Joe Lopano has made a good start in his two years as chief executive of Tampa International Airport. The airport is more of a go-to destination, its bottom line has improved and the facility plays a larger role in shaping the region's economy. But these accomplishments are still a work in progress, and it is far too early for the airport's governing board to consider boosting Lopano's healthy compensation package to try to keep him.
The board will hold a special meeting Friday to discuss its next move now that Lopano's name is circulating as a contender for the top job at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Lopano came to Tampa from Texas in January 2011, winning the job here on his marketing skills and the promise of increasing service to international destinations.
Lopano has moved quickly in the past two years, increasing revenues and passenger traffic, reducing debt and adding overseas flights. He has shepherded the airport's master plan for the next 20 years, putting together a sensible and forward-looking plan that would build on TIA's reputation for excellence without breaking the bank. He has moved the airport away from building an expensive second terminal to the north and made some key improvements to the passenger areas. He is well regarded in the community, and he sees how the airport fits in the region's job-development efforts.
The airport board will discuss whether to renegotiate Lopano's contract to induce him to remain in Tampa. The issue could come down to offering him more money beyond his $355,000 in salary and benefits. The board might also explore ways to sew up Lopano beyond his current contract, which expires Jan. 1, 2015. His supporters say Lopano is a hot commodity in the airport business and that Tampa should be prepared to pay for retaining top talent.
Lopano has clearly brought a new sense of ambition to TIA, but wasn't that the expectation when he was hired? And isn't it more reasonable to assess his achievements over a longer term, once the new flights are established as viable or not? The board has given Lopano everything he's wanted during his brief time here — his salary, his raise, his business plan, his incentives budget to attract new flights. If a job presents itself in Dallas, or elsewhere, the board and Lopano can address the issue then. But there is no reason the public agency should jump the gun when top managers like Lopano are always on the radar of head-hunting firms.
Stable leadership benefits any institution. But board members have a public responsibility to act on more than speculation. If Lopano is interested in pursuing other career opportunities, he can make that known; nothing in his contract prevents him from applying elsewhere. If Friday's board meeting clears the air for both sides, so much the better. But the board already has shown its faith in Lopano and its commitment to having him see through what he's started. For now, his current contract reflects that commitment just fine.