New Guy at the Office

Craig Richmond, president and CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority
Craig Richmond, president and CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority.

It’s 3:00 Tuesday afternoon, and Craig Richmond’s dogs are somewhere over Gander, Newfoundland.

It’s Richmond’s first day on the job as president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority.

Amid the flurry of learning new passwords and hooking up e-mail, he keeps a wary eye on his desktop computer, where a flight tracker charts the path of Mika, the shiba inu, and Tiki, the rescue mutt. Both are following Richmond and his wife from their former home in the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus.

When the dogs land, Richmond will likely be the first to know, since his office has a front-row view of arrivals and departures at YVR.

For Richmond and his wife, stepping off a plane into a new country, new home and new job is nothing new. “We’ve done this a few times now,” he says with a laugh. “This will be our fifth time, so we’re getting pretty good at it.”

Richmond lands at Vancouver Airport Authority fresh from a five-month stint in Cyprus, where he served as CEO of that country’s two main airports. Before that he ran three airports in northern England, and prior to that he spent four years as president and CEO of Nassau Airport Development Co. in the Bahamas. All those gigs were through Vantage Airport Group, a spin-off of YVR that contracts out management expertise to airports around the world.

As top executive at Vancouver Airport Authority, Richmond oversees a sprawling enterprise that employs 23,600 and last year did $400 million in business. Although he says his only goal as a kid was to fly fighter jets, Richmond’s path to top job at YVR looks like a carefully plotted straight line. Born in Vancouver, he was raised in Kamloops and got his first job at 13, gassing up airplanes at the Kamloops airport. From high school, he went straight into the Canadian Armed Forces, where he flew fighter jets during the Cold War. (“I’ve always been very patriotic and I wanted to serve,” he says simply.) From there, he completed an MBA at the University of Manitoba, then in 1995 landed a job at YVR, where he became vice-president of operations before joining Vantage in 2006.

Richmond explains that he arrived in the office at “about 8:07” this morning, having navigated his inaugural SeaBus and SkyTrain commute from the North Shore. The trip took one hour and two minutes, he reports. “But I mistimed it a bit. I wasted about 15 or 17 minutes waiting, so I think I can get it down to under an hour.”

Despite his penchant for precision, it’s not operational efficiency that defines Richmond’s vision for the airport, but  securing business in the competitive market of global airports. “International traffic is a zero sum game,” he explains; “if you’re not getting it, you’re losing it.”

It’s clear that Richmond sees selling as a big part of his new job description. “Look at this,” he says, turning to gesture toward the mountains ringing the northern horizon beyond his window on this sparkling blue July day. “We’re sitting here on a day when, if I had you from an airline, I could convince you to come here, that people want to come here.”

He cites the example of Lufthansa, which in June this year inaugurated a direct flight between Vancouver and Munich. “We had to convince them that there are a lot of people who want to fly to Munich, because they have a lot of places they could deploy their aircraft,” Richmond explains.

As the clock nudges 4:00 and the dog-tracking icon on Richmond’s desktop inches closer to Vancouver, he shows no signs of flagging, despite traversing the globe just days ago. I ask if he and his wife are relieved to finally settle in Vancouver.

“We’re excited because we always expected to come back,” he says. “That was the plan: do a few more airports somewhere else in the world, then come back here and retire. But to come back not retired, with a great job… Yeah, we’re pretty chuffed.”