Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano up for another raise

TAMPA — Another day, another raise for Joe Lopano.

The chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport is poised to get his third raise in 20 months at today's meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority governing board.

The chairman of the board, Robert Watkins, proposed the 5 percent merit raise for Lopano. If the board approves, the CEO's base salary would become $330,750 starting Oct. 1.

"I personally think he's done a fantastic job," Watkins said, "and performed beyond all expectations."

Lopano was hired in January 2011. In January 2012, the board voted to give him a $50,000 raise. Then in October 2012, the board voted for a 5 percent, or $15,000, merit raise. Lopano also had three contract extensions to go with the two raises during that 20-month span. The last extension was especially contentious — and potentially lucrative.

In May, the board voted 4-1 to extend Lopano's contract to 2018 and set up a $500,000 bonus for him to collect if he continues to run the airport for the next five years.

The only board member to vote no was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who vociferously opposed giving Lopano a bonus — it was the board's version of a noncompete clause — and extending a contract that already ran to 2016.

The board's discussion and vote of this latest raise should go much more smoothly. In preparation for Lopano's annual performance review today, all five board members have already given him glowing written evaluations — even the mayor, who gave Lopano seven of the top "outstanding" grades and eight lesser "exceptional" marks.

Lopano received an average score of 4.85, with 5 being the highest-possible score. Watkins, who gave Lopano a perfect score, said it would be hard to argue that Lopano hasn't accomplished every task he was hired to tackle when he started work in 2011.

The new CEO's No. 1 mandate was to bring international flights back to Tampa. The airport has since added direct flights to Cuba and Switzerland. But this summer, Lopano landed the biggest deal of his tenure: Copa Airlines announced it would start nonstop flights to Panama City, Panama, in December, giving Tampa Bay its first-ever route to a major Latin-American hub.

Lopano also has mapped out the future of the airport. In May, he unveiled a $2.5 billion vision for Tampa International. The new master plan calls for the airport to build an off-site car rental facility and tram by 2017, freeing the main terminal for expansion sometime after 2020. That rental facility will allow the airport to develop new businesses on-site, too.

Lopano has also paid down the airport's debt, improved its profitability and, in 2012, brought back raises for staffers. In 2008, the airport stopped giving raises during the economic downturn, but under Lopano's plan employees are now eligible for performance-based raises up to 5 percent. That's why the chairman said he proposed this 5 percent, $15,750 raise for Lopano.

"I certainly don't think it's too much," Watkins said, "and it's in line" with other airport raises.

Airport staff did not respond to a request for comment from Lopano. Buckhorn declined to comment Wednesday.

"I think he's doing a stellar job in every case," the chairman said of Lopano. "How could anyone not applaud him and his team's efforts for Copa? That's a very important thing for the Tampa Bay area and the airport. It opens us up to international flights in a really big way.

"He's put together a great team and they've put together a great marking effort. He's made efforts to reach out to our community partners in a big way. We wouldn't have Copa without that kind of cooperation."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.

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