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President’s Message How to Fire Your Airport Manager By James K. Coyne L et me begin with a cordial reminder to all my airport manager friends that this commentary is not about you. You know who you are — and aviation businesses need more people like you helping us build a strong air transportation system. But for the rest of you, this article’s headline reflects our collective concern that, frankly, we don’t seem to be on the same team. Jack Welch, GE’s iconic chairman for over 20 years, was famous for a management philosophy that encouraged GE managers to fire one subordinate out of ten every year. Donald Trump has taken his “You’re fired!” message and turned it into a virtual trademark. Suffice it to say, the private sector is filled with managers who know how to use a pink slip. The public sector is a different story. Every airport is unique, but all management problems fall under common headings — what I call the three perils of unprofessionalism: a Paucity of Purpose, Pretend Partnerships, and Procedural Pettiness. Sometimes these management flaws stem from a confused political structure or an airport commission that has an agenda all its own. In a few cases, the airport manager is as much a victim as the aviation businesses that are his tenants. But most managers have the power and independence to set their own course — sometimes with disastrous results. Their greatest mistake is to simply misunderstand what their job is and how it relates to the fundamental purpose of a public airport. Airports exist (and justly get billions of dollars in federal grants) in order to promote the economic well-being of their community. They generate jobs, create wealth, support the delivery of a wide variety of critical services, improve the economic efficiency of virtually every local enterprise, and bring direct and indirect benefits to the entire citizenry. They are not just a big piece of real estate with runways, hangars, tenants, and the occasional airplane taking off. They are not merely places to board an airliner. They are not just a ‘department’ of the sponsoring political unit. They are not a clubhouse for a collection of aircraft owners. They are not just a big interchange and parking lot that connects cars with highways in the sky. They are much more. Airports are most communities’ largest and most valuable public investment — the one that can (or should) play the biggest role in promoting long-lasting economic development and growth in the surrounding region. Your airport is your town’s most important connection to the world! Many airport managers can’t see this big picture. For them, it’s just a question of keeping the political higher-ups off their backs, keeping the grass mowed and the snow plowed, and learning to say “no” to anything that looks like a new idea. They see their job as a caretaker — and the thought of taking any steps in a new direction is terrifying. Others are just real estate managers, like superintendants of a big shopping mall, whose job is to collect rents, maintain security, and paint the lines in the parking lot. These managers don’t understand the many facets of aviation and simply don’t belong at an airport. Another critical test of a good airport manager is in the partnerships he or she creates. Each manager, like the airport itself, sits at the center of scores of external relationships that collectively add value to the airport Continued on page 8 Aviation Business Journal | 3rd Quarter 2011 7

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Aviation Business Journal Third Quarter 2011

Aviation Business Journal Third Quarter 2011

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