Taking off

It wasn’t too long ago that a lot of people in Northeast Ohio didn’t even realize that there was an airport in the area other than Cleveland Hopkins International. Now those same people are driving in from all over the region to fly out of the Akron-Canton Airport to save money.

Fred Krum, airport director for Akron-Canton Airport, makes the transformation sound easy.

“It really starts with having a vision, assembling the right team of people to do it, then executing,” Krum says.

His vision was to position the airport as the second airport in the region. The vision wasn’t written down, turned into a plaque and hung on the wall. Instead, it became a mantra of sorts.

“I like to describe it as an attitude and an outlook,” Krum says. “It is verbally communicated, and we believe in it. We communicate it every chance we get, whether it is internally or externally.

“I’ve always believed in the power of a good idea. If an idea is sound, and you keep pounding away, bingo, you will attract people to it.”

One of the major turning points in getting people to buy into his vision was when AirTran Airways started flying out of the airport. Fares to places such as New York that were hundreds of dollars less than what people were used to seeing drove passenger traffic, making people into believers and building momentum.

“Momentum in any business is critical,” Krum says. “It makes doing the next thing that much easier. It doesn’t keep rolling along by itself. There are always speed bumps, and you have to make that next lunge.

“It makes the next step easier, but you will eventually plateau. Then it’s just as hard as it ever was.”

For the Akron-Canton Airport, Sept. 11 was one of those speed bumps. To power through those difficult times, Krum says a CEO has to always be a believer.

“I’m not paid to give up,” he says. “What fun would that be? Just because a job gets hard doesn’t mean you give up. My job is to believe you can do it, even though all conventional wisdom says you can’t.”

Krum also had to encourage risk-taking to get people to help move the organization forward with new ideas.

“People fear failure,” he says. “I got rid of the fear. I taught them that if they fail, I’m the one that will be the fall guy. No one will be left hanging out there on their own.

“It’s totally worthless to blame anyone when something goes wrong. You have to develop a risk-taker mentality. The only guarantees are if you do nothing, you will get nothing. Every project, whether it is capital facilities or whatever, has people looking for guarantees. If you don’t do it, it won’t happen. If you do it, you at least have a chance. If you are not making some mistakes, you are not doing enough risk-taking.”

Krum says that with competition so fierce, you always have to look for ways to stay ahead. He says they do it at the airport by constantly working with the airlines to come up with creative ways to keep and grow services.

“It’s what I call solving the problem at the next level,” he says. “It’s looking ahead. What are the problems in a given market? For us, the airlines’ problem is our problem. I think more than any other airport in the country, we are the marketing arm of the airlines. If we do not have good airlines with good service and low fares, people are not going to come from Avon Lake just to have a Subway sandwich in the airport.

“We work on solving not just our problems but their problems. That’s the area where we are as good as anybody and we really work on those relationships.”

Krum says having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and staying with it is the key to long-term success.

“It all comes back to a basic premise and pounding away on it and not stopping,” he says. “If you believe it’s a good idea, then keep pounding away. People that fail are making things too complex.”

HOW TO REACH: Akron-Canton Airport, www.akroncantonairport.com