HEBRON, Ky. -- The CEO of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport received a pay raise for leading the charge on a successful 2016 -- and that was before Southwest landed and signaled another marquee moment in Candace McGraw's nearly six-year tenure.
The Kenton County Airport Board approved the increase in November -- boosting McGraw's base pay 7 percent from $280,000 to $300,000 -- as part of its annual performance evaluation. It's the second straight year she's received a hike; airport board members noted growth in air service, operational excellence and fiscal responsibility as part of their review.
McGraw, CEO since 2011, also received a 10 percent incentive payment, or $28,000, that the board first introduced last year. Her contract remains unchanged. It runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
"Simply put, Candace has just done a fabulous job leading CVG across all fronts," said board member Chad Summe, who chaired a committee tasked with the evaluation. "I think 2016 was a fantastic year."
So far, 2017 is also faring well. CVG did not have Southwest Airlines in the bag when McGraw's most recent review commenced, but board members did highlight air service gains. Seat capacity and passenger counts were up. American Airlines added new flights to New York, upstart OneJet joined the fold, and low-cost carriers Frontier and Allegiant both experienced double-digit gains year-over-year.
Fiscally, CVG continued to diversify revenue. It signed four more land development deals in 2016, including for another distribution facility by Dermody Properties, which brought Wayfair on board in 2015. It's also in negotiations over two other commercial sites along Bushelman Boulevard. The airport benefited, too, from a use agreement it inked with carriers effective Jan. 1, 2016. The agreement gives CVG more control over capital projects and allows the airport to participate in revenue sharing for the first time. McGraw told WCPO.com she's forecasting a $13 million profit as a result -- ;$2 million more than she initially thought at the beginning of last year.
Aided by DHL, which completed its most recent expansion in November, the airport held steady as a top 10 cargo airport in North America. On the operational side, CVG received a perfect score during its annual FAA certification inspection. Moody’s and Fitch both upgraded CVG’s bond ratings to A2 and A+, respectively.
"Frankly, the airport's been spruced up a lot," said J. Michael Schlotman, board chairman. "The new operating agreement has allowed us to invest in gate improvements and a lot of the other things, particularly in Terminal A. Roll that forward to the several-years process of landing Southwest, and I know Southwest is thrilled with the position they're going to have (in that concourse). Again, the cornerstone of that was the freedom under the new operating agreement.
"Candace and her team have had a vision ... and, ultimately, we rewarded her for that."
It's certainly a flip of the script. Much has been made of McGraw's past relationship with the board. In 2013, after years of Delta downsizing and months of controversy, she survived a failed attempt by some to fire her. But the board's makeup has been overhauled with a slew of new members, including Schlotman, since.
When he started his term as chair last January, the board voted to hold fewer meetings and authorized McGraw to approve all routine items and capital expenditures less than $250,000. Before, "almost every penny that got spent at the airport would have to come to us for approval," Schlotman said. McGraw said that's freed up time and has led to more "free-flow discussion."
"We've given her more control, more authority. And, in our judgment, she's responded very well to that," Schlotman said. "I think she's enjoying the fact that she feels like a CEO who now has the ability to make decisions with our support."