Being CEO: It’s About the Journey and the Destination with Candace McGraw

How can you make an organization the size of a small city feel like home?

How can you make an organization the size of a small city feel like home? Candace McGraw is the Chief Executive Officer of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport or CVG. This organization spans 14,000 people and 7,500 acres — and somehow, Candace and her team are able to build a strong sense of community, both for her team and her passengers.

The Phoenix Rising of CVG

CVG used to be a flow-through hub for one main carrier, so at the time, not only were 90-95% of the passengers in the airport not from the region, but the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Area wasn’t even their final destination. They didn’t need a sense of place or community.

But when their main carrier changed their business model, CVG needed to, as well. Now 90-95% of all passengers who come through the airport are local and it has become important to relay all the great things the community has to offer as you come through the airport. For example, they consolidated all the carriers into one main complex and designed the River City mosaic, and once a month, they bring local arts organizations into the airport to perform for the passengers and bring a sense of liveliness and energy into the terminal.

It’s personal

Even if CVG is a huge public entity business, it’s personal to Candace and her team. She loves the business as if it were her own because it’s so impactful. Not only does it impact everyone’s businesses in the community, but grandparents can now afford to see their grandchildren more often, they see people coming in who haven’t been to the area before. Their jobs are bigger than their individual jobs.

The compassionate human element

Doing right by her team is one of Candace’s key metrics. To keep compassion at the forefront, she makes it a point to have authentic conversations with the employees about why certain practices are in place. They also hold training sessions to make sure everybody knows the mission of the airport, what their role is, and how they can impact and help our businesses succeed.

One effort initiated by the team was setting out what people’s career paths could be at the airport. They have classes, internal training, on-campus programs, tuition reimbursement, and lots of other support to help their employees get to where they want to go.

On being involved as a leader and showing up in the community

On the practical side, it helps drive business. You hear what people are saying on the ground, you understand the community in which you are living, and you can then figure out how to connect those insights to very impactful business growth. On the altruistic side, we each have an obligation to make our little corner of our communities better. We have a responsibility to our neighbors and friends to help them in the best way we can.

Women leaders in the industry

At the time Candace was beginning her career as an airport lawyer, there were only two or three women running airports in the US. Now there are about 15 of them, and they have a close sorority: as a group, they get on conference calls every month and then go on retreats once a year.

Worldwide, there is a dearth of women. The International Trade Association is undertaking a gender study and really looking at: how do we get more women? How do we get more people of color involved in the industry? How do we grow that?

Investing in yourself and overcoming obstacles

Candace is a firm believer in learning your craft. There is no substitute for that, no matter how high up the ladder you are. You will always need to learn more.

Focus is likewise critical. Of course you’ll have to scan your environment, but generally, you need a good roadmap and to stay on that roadmap to meet your destination. Candace talks about their one-pager roadmap. If you set out your plan in a simple way and your team understands it, buys into it, and is trained on it, then you’ll achieve great results.

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Candace McGraw (LinkedIn)

CVG Airport


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