A Chat With RDU’s New Chairman, Farad Ali

Farad Ali, the new chairman of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority, calls himself a “collaborator.”

In his new role, he’ll keep working with the executive team, he says. And he’ll keep soliciting input from airport officials. “This is a nicely baked cake,” he says of the RDU team, speaking minutes after Thursday’s RDU board meeting where his chairmanship became official.

And that’s why nothing really changes from a strategy perspective.

“2040 is not here,” he says, referring to the recently passed Vision 2040 revamp the airport is planning. Under his leadership, the board will continue to push forward on its stated priorities, such as replacing its longest runway.

Ali, a former representative on Durham City Council, says he understands that RDU isn’t just about getting from one place to the next.

“It helps our connectivity to the world,” he says. “As the world continues to get smaller because of digital technology, transportation becomes more important and really, the customer experience becomes more important.”

He says the airport will continue to try to improve on that customer experience, making travel “stressless” so that business travelers will want to come back.

The airport has been growing rapidly in recent years – and it’s a calculated effort, he says. “This is thoughtful, planned, smart growth,” he explains, adding that the intense planning process the airport is undergoing is about making sure RDU can accommodate what’s coming.

Ali was on the board last year, when RDU debuted its new flight to Paris, the airport’s second trans-Atlantic service after London. And he went through that “customer experience” first-hand when, a couple of months later, he took the trek himself.

“It was exciting to be part of that,” he says. “Then to be on that flight … the people who managed that flight are local. The Delta crew is a local crew, so they are very Tar Heel-centric. It was a very good experience.”

Ali worked more than 20 years as a banker and consultant in the private and nonprofit sectors. He is currently president and CEO of The Institute.

ReadBusiness leaders talk international flights at RDU

Ali replaces Dickie Thompson as chairman. At Thursday’s RDU board meeting, Thompson called the chairmanship one of the “highlights” of his life, and pointed again to that Paris flight as a game-changer for the region.

“That Paris flight is attracting a lot of business to Raleigh,” he told the board.

The chairmanship isn’t the only change hitting the RDU board. David Morgan, a senior data management executive at SAS Institute, was appointed by Durham County to a board seat. And the city of Raleigh will soon confirm its own appointment, as Adrienne Cole, who was just named CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, recently resigned from the board.

Credit: Triangle Business Journal