’s an easy fix. But it falls on deaf ears.

If you could sit next to anyone on a long-haul flight, who would it be? My wife.

What kind of car do you drive? A Porsche Macan – the small SUV. 

Do you have a favourite charity? Anything to do with cancer, because there’s a lot in our family.

What will be the biggest challenge for the industry in the next 12 months? Fuel cost. And the weak Canadian dollar.

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years? Retired - and relaxing!   

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