Since its beginning as Air Canada’s popular rewards program, Aimia Inc. has broken off and soared to become one of the world’s most prominent loyalty management firms. With more than 30 offices in 20 countries, Aimia works with the world’s top brands, providing coalition loyalty, proprietary loyalty, and loyalty analytics services. And its secret to success? Well, Nicole St-Pierre, the company’s general manager of people and culture, says it’s to be found in Aimia’s employees.
“Our employees and our talent matter to us,” she says. “Our goal is to build an employee experience and an employer brand that is going to help us deliver on our strategic initiative to have the best people and the best culture.”
The company, headquartered in Montréal, was founded in 1984 as Aeroplan, Air Canada’s frequent-flyer program, and from a small group of people within the airline’s marketing department, it grew to become a completely different entity. St-Pierre was brought on in 2003 to help manage the company’s growth as it transitioned into independence.
“When I joined, we were around 150 management employees with 1,000 call-centre agents, and we only worked in Canada,” she says. “At that time, we were in a position where we had the opportunity to build the firm pretty much from scratch and construct a structure that would support and nurture a growing company with a very different corporate culture than the one it had just left.”
St-Pierre helped Aimia reorganize itself before it became a public entity in 2005. “We needed to shift in order to be organized as a public company,” she says. “We needed to learn a new set of rules and put in place a proper governing structure. This is what gave us the tools necessary to grow globally.”
She also credits two of Aimia’s recent acquisitions with helping the company blossom into the loyalty management giant it is today. In 2007, it purchased the Loyalty Management Group (LMG), a loyalty marketing company that owns and operates Nectar, the United Kingdom’s leading coalition loyalty program, which gave Aimia roots in Europe. Soon after, in 2009, it also acquired Carlson Marketing, a Minnesota-based firm with offices across the world. As a result, St-Pierre says, Aimia is now known as the global leader in loyalty management. “We are recognized as a leader in our industry,” she says. “What we’ve established as an organization is that we are capable of helping to build loyalty programs with top brands, which speaks to our credibility.”
Aimia helped to cement its place as the industry’s top firm by placing an emphasis on innovation as well as its employees. In order to help it deliver on its aggressive growth objective, the firm’s Canadian region’s executives agreed that they needed to develop leadership within the organization and decided to implement both a leadership development program and a mentorship program to help it attract and retain the best of the crop.
“The kind of leadership that this global organization requires is very different from what was needed when I joined 10 years ago,” St-Pierre says. “Our goal is to be able to offer a variety of learning experiences that are aligned and [that] support our business objectives and values. We want to offer the right learning experience to the right people.”
Account supervisor Julia Dunn is one of the many Aimia employees who have benefitted from participating in the mentoring program. “Having a mentor program made me feel that, as an Aimia employee, the company was also invested in my personal development,” Dunn says.
Dunn says her mentoring relationship also allowed her to learn in the context of her day-to-day reality by discussing her personal experiences with someone who understood the complexities of her work environment. “Such tailored training as this is something that is hard to achieve in a standard one-size-fits-all classroom,” she says.
St-Pierre seconds Dunn’s enthusiasm for the program. “The loyalty market is becoming a bit crowded; we’re all competing for the same excellent resources,” she says. “We have the chance to have several competent, passionate young leaders who simply want to grow within the organization because they see, like I do, all of the opportunities Aimia offers.”