I know Paul Campbell as a good man and a thoughtful, hard-working state senator.
By most accounts, he was an excellent executive manager in the aluminum manufacturing business.
But there are realities for the good senator and the Charleston County Aviation Authority to consider. The authority board named Sen. Campbell its executive director on Tuesday.
My port management mentor was Don Welch, and early in his career he would declare that any good general manager could run a port authority. Over time, Mr. Welch realized just how wrong he was.
The binding similarity of the ports authority and the aviation authority is that they are both publicly owned enterprises. Governance and management are demanding hybrid propositions, very unlike typical boards and commissions. The State Ports Authority and the Aviation Authority have “public” purposes. They compete in demanding marketplaces where sophisticated profit-motivated carriers and the federal government define most of the rules and constraints.
Success requires a flowing blend of progressive strategic planning and marketing, and investments of monies that are technically “public.” There must be a sensible balance of development and mitigation of the impacts of development in the broader community.
And this governance-management operation must be executed in an arena of transparency and accountability with rules defined by law — and public perception.
In other words, the Aviation Authority is not an aluminum manufacturing plant. That’s not to say it is a more difficult management proposition; it is to say it is very different. But surely the senator understands that, and he no doubt is eager to climb his learning curve.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey is all in with this appointment. So are Charleston’s Joe Riley and Mount Pleasant’s Billy Swails.
“He’s the right person for this particular time,” says Summey.
That term, “this particular time,” has special public meaning.
The Aviation Authority has never been more important to the economic progress of the Lowcountry. The Authority’s governance and strategic management have never been more important, either. And so we have to figure that the board and Sen. Campbell understand the score and they know what they’re doing. Right?
Public perception of what’s happening and public wonderment of what’s really happening at the Aviation Authority add up to a huge head-scratching concern. Some good folks occupy aviation board seats; many are my friends.
Surely they appreciate that the board has become the proverbial rock beneath which the public now wants to see.
Another question — will Sen. Campbell have the time to perform the critical job responsibilities of Executive Director Campbell?
I was CEO of the Port of New Orleans for 16 years. It was a full-time-plus job that really did demand “24-7” attention. And can any of us imagine Jim Newsome doing his work as CEO of the State Ports Authority as a sitting state senator?
Campbell says he can do both jobs and will remotely manage the Aviation Authority as necessary when the senate is in session. So which will be his day job?
Good luck with that one, senator.
Beyond the reported boardroom drama over the last year and Sue Stevens essentially firing her board with cryptic declarations of “improprieties and unethical behavior,” the Aviation Authority has pushed many positive buttons.
It has teed up a $199 million terminal improvements project. The SPA’s current capital improvements budget is $125 million. At both agencies, completing projects on time and on budget is a management imperative.
The authority has a critical role in nurturing Boeing’s expanding operations. And the Charleston International Airport is a strategic asset to virtually every sector of the Lowcountry’s economy — especially for the hospitality industry.
These roles turn on smart planning and marketing, and we are reminded that a priority of strategic governance is to assure sound strategic management.
So the Aviation Authority’s mission is gaining both strategic importance and public interest — at a time when its two top senior executives have left or will soon depart. Maybe the board’s strategy is to settle what appears to be chaotic boardroom politics, keep expansion and improvement projects on an even keel and begin the process of rebuilding a management team.
Someone might consider consulting with the American Association of Airport Executives headquartered in Washington, D.C.
This 85-year-old organization comprises thousands of executives from 850 large and small airports. Its core purpose is to promote professionalism among airport managers and best-practice governance of airport authorities.
The Aviation Authority now has the rapt attention of its constituent public and its stakeholders as it works to connect so many unexplained dots. As Mayor Summey suggests, this is a big-deal, big-time moment for the Authority.
And for the public, the stakes are very high.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston City Councilman. He was president/CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities from 1979-86 and president/CEO of the Port of New Orleans from 1986-2002. He is a consultant on port authority governance. He can be reached at email@example.com.