Tampa International Airport director decision expected next week

Tampa International Airport will likely have a new boss next week.

Members of the airport's board of directors moved up their decision on a replacement for former executive director Louis Miller to Sept. 29 after two of four finalists withdrew from consideration Monday.

That leaves Lester W. Robinson, 58, former chief executive of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and Joseph Lopano, 55, executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. At least in style, they could hardly cut more different figures.

Lopano drove a cab in New York City during college and worked in various airline marketing jobs. He landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1997 to drive its recruitment of new airline routes.

As Lopano says in his resume, the airport's air service development "has been transformed from a parochial hand-shaking exercise to the most aggressive program in the U.S. and is recognized as a world leader."

He oozed self-confidence during an interview in Tampa last week while peppering descriptions of his management philosophy with can-do phrases: Grab the bull by the horns. Take ownership of an endeavor. Create standards. Hold people accountable.

A professional acquaintance in Dallas describes his "preternatural optimism." Lopano wins over people with this ebullience and spins a good story. But his career at the airport may have hit a roadblock, with only a handful of executives ahead of him who don't appear ready to leave.

Robinson is almost nonchalant talking about his career in accounting, finance and government in Detroit.

He "basically ran" Wayne County, Mich., government in 1989 while the county executive ran for re-election, Robinson said without a shred of bluster in a Tampa interview last week. When the current executive wanted to replace him this year, Robinson stepped aside and consulted for his successor. "There was a lot of politics," he said.

In 2002, Robinson took over then-city owned Detroit Metro, a wreck of an airport dreaded by frequent travelers. He initiated a culture of customer service, from the police to cleaning crews. This year, the airport took the top spot for customer satisfaction among large airports in the 2010 J.D., Power and Associates survey.

On Tuesday, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and fellow board member Steven Burton said they were satisfied with Robinson and Lopano and didn't see any reason to expand the field. "There are two good people remaining," Iorio said. "They were very impressive to me."

Iorio asked consultant Michael Bell of the executive search firm SpencerStuart to do some further checking, including general questions about their leadership and management styles. Iorio also wants to know why Robinson was not offered a new contract to stay in Detroit.

Out of the running are Kevin Dillon, 54, who runs T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I., and Kent George, 63, director of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Dillon told the Providence Journal on Monday that he wanted to stay at the airport to help increase air travel in Rhode Island. T.F. Green is in the late stages of federal approval to expand its main runway.

"Tampa's an exciting opportunity, and it's a great airport," he said. "Right now, I think it's more important for me to carry out and finish up some things I've started here."

George sent a brief e-mail to Bell on Monday on his Broward County government e-mail account. "Following interviews last week, I believe it is in my and my family's best interest to withdraw my name from consideration," he wrote.

TIA's executive director post has been open since March. After nearly 14 years in the job, Miller submitted his resignation amid growing conflict with board members.

Last week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed picked Miller, 62, to run Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest.

The man he beat out for the job was Robinson. He and Lopano will answer questions during a public meeting Sept. 29, where board members expect to pick one to serve as the airport's third executive director since the mid 1960s.

The meeting will be held at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority boardroom on the airport's third floor at 3 p.m.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa International Airport director decision expected next week 09/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 8:08am]

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