Looking back on a decade as executive director of Salt Lake City International Airport, Maureen Riley realized she had reached maximum cruising altitude: Construction was chugging along on a new airport. Passenger numbers were at record levels and rising.
Life was good. Why not come in for a landing?
Maureen has announced her retirement, effective June 30th.
“It’s time. I’m there,” said Maureen, in a free-ranging interview zig-zagging from her leadership role in the airport’s ongoing $3-billion reconstruction project to her unabashed, lifelong fan crush on Bruce Springsteen.
Everything aligned to make retirement the right decision, right now, she said. She celebrates her 67th birthday today, April 13th. Her closest friends have retired, and she wants to catch up with them over long lunches. She wants to sit on the deck of her Park City condo with her husband of 33 years, Doug Welch, sipping martinis and taking time to watch glorious sunsets.
“I have a friend who ran the San Jose (California) airport who told me there are three phases to retirement: Go-go, slow-go, and no-go,” she said. “I don’t want to wake up one day to discover I worked right through the go-go.”
“Maureen has been an incredible director of our airport during a historic era of passenger growth, and has been a steward of the facility’s largest-ever construction project,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “She is highly respected among her peers in the world’s airport industry for her financial skills and management talents, and she will be missed.
“I’ve also been proud of her leadership as a woman in a field that remains largely dominated by men,” the Mayor added.
Maureen was appointed airport director by Mayor Rocky Anderson in February 2007 after holding various positions at airports across the country, including director of the Orlando, Florida, Airport.
She chuckled as she recounted going through old work materials while readying her Park City condo for eventual sale and making a surprising find — an ancient document she had prepared during an earlier Salt Lake City Airport job from 1996-97.
“It was a financial model for a new airport,” she said.
Of course, she added, it was woefully outdated for what was to start in 2012 – the airport’s massive redo that will include a new terminal, two concourses, and a parking garage. The first phase is scheduled for completion in 2020; the second phase for 2023-24.
Delta Airlines, with its Salt Lake City hub, is already requesting more gates, and Maureen sees nothing but growth for the facility as a 10-year agreement with airlines doing business in the City will come up for renewal in 2024.
Salt Lake City International, in fact, reported an unprecedented number of passengers – 23,043,149 – between November 2015 and November 2016. Domestic travel was up 3.5 percent and international passengers increased by 35 percent — boosted by Delta’s addition of nonstop service to London, KLM’s nonstop service to Amsterdam and Air Canada starting nonstop travel to Toronto.
“It’s been such an interesting journey for me,” Maureen said. “I don’t want to sound boastful, but I think I exceeded expectations. I’ve reached the goal I came to achieve, which is to get a new airport for Salt Lake City. We are on our way, and there’s no turning back.”
It turns out that many airport directors across the country have recently retired, including those in Seattle, Dallas, and San Diego. “This will present a challenge, with so many people like me who are retiring,” she said. “But there are people out there who will rise to the challenges of this work. It’s a tough business, but I’ve never encountered anything that doesn’t get solved.”
Although one long chapter is drawing to a close, she feels her story continuing. “I love to have fun,” she said. “I’m not going to give that up.”
Little known fact: The New Jersey native with Irish working class roots has a major thing for Bruce Springsteen. She’s been to 120 of his concerts – including a 2014 Sunshine, Florida show in which The Boss hopped from the stage to the floor where Maureen stood on the front row with her friends. He took her hand and shared mic time with her while singing “Talk to Me.” (Look for the image from 5:25 through 6:10 on the video)
“I will definitely do some Bruce tours in the future,” she said. Ultimately, she will return to Orlando, where she can watch Disney World nightly fireworks from her condo patio and visit Salt Lake City for ski vacations.
A graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, Maureen’s college years were challenging. She married young, gave birth to her now 46-year-old daughter at age 21 and was divorced soon after.
“I was raising a toddler and going to college. It took me 11 years to graduate,” she said.
Summing up a decade of overseeing what amounts to a small city – with 529 employees, an annual budget of $367.5 million, and management of more than 1,000 contracts – Maureen paused to reflect on what she’ll miss the most.
“The people. Always the people. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”
Contributed by Holly Mullen.