Alumni Q&A: Gina Marie Lindsey

Comm Grad Manages LAX Airport

By: Loree Chase-Waite

In her job as manager of the world's sixth-busiest airport, LAX, Lindsey will be overseeing a major expansion of the airport over the next three years.

When Gina Marie Lindsey ’76 heads to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), it’s usually not to catch a flight; it’s to manage the world’s sixth busiest airport.

After 16 years of airport management, Lindsey was appointed Executive Director of LAX by Mayor Villaraigosa in 2007. 

Announcing Lindsey’s appointment, the mayor said, “In searching for a new executive director, we knew we needed someone with experience, with the ability to build bridges, and with a vision for moving the area’s airports forward. We have found the perfect candidate in Gina Marie Lindsey.”

So how did Lindsey move from WWU graduate to LAX manager, and what are some highlights of her journey? We asked her.

What prompted you to choose a career in airport management?
It was a total fluke. After graduating from WWU with a degree in Communication Media, I returned to my hometown of Valdez, Alaska, and took a job setting up the Valdez Historical Museum. Then I moved to Anchorage and worked at a land use and engineering firm. After that, I entered a three-year transportation planning training program with the Alaska Department of Transportation. That program allowed me to work in several transportation modes: seaports, transit, highways, and airports. 

The airport mode stuck. Why? Because appropriately managing airports is incredibly complex. Major airports do not rely on general tax dollars, so an airport manager must handle the pressures of annual profit/loss responsibilities, along with the bureaucratic, regulatory, and procurement challenges of government.

To do that well requires creativity, persuasiveness, communication, understanding of people, ability to establish and articulate a vision, and sometimes, a thick skin. I don't always succeed at all of those, but there's never a dull moment, and it's difficult for me to imagine a more diverse and interesting job.

What airports did you work at before LAX?
My first Executive Director position was at Anchorage International Airport System in 1989. I managed the airport’s transition from an international passenger refueling stop to an international cargo hub for Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

After that, I served as Managing Director for the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), where I was in charge of the operations, maintenance, and strategic and financial planning and capital development of the airport, which serves nearly 30 million passengers a year.

Together, my team and I were fortunate enough to take on a $3 billion, seven-year capital improvement project, including the construction of a third runway, demolition and reconstruction of a concourse, construction of the Central Terminal commercial area, and other major refurbishments.
Anything I would consider an accomplishment is the result of collective expertise and the dedication of supportive leadership and terrific staff.

(Editor’s note: In recognition of Lindsey’s work on the Sea-Tac remodel, an arrivals pavilion, the Gina Marie Lindsey Arrivals Hall, was named in her honor.)

Can you lend some perspective on how travel has changed over the last few decades?
It’s a totally different gig now than it was in the mid-70s. Not all of the changes are bad. On the positive side, air travel is more affordable now than it was 40 years ago. And it's safer.

On the less positive side, the security screening process on departure can be frustrating, unpredictable, and intrusive. And our country's experience with the tragic attacks of 9/11 have also meant that the process for international travelers entering our country can seem less-than-friendly.

It’s important to remember that there are no villains in these transformations. Most of the changes have been implemented from a sincere desire to keep travelers and the country safer.

That said, we need to consistently pursue technology applications that can reduce the hassle factor for travelers in our security and clearance processes.

What do you think are some of the best pointers for smart traveling?
Travel light and wear slip-on shoes. Know precisely where your liquids are. And get to the airport early because the backups at the security lines are unpredictable.

How do you see airports changing in the future?
I think you'll see airports continue to migrate to even better commercial and service environments. The best example I have to illustrate that is the Pacific Marketplace central terminal area at Sea-Tac.

[According to “The Pacific Marketplace is a city streetscape, a scene of the Northwest community complete with shops, restaurants, landscaping, a view to the airfield, and public art. The gathering place…encompasses 60,000 square feet with a 60-foot tall ceiling and a west-facing structural glass curtain wall. During the day, the large expanse of glass floods the space with sparkle and light; at night, the glowing room becomes a beacon. This interior space feels like an outdoor room.”]

I know many "road warriors"—the most impatient and demanding travelers because they travel all the time—who intentionally get to SeaTac early—or purposely route themselves through SeaTac—because they enjoy spending time in that central terminal now.

What are among your chief challenges and goals for LAX?
By early 2013, we need to complete the first phase of the Bradley West project, a major addition to the Tom Bradley International Terminal’s west side. The addition will include new gates for latest-generation aircraft, new concourses and seating areas, 18 new, roomier boarding gates and waiting areas, a secure corridor leading out of the Customs Hall to Baggage Claim, and a Great Hall for dining, retail shopping, and other passenger amenities.

The Bradley West Project and the other projects comprising Phase 1 of the LAX modernization program is considered to be the biggest public works project in the history of the City of Los Angeles and is expected to create 40,000 construction-related jobs over the three-year construction schedule. Other major elements of Phase 1 include improvements to Terminals 5 and 6, new concessions in Terminals 4 through 7, new taxi lanes, 212 new replacement elevators and escalators, and a new central utility plant.

Our goal is to deliver the construction program with minimal hassle to travelers. We also need to instill a culture of customer service and friendliness in all frontline employees at the airport.

With so many projects underway at the same time, how do you stay grounded, so to speak?
That’s never been a big problem for me. I still think I'm a kid from a small town in Alaska who was fortunate enough to have spectacular parents, wonderful teachers, the blessing of opportunity, and not enough smarts to be afraid of trying everything. 

I've never been fond of people who take themselves too seriously, so I assiduously avoid doing so. I seem to be wired in a way that absorbs stress fairly well, although I apparently carry it around in my shoulders!  I find that a sturdy sense of humor is a fabulous coping mechanism, and I gravitate to people who employ theirs with consistently sharp wit.

My husband is a tremendous stabilizer and keeps me laughing all the time. We're building our retirement place in the hills of northern California and have planted 100 olive trees. Aside from trying to get semi-regular exercise biking and on a rowing machine, it’s becoming a farmer that relaxes me most and refills my energy cup.

Are there certain professors, classes, or concepts at WWU that have been particularly useful in your career?
Of course! Both Loren Dickinson and Donnie Rigby were important influences during my years at college. Persuasive Speaking was a course that I've drawn upon countless times in my professional life. In addition, I could never have known during my college years just how practical Speech class would be. I think I have an average of two speeches or presentations per week. I was fortunate to learn from the best.

I also need to note the importance, at least to me, of having a college experience with dedicated professors who cared about the girl from a small town in Alaska. WWU enabled me to build relationships with talented and caring people that last to this day.

(Editor’s note: We asked Dr. Loren Dickinson what he remembers of Lindsey’s time as a student at WWU, and here’s what he shared: “Gina brought to her college life much of what she's like today. We recall, for instance, her keen interests in the arts. Drama and music were two. I think they helped nourish her fine blend of finesse and bravado. We recall, too, she was plainly good at engaging people. It seems this has served her unusually well when facing tough, even monumental moments since college. I'm recalling the agile mind she showed us. She often "got it" before the rest of us, and her pointed questions convinced us the brain was intact and busy. She, I remember, served up her persuasive speech experiences with pathos and clearness. A smile seemed nearly always ready to burst out, even in serious moments.”)

What advice would you have for people who are looking for the full potential in their career, hobby or other interest in life?
Don't be afraid to take on new challenges. There’s always the risk of failure, but if you work harder and smarter than the next person, the odds are you won’t. Above all, be consistently truthful, open, and respectfully honest with everyone—even when the message is not what they want to hear.

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