In January 2024, ACI World welcomes its first woman Chair, Ms. Candace McGraw, CEO of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Ms. McGraw will chair the ACI World Governing Board (WGB) that consists of 28 leading airport CEOs. The ACI WGB directs the organization through strategic discussions on key subjects for airport operators that reflect the concerns and interests of ACI members for the benefit of travellers and communities worldwide.
We sat down with Ms. McGraw to discuss her top 5 priorities for the ACI WGB under her leadership.
1- Remain mission focused to ensure ACI World maintains its position as the voice of the world’s airports
The primary duty of any board chair is to ensure that the board and management work together to advance the mission of the organization. ACI World’s mission is to contribute to the safety, security, and sustainability of the global aviation industry by advancing the collective interests of airports and the communities they serve. My role is to ensure focus is given to that noble and purposeful mission in order to deliver results for our members and stakeholders. All work of the organization, and hence its success, should revolve around the advancement of our mission.
A big part of our mission is to work with global regulatory bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ACI is an observer at policy making meetings of ICAO – including their Assembly, Council and Conferences. In 2025, ICAO will hold its 42nd Assembly, which establishes the worldwide policy of the Organization. This event attracts more than 2,000 delegates, including ministers, directors general of civil aviation, and senior policy and decision makers. It is important to me that ACI World continue to work diligently to prepare its advocacy positions and engagement strategy to represent our members’ needs at the Assembly.
2- Ensure continuity of dynamic and respected leadership
Late last year, our Director General, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, announced he will be leaving ACI World at the end of 2024. One of my first priorities will be to lead a thorough and transparent recruitment process to secure a dynamic and respected leader to continue the important work of ACI World to ensure its ongoing, future success.
3- Forge even stronger relationships between ACI World and its global industry partners
We learned a lot from the pandemic, but perhaps no other lesson we learned was as important as the power of collaboration. Especially in our industry, working collectively is vital. It is immensely important that ACI serve as an equal and trusted partner to ICAO, IATA, and other international organizations, like WHO. Whether our issues deal with safety, climate action, workforce training, health concerns, or so many other pressing needs, our aviation industry is strongest when we are united.
4- Maintain and strengthen the relationship between ACI World and the regions
ACI World can only be a unifying global voice for the airport industry if the entire ACI Federation is strong. Although I come from ACI-North America, I am committed to ensuring ACI World is responsive to the collective needs of ACI Africa, Asia-Pacific & Middle East, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean, as well as North America. Each region is joined by common goals to ensure and promote safety, enhance the traveller experience, and serve as economic catalysts for our local communities. For a federation to reach its fullest potential, each member must be a healthy, engaged partner.
5- Champion best practices in workforce development, attraction and retention efforts that promote inclusivity
Like other industries, aviation continues to be challenged by a lack of available workers to fill all the roles available at airports. This will likely be the case for years to come. Alongside our industry partners and stakeholders, ACI should be looked to as a thought leader and resource in promoting efforts and programs that are effective in championing workforce development, participation, and retention in an inclusive manner. There can and should be a place for everyone within our aviation ecosystem.
I take any opportunity I have to remind my colleagues of airports’ collective purpose. It is much broader than moving people and boxes; our purpose is to drive the economic well-being of our regions so that our friends, families, and neighbors can have access to well-paying jobs and our communities remain relevant in the global economy.
Candace, the aviation ecosystem is evolving at a phenomenal pace, driven by collaboration, human ingenuity, and innovation. With your new role, how do you plan to take collaboration within our industry to new, even more ambitious levels?
ACI does phenomenal work on behalf of the airport industry and has established meaningful relationships with our industry partners. We must continue to build upon those successes by remaining attentive to those relationships. Listening and understanding is fundamental to collaboration, as is concise, simple, and transparent communication. No matter how fast the pace of day-to-day issues or how rapid the changes take place in technological innovation, collaboration all comes down to human interaction in a respectful and honest manner. I know the leadership of the ACI federation and I are ready to continue our focused engagement with stakeholders, particularly as we transition with a new ACI World Director General at the end of 2024.
You are a very avid advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity. How do you see promoting this priority area at the global level?
As the first woman chair of the organization, it is readily apparent that there should be focus on inclusion—and I commend ACI for recognizing the need for that focus. I would like to work with management around benchmarking to gain a baseline of the current situation. I know that benchmarking has been done in several of the regions, and we can leverage that work to develop a best practice guide to ensure that we attract and retain a more inclusive and diverse workforce. While I personally believe it is simply the right thing to do, broadening the workforce pool is also a business imperative. This industry has been very good to me, and I would hope, as aviation professionals, we would like to welcome everyone’s participation in this fascinating and challenging business.
Leading an airport of CVG’s scale and significance is undoubtedly a very dynamic, multifaceted role. What is your leadership approach? Can you share some of the key strategies and leadership principles that have contributed to the sustained success of CVG?
My approach to leadership is very simple: define your goals; hire talented colleagues; maintain focus; celebrate successes; and communicate at all levels on a continual basis. When a leader is a problem-solver, advocate, and cheerleader—and creates space for colleagues to do their best work—we can achieve amazing results. With that approach, our team at CVG has been able to accomplish amazing results in the last 10 years with growing passenger service by over 150% and growing our cargo business into the 12th largest cargo airport in the world.
With over a decade of experience as a CEO, how do you approach the management of a diverse workforce, ensuring that everyone is aligned with the airport’s mission and contributes to its success?
This question is one of my favorites because I often cite the answer as why CVG has been successful over the past decade. Everyone must know their role in the organization and how that role helps achieve our mission—we are here for a greater good. At CVG, we are guided by a one-page strategic plan (it is longer but can be accurately summarized in one page). Everyone on our team knows we are working to redefine and elevate the role of the airport and become the catalyst that transforms our region. Each member of our team knows how and where they fit into meeting the objectives of our strategic plan. Communication is very important, and I take any opportunity I have to remind my colleagues of our collective purpose. It is much broader than moving people and boxes; our purpose is to drive the economic well-being of our region so that our friends, families, and neighbors can have well-paying jobs and our community remains relevant in the global economy. Every one of our team members plays an important role in achieving that mission.