The 50-year overnight success story of Mr. Porter

On Wednesday last week, I was listening Bob Deluce, the CEO of Porter Airlines, speak at MaRS’ CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101. The next day I found myself on a Porter flight to Ottawa enjoying firsthand the amenities and the convenience of Porter.

Porter seems like an overnight success story — it took only three short years to transform the air travel landscape of time-sensitive business travelers traveling to and from Toronto!?  But it’s actually a much longer story than that — its success is built upon the experience of the Deluce family who have been in regional airlines for 50 years. Bob himself learned to fly in 1966 at the Toronto City Centre Airport. Right from those early days, he saw the opportunity to revamp that airport to create a new kind of regional airline.

In 2006, Porter was the fledgling little airline that could, one which proposed a unique business model to take on ingrained titans in the highly regulated airline industry.  As if the huge competitors and industry weren’t hurdles enough, it also faced hurdles on a number of other fronts, including significant opposition from Toronto Island residents.  Many thought it would fail for sure.  Bob referred to these early challenges as “speed bumps” rather than challenges, noting that they benefited from the regulatory delays, for example, with more time to raise equity and attract and hire the right people.

The secret to Porter’s success?    Exactly what the brand promises:  speed, convenience and service.   How do they achieve it?  With a business model that is focused on revamping regional travel:  using a single type of fleet especially suited to shorthaul flights and frequent routes to destinations needed by their target market (time-sensitive business travelers).  They don’t compete on price alone, because other airlines can simply lower their prices to match them. In addition, the brand is fun and fresh (the raccoon mascot known as Mr. Porter is playful and mischievous) and the look of the airline with the uniforms and pill-box hats of the flight attendants harken back to an era of flying with dignity. It’s no surprise that Porter’s tagline is “Flying Refined” or that one of the definitions of the verb “porter” (Bob pointed out) is “to deliver with dignity.” Porter has certainly delivered on its promise.

To hear more about Porter from Bob Deluce, check out the video below.

Downloads and resources

Weren’t able to attend the class? Need some notes or want to look something up? Click below for all of the goodies from the lecture. Watch the video and the slide presentation below.

CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 2009/10 – Week 19 – Lived it Lecture featuring Robert Deluce from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.