Mark Gale: Why I’m Retiring as CEO of Philadelphia International Airport

"I don't think I'll stay idle for long."

Mark Gale, outgoing CEO of the Philadelphia International Airport.

Mark Gale, outgoing CEO of the Philadelphia International Airport.

The Philadelphia International Airport is a much different place than in 1985, when Mark Gale started his career as an intern. The blue building on Island Avenue used as an international terminal has been replaced by the state-of-the-art A West Terminal. Gone are airlines like Midway, Eastern and US Airways. On the horizon is a large expansion project that will extend runways, consolidate the rental car area, and redesign busy Terminals B and C.

At 53 years old, Gale is retiring as CEO after serving in the position since 2009. But he says he’s got a lot more to give. He’ll spend time with his wife who recently retired after working for years at an airline. But after that, there’s a good chance he’s back in aviation.

“I may ultimately remain in aviation in a different capacity. I may wind up doing consulting work or I might wind up at another airport someday because I love managing airports so much,” he said in an interview Monday evening.

“Not many people expect me to take a lot of time sitting around the house,” he continued. “We all think about retirement – the ‘honey do list’ that needs to be done — but I don’t think I’ll stay idle for long.”

Is Gale’s exit politically motivated? The City of Philadelphia owns PHL airport and Gale’s retirement seems to be timed perfectly with Nutter’s exit as mayor. But Gale refuted that claim.

“Sometimes it coincides with administration changes, sometimes it doesn’t. I can’t say it’s directly tied to it,” said Gale who said numerous times that his retirement is a “personal choice.” Gale admitted that “directors have lifespans.” He spent seven years in the top job and his successor, Charles J. Isdell served for nine years. The previous four CEOs all served for five years or less.

His replacement will be chosen by the Jim Kenney administration and there’s no word yet on who will be picked. Gale’s second-in-command is chief operating officer Chellie Cameron. She was appointed to that position in December 2014. For 13 years, she worked with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is responsible for operating and maintaining Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

“The airport will do fine. There are great people I work with,” he said. “The employees are dedicated. I don’t think the airport is going to skip a beat.”

Gale, who lives in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, was also sick of the commute — especially with I-95 under perpetual construction.

While he said he enjoyed the administrative side of the job more than he expected, there were days where he hoped to get his hands dirty.

“There were plenty of times where I was in meetings and wished for old days when I was out in vehicle riding around airfield saying ‘how cool is this? I’m in charge of making sure this airport is safe and secure,’ ” he said.

With all the changes he’s overseen at the airport, one thing he prides himself on is a customer-service shift. For many travelers, the first Philadelphians they meet are working at the airport — and getting a warm welcome is important.

“Philadelphians have been known to have an attitude. I refer to it as a the Philly-tude,” he said. “I adopted a mantra. Having a Philly attitude is not a bad thing as long as we turn that around and use it as a tool where we’re friendly and outgoing and make sure that customer service is key at airport. Good customer service needs to be contagious and needs to spread from employee to employee.”

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