Connect with your people and listen to their thoughts and concerns. If it’s something they’ve already tried that didn’t work, Cassotis says you need to discuss it thoroughly first, because it may be something you do anyway.
“The burden’s on me at the beginning to say, ‘Look, I believe this is possible, and I want you to join me. How can I get you here?’” she says.
As Cassotis got her staff on board, she started receiving emails and notes saying things like: I never thought we could’ve gotten done what we got done in a year, and I now believe everything is possible.
Then, that sentiment spreads outward to the community as employees talk in the grocery store, at the car dealer and on the soccer field, she says.
“The challenge is how do you do it in a sustainable way where you have people truly engaged so they’re not stressed and they’re not exhausted; they’re excited,” Cassotis says.
Her first year, she got the team together, targeted the highest priority areas, and worked to find solutions and facilitate better relationships with airlines. If her staff couldn’t get in touch with her, she wanted them to talk to their colleagues — find a way and address the biggest holes.
“Now, it’s a year later, if we keep going at that pace all the time, we’ll burn people out,” she says.
With five new airlines and more than 20 new nonstop flights that include new cities, Cassotis wants to focus on the next level of challenges, including improving the Allegheny County Airport.
“I feel like we were laying the foundation in ’15, and ’16 is much more about being strategic, being proactive and working smarter,” she says.
- Set the tone right away; hold yourself to the same standard.
- Buy-in comes through transparency and two-way engagement.
- Connections with people are the backbone of business.
The Cassotis File:
Name: Christina Cassotis
Company: Allegheny County Airport Authority
Born: Beverly, Massachusetts
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English from University of Massachusetts, MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I have a 13-year-old son who is obsessed with the fact that my very first job was at McDonald’s. And he will frequently ask me, ‘Mom, do you remember when you worked at McDonald’s?’
I say, ‘Honey, that was so many years ago. I really don’t.’
What I learned was that I really like interacting with people. I am extroverted and I am externally motivated, and that was clear to me from that first job. I loved going to work, I really liked my co-workers and I liked dealing with the public.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? I would say the best business advice was the advice I got on becoming a CEO — walking into an organization as a CEO outsider. This was somebody who lectured at Sloan, and who talked about those two one-pagers: Who are you, and what do you think I should do?
It was a shortcut into people and who they are. People show you who they are right up front. It’s a question of how much you listen.
If you got on a plane right now, where would you go? That’s hard, because I love to travel.
Hong Kong. We lived there when I was 3. My brother was born there. And I went back for the first time a year and a half ago, and I would like to go back again. And I love the city; I love cities.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? I love to travel, and when I travel I love to food shop. I love to cook, so I love to see how people relate to food in different cultures. So I love to go into markets and grocery stores; I just find that stuff fascinating.
I read. I bike — cycle. I go to my kid’s basketball games. That’s my life.