Reflections on Building a Career at Canada's National Flag Carrier

 
  Anna Innis is National Manager, Passenger Sales USA at Air Canada.

Anna Innis is National Manager, Passenger Sales USA at Air Canada.

 

I Want to Start with the Elephant in the Room. I am not Canadian.

This feels a lot like a confession.

Next month marks 23 years that I have worked for a Canadian company. Next month also marks 23 years as an Air Canada employee and therefore, an Ambassador of our neighbors to The North.  But ties to Canada began, for me, long before I “flew the flag” for its country’s Flag Ship Carrier. It began in the 1940's.

Landing in Canada

My Dad was 14 years young when he boarded a ship to Canada from Greece.  His parents were dead.  His older siblings would all remain in Greece. And he, an Immigrant, was on his way to becoming Canadian. He soon called Windsor his home, working as a bus boy at a Chinese restaurant called The Condor with other Greek Immigrants. He later married my Mom and I would be born in Michigan. He died when I was only 8 years old and I know that those years were some of the best years of his life. The last trip he took before he died was to St. John’s, Newfoundland. My entire family went to the Muskegon, Michigan airport to see him off. So, maybe Canada was already calling me too.

Answering the phones

At 25 years old, I left a high-profile PR job with a division of General Motors in the Midwest and hit the road for warmer skies. I drove to Tampa, Florida with no job, where skies were shiny and bright. I took a job as a reservations agent for Air Canada in Tampa and a 23-year relationship began defining so much of my adulthood.

The years to follow brought me to places around the world, where I felt proud to travel with the Maple Leaf on my bag. It set me apart. I felt safer, accepted and remained quietly behind the force field of the Maple Leaf Brand, as I journeyed.

In recent years, most of my relationships and joys came from time in Toronto & Montreal. It always felt like home. The moment I stepped into the 787 Dreamliner Los Angeles to Toronto, I could relax. Breathe. Think. Jumping on the UpExpress and, only in minutes, contacting close friends and sharing food and stories at some of my favorite restaurants became my solace. But in recent years I came home to Cali.

Finding my place in the world

Throughout my career with Air Canada, I moved in and out of California three times. I couldn’t stay away.  In the last two years, I made a conscious decision to really engage in the Los Angeles community and take it as my home. Working for Air Canada opened so many doors for me. I’ve met heads of states, traveled the world, given training in Portuguese, built a team, had numerous mentors, and collaborated with people from around the world. But one thing I never did over 23 years, was deciding to call a place home and own my city.

For years, people didn’t know where I lived.  I didn’t want anyone at headquarters in Montreal to think I couldn’t take on any assignment or do anything.  Just last week a client from Rhode Island called me and asked why I wasn’t at a reception since I lived in NYC. We had a laugh when I told her I live in California.

Working outside Home Country means that you are beyond time zones and geography. And, there’s a fine line of being everywhere and finding balance. Many colleagues didn’t realize our entire team was Home Office based, thus creating different challenges to create engagement and staying on point. But that is exactly why I have stayed. My career outside home country is like swimming in water instead of sitting in a cubicle. I have had the freedom to make it what and how I wanted. And my Air Canada family trusted me to do so.

When I was asked to write a piece on what it is like working for a Canadian company in the US, I come back to the same place where I started. Air Canada has been a family that raised me with Canadian values, setting me apart in a land of 400 million strong, where I now sit on The Board of Directors for CAST, Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, led by a strong Canadian Woman CEO and oversee one of the most diverse teams in the country for Air Canada. And, there has never been a more relevant time, in my lifetime, where I have been more proud to be associated with a Canadian company, and a country, that welcomes immigrants & diversity. So, 23 years, 6 cities and one divorce later, I’m just getting started. Wherever that takes me.

Anna Innis is National Manager, Passenger Sales - USA at Air Canada. MAPLE is proud to count Anna, her team, and Air Canada as part of our cross-border community.