Derrick Stanford, president and CEO of the Saint John Airport. Photo: Michael Robinson/ Telegraph-Journal
After an extensive international search, Derrick Stanford was named president and CEO of the Saint John Airport six months ago. Derrick has spent his entire career in increasingly senior sales and marketing roles across North America, selling everything from complex business software solutions to beer, but he has always wanted to run a business and live in New Brunswick. The opportunity to become CEO of the Saint John Airport was the perfect opportunity.
From Montreal originally, Derrick graduated from UNB in ‘87 and worked in Toronto and Ottawa before moving back to New Brunswick. He has lived and worked in the province for over ten years, primarily in the technology sector.
I started our conversation by asking Derrick what’s involved in being the CEO of a regional airport…
A: People don’t realize that the airports were privatized in 1999. So the airport is considered a medium- sized, not-for-profit business. All of the profits are reinvested into the airport for maintenance, capital improvements and that sort of thing. A board of community-nominated members leads us. So it really is an airport run by the people, for the people.
Q: What are the primary sources of revenue for the airport?
A: Land rents, tenant rents and passenger facility fees are the primary sources of revenue – advertising as well. We’ve got a lot of private hangars on site for JDI, Irving Oil, Cooke Aquaculture, The Northrop Group and more. We also have rental car agencies, our restaurants and, of course, parking is a big revenue generator.
Q: What was it about the position of the airport CEO that attracted you?
A: I wanted to be in New Brunswick. And I wanted a leadership role with full responsibility. The opportunity at the airport offered me all those things. It met all the criteria that I wanted in my next assignment.
Q: How does your sales background tie-in to being CEO of an airport?
A: The Saint John airport has an excellent safety record and it has no debt. It’s extremely compliant with all federal regulations. It’s a very well run airport. However, it’s not a very exploited or very marketed airport.
The airport really wanted to up its game with regards to marketing itself and trying to generate more passenger volumes, more air carriers and more tenants. They decided to look for a business leader and a sales leader to run the airport.
Q: What challenges are you finding in becoming more focused on business development?
A: Well, probably the biggest thing is that there’s a never-ending flow of regulatory and compliance obligations. So, at the same speed that I’d like to redirect some funds to business development or marketing resources and programs to attract new carriers, we need to make sure we have a focus on safety as well.
There are also a lot of capital requirements. This is an older airport. It was built in 1952. It’s in good shape but, like any piece of infrastructure, it needs ongoing maintenance and improvements. These are costly things.
So there are all these things I’d like to do, but then there are all these things I need to do and I must do. It can limit what you can do on the marketing and business development side.
Q: What do you think the community wants to see change at the airport?
A: I meet Saint Johners every day who say, “I wish we had some more flights up there.” All I can say is, “I wish I had some more passengers up there.” It’s the cart before the horse or the chicken and egg argument – do you have more flights and hope the people will come or do you keep ramping up the people and making more flights?
Q: New Brunswick has 3 airports within an hour’s drive of each other. Is that unique?
A: Yes, there’s no other market in Canada that has three airports this close – all with similar offerings, similar amenities and all with safe and nice facilities. So you have this weird dynamic going on where a person in Saint John has an excellent choice an hour down the road to Fredericton and an hour the other way to Moncton.
People from Fredericton, Saint John and even arguably people in Moncton can all go on the Air Canada website and see flight costs for all three airports. Then they make their choice. I would argue that Saint John suffers the most from that because we’re in the middle.
Q: How do you differentiate the Saint John airport?
A: We’re making the airport more user-friendly. We upped our presence on social media significantly. We’re trying to do some more cross marketing to build loyalty to the airport.
A Saint Johner’s first inclination should be the Saint John Airport. It shouldn’t be one of four choices or five choices. We’re really trying to create more of a brand image for the airport and more marketplace awareness to help get people to feel connected, to feel that it’s their airport.
Q: What are the biggest lessons learned since becoming CEO?
A: As CEO, you’re balancing expenses, sales, compliance, HR, finance, and the board. So there are a lot of balls in the air to keep juggling.
Q: What advice do you have for someone that has the responsibility of all aspects of an organization?
A: You’ve got to know what you’re good at and you’ve got to know what you’re offering – you’ve got to be very focused. You’ve got to focus on what the organization’s core purpose is and improve on that. If you have 100 priorities, you’ve got no priorities. I try to maintain focus.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence.“A leader’s job is to …”
A: A leader’s job is to set the tone and the vision for the organization. People need to know we’re heading towards a destination. If you have no destination, then any place is fine. So you need to know where we’re going.
Q: What’s on the horizon for the Saint John Airport?
A: We’re trying to convince Air Canada to give us more service as well as convince WestJet, Porter and US Airlines to come here. We’re trying to convince more vacation airlines like Air Transat to come and to convince Sunwing to expand. We’re also working to keep our tenants happy – Irving Oil, JDI, Northrop Industries and Cooke Aquaculture. Cooke is going to build a new hangar, which is exciting.
Q: What can we expect in the coming months?
A: The big news is our vacation season with Sunwing started on Feb. 12. The Market duty free store is opening – it offer travelers all the things they’re used to getting at many other duty free stores: fragrances, tobacco, alcohol, gifts, chocolate and East Coast lifestyle merchandise. The store, although it’s small, is very well done. It’s meant to be reminiscent of the city market in Uptown Saint John. It replicates that look and feel. It’s the only one in New Brunswick that does that.
Q: What’s your favourite airport?
A: In Canada, other than the Saint John Airport, I like the new Edmonton Airport, it’s fantastic. Globally, I like Heathrow. I also like Toronto Island Airport a lot with the walkway. It’s hard to pick which is better.
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This article published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, February 25, 2017.