Miguel Southwell

Southwell guides Miami International’s efforts to embrace the local culture and boost the city’s economic development

Deputy Director of Business Retention and Development Miami International Airport Miami, Florida

QuoteI run the business affairs of Miami International and four smaller general-aviation airports in Miami-Dade County. As such, my team provides all the resources to keep the operations running and fiscally sound. Those resources include annual funding of over $700 million, human capital and marketing, IT, contracting, and procurement services. We’ve totally transformed what was an aging structure into a modern airport. An airport should not simply be a parking lot for airplanes, but is the main tool for the economic development of any community, connecting that community to economic centers and cultures globally. As such, airport leaders have an obligation to constantly explore how the airport may be used as a tool to financially benefit the wider community they serve.

We knew, for example, that if the airport was successful in securing a new nonstop flight from Japan, within one year, Miami would see a dramatic increase in Japanese tourists spending money at the city’s hotels and restaurants. At the same time, one would witness a growth in Japanese companies establishing offices in Miami. Correspondingly, these companies would rent vacant office space and contract with marketing, janitorial, and other local companies. In short, this single action by the airport would have an economic domino effect throughout the region.

In addition to a $6.2 billion construction program to modernize the airport, we’ve doubled concessions from 99, in 2005, to 200 food and retail stores. In the process, we have consciously worked to give passengers—particularly our guests who are simply connecting from one flight to another—a sense of destination. We do this by accentuating within the airport Miami’s local cuisine, music, art, and culture. The goal is to influence, if not compel, those connecting passengers to return and visit Miami. These efforts also fuel our growth. Last year, Miami was not only ranked as having the top large-airport terminal-concession program, it was also recognized as the fastest-growing airport in the country, surpassing JFK as having the largest number of international flights.

However, traditional sources of revenue, such as that from our expanded concessions, are not enough to service the debt associated with a $6.2 billion construction program. Thus, we have been seeking nontraditional means to generate more revenue. In the last four years, we’ve negotiated approximately $1.2 billion whereby private developers will construct, on airport land, shopping centers, hotels, and other nonaviation facilities. One project alone could add nearly $7 million annually in revenue. Also, a former airport was decommissioned to allow the mining of more than 60 million tons of lime rock.

Finally, airports require strong leadership that provides vision and possesses integrity, courage, and patience—game changers seldom occur overnight. I have been fortunate to have had some incredible sibling-mentors—siblings who exude and instill those leadership qualities. They permitted me to take risks and that promoted the confidence and the determination to succeed at anything.  Quote


Update: At time of press, editors were informed that Miguel Southwell began a new position as deputy general manager for Atlanta International Airport in June 2013.