HEBRON, Ky. – Candace McGraw got a big vote of confidence on Monday: a new five-year contract and pay raise as CEO of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The Kenton County Airport Board, which oversees CVG, approved extending her original five-year deal until Dec. 31, 2021, with an upped base salary of $280,000 per year, plus incentives.
The contract, based largely on a recent performance review, comes after a "pivotal year," board members say, that included growth by low-fare Allegiant Air, another multi-million expansion by cargo heavyweight DHL, and a historic new use agreement with its carriers – the first in more than 40 years – among other accomplishments.
"I feel confident this is a win for the airport," said board member Chad Summe, who chaired a committee tasked with the evaluation.
McGraw has served at CVG's helm since 2011, and her original five-year contract expires Dec. 31, 2016. This deal will carry the airport through what could be a critical year in 2020. That's when the aforementioned use agreement, as well as Delta's long-term lease on Concourse B, expires.
"I think it's great to have continuity through that 2020 period," Summe added. "Given Candace's success in the past (negotiations), I think we should all be happy."
McGraw, in a recently concluded performance review, scored well across five metrics, including strategic development, financial soundness, operational excellence, stakeholder relations and human capital development. HSD, a third-party administrator, conducted the evaluation over a two-week period using feedback from board members and members of CVG's executive leadership team.
McGraw's highest marks came in financial and operational categories. Overall, she scored a 4.67 out of 5.
McGraw, the HSD report says, "maintains an even composure, regardless of the issues and challenges people bring to her," and is "very highly regarded by the business/political community."
CVG is also "in the best financial condition we have been in for many years." McGraw manages a $125 million operating budget and 400 employees. CVG "has a lean and very qualified staff with high morale…Candace looks for opportunities to recognize her staff for their involvement in the success of the airport, which is an important trait of a good leader," it said.
"To walk around here, the morale is just positive," Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, Kenton County Airport Board chairman, said. "Everybody is consistently upbeat, looking for ways to be helpful. And that doesn't happen everywhere."
Perhaps the only glaring critique: Board members said they'd like her to spend more time on long-term strategic planning – and to more actively involve the board in that process.
"It is recognized that (McGraw) is the CEO," but "there is a wealth of knowledge on the board that would compliment her efforts," they said.
"There is the perception that the board and/or committee chairs are informed of important developments late in the game," says the evaluation. "Candace has made great strides this past year on how she engaged and utilized the board. An opportunity for improvement is to view the board as a partner, team member and supporter as the airport continues to thrive."
McGraw said she was appreciative of the review and credited CVG's successes to the staff around her.
"This (contract) will give us the ability to plan more into the future and focus on business at hand," she said. "It's good for me, personally, but I think it's good for the organization. We know we have stability over the next six years."
The evaluation comes just months after a new board was seated at CVG, following months of controversy, the resignation of its former chair and vice chair, and a special investigation that called for its complete overhaul. Before that, in 2013, McGraw survived an attempt by some KCAB members to fire her.
In a sit-down interview with WCPO.com in August – just weeks after the new board's first meeting took place – McGraw said she never feared for her job, and has seemingly thrived in 2015. McGraw was named the Kentucky Aviation Association's Airport Manager of the Year and a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement. She was tapped this summer to chair Skyward, an organization that's developing and managing Northern Kentucky's strategic plan, formally called Vision 2015, and is serving on the board for ACI, the Airports Council International, a trade group and lobbying organization.
CVG has also received "Best Regional Airport in America" recognition for a fifth consecutive year.
In addition to a new contract, the board also approved a one-time incentive of $10,000 for 2015 based on McGraw's quarterly scorecard, which board members have been tracking all year. And, for the first time, the board will also introduce incentive-based compensation, which will be 10 percent of McGraw's salary if she meets key performance indicators.
McGraw's current base salary is $250,000. The $280,000 is more in line with pay at other medium-sized airports.
"I think it's terrific that we're bringing it up to be competitive with the market," board member Kathy Collins said.