UPDATE: New airport CEO faces learning curve

Mark Brownlee
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When Mark Laroche takes the helm of the Ottawa International Airport Authority next March, he’ll become one of the only Canadian airport CEOs without any apparent experience in the aviation industry.

Incoming Ottawa International Airport Authority president and CEO Mark Laroche.

On Tuesday, the airport authority announced that Mr. Laroche, 53, would be taking over from Paul Benoit, who is stepping down after 16 years on the job.

Unlike Mr. Benoit - who served as vice-president of operations and marketing for the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport before arriving in Ottawa - Mr. Laroche does not appear to have any direct experience working for a commercial airport or an airline.

He resigned Monday as the president and CEO of the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation that inherits surplus government properties and readies it for resale. It also owns and operates landmarks such as the CN Tower in Toronto.

Prior to his time at CLC, he was the chief administrative officer of the City of Gatineau from 2001 to 2007, according to his LinkedIn account. His CLC biography says he’s held “senior positions in several municipalities.”

Only two of the 12 other CEOs of major Canadian airports fail to list executive experience with an airport authority or airline in their online biographies or LinkedIn accounts.

One of those is Regina’s Jim Hunter, who previously oversaw day-to-day operations of NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Centre. The other is Montreal’s James Cherry, an accountant with a background in the transportation industry.

Gilles Lalonde, chairman of the Ottawa International Airport Authority, said Mr. Laroche was the board’s unanimous choice and that the airport’s current employees would quickly bring Mr. Laroche up to speed.

He had also done quite a bit of work in preparation for his interview, Mr. Lalonde said, such as learning the relevant legislation from Transport Canada.

“You can teach airport business to somebody who gets into a role like that fairly quickly,” said Mr. Lalonde. “We felt that before airport experience, (the candidate) had to be a strong leader to take us into the next phase of airport expansion.”

Mr. Benoit was at the helm of the airport authority when it added a $310 million passenger terminal building in 2003. It also added a $60 million parking expansion between 2004 and 2010.

The airport will have to expand again in the coming years, said Mr. Lalonde, because traffic continues to increase.

He will also have to look at developing the lands surrounding the airport as a means of bringing in new revenue, a task Mr. Laroche is likely experienced in given his time at CLC.

Mr. Laroche was not immediately available for an interview, according to the airport authority, but said in a statement that working for the airport would be an “honour.”

"I'm very excited to have the opportunity to be a part of such a great team that has made the Ottawa Airport the success that it is today and to be back in the National Capital Region," said Mr. Laroche, who will officially start his new job on March 1, 2013. He was reappointed to a five-year term with the Canada Lands Company in July 2012, according to a press release it issued last year.

The executive search firm the airport hired, Ogden Berndston, received 80 applications, Mr. Lalonde said. The board’s search committee then whittled that down to four candidates who were brought back for multiple interviews, he said.

Organizations: Canada Lands Co., Ottawa Airport

Geographic location: Gatineau, National Capital Region, North America

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Recent comments

  • sam
    September 02, 2015 - 22:28

    Im really disappointed to see the ottawa international airport selected some one who does not have an experience in this field .

  • Disappointing
    December 18, 2012 - 10:10

    It's disappointing to see the airport authority select someone with no prior experience in the field of aviation. While the number of destinations served from the airport has improved vastly over the past 6-7 years, there are still some big gaps such as no Paris, Amsterdam (i.e. competition to AC's LHR & FRA routes) or other European gateway (would love to see Icelandair come to Ottawa - they already serve Halifax and Toronto), still stuck with only 1 transatlantic charter/leisure flight per week in the summer and only to London, no Miami, no Texas, most winter sun flights are to the usual places, cargo flights have actually dropped, etc. They should have chosen someone either with significant air service development experience/knowledge or someone with airline network planning experience. Of all the new routes added to Ottawa (some of which have been dropped e.g. Thunder Bay, or gone seasonal e.g. Charlottetown), few, if any can be attributed to being landed by the airport authority. On the flip side, maybe this will be someone that can think outside the box and I hope he does well.

  • Watchdog
    November 07, 2012 - 09:00

    I have nothing against this person for getting this job and it is a job but, one would think that on your CV that in the must have or experience section that the mandatory criteria would be, "must have exeperiece in the avaiation industry, etc etc..". I have just one question as to how he got this job... who does he know or owe...