How does it feel to be recognized as one of Tampa Bay’s most prominent movers and shakers?
It’s quite an honor but I don’t really see myself that way. I just show up to work each day hoping to build on the legacy of the guys who came before me and made Tampa International Airport so great.
Did you ever imagine you would be in the position you are today when you first started working in the Pan Am mail room?
When I worked in that mailroom I showed up every day wearing a three piece suit with the Wall Street Journal under my arm and told everyone I would be in management one day. So I definitely had ambition. I’m grateful to all the people who helped me along the way so those dreams could come true.
You took over Tampa International Airport in 2011 after 14 years at Dallas-Ft. Worth. How did you and your family adjust?
I first visited the Tampa Bay area when my son was playing in a soccer match in Tampa. I was blown away by the beauty of the place – the beaches, the Bay. I thought then this would be a great place to live so it was easy to get used to this. Tampa is a great city and the people have been so welcoming.
How is TIA different from DFW and did that alter your approach to your position?
One of the most significant differences is just the size of the airport campus. We had 18,000 acres at DFW. We only have 3,300 here. That means we had to take a very deliberative approach to this expansion. I’m really proud that we came up with a plan that allows us to double the number of passengers we can serve while still preserving land for future generations to grow the airport.
In 2015 you were named Visit Tampa Bay’s “Ambassador of the Year.” How have you embraced this city in such a short amount of time? How did receiving the award feel?
It wasn’t hard to embrace this city given how welcoming everyone has been. I was a newcomer but the community really quickly made me feel at home. As a tourism destination, I’ve witnessed an amazing transformation here. The evolution of downtown St. Petersburg, the Riverwalk and activation of Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa – that’s happened in the past five years. Add that to the attractions that have been here for so long – the beaches, Busch Gardens, the museums – you’ve got a region that’s even more vibrant then when I got here. I love it. Of course, receiving that award was an honor. Visit TampaBay has been a great partner of the airport’s. I’m glad to be part of the team.
You’re a member of many development boards and community initiatives in Tampa Why did you decide to become to active involved with the Tampa Bay area? What goals do you have for the region?
The biggest deficit here is the transportation network. I’m really hoping the community can come together to resolve those issues.
What is your vision for the future of TIA?
For the short-term, my vision is to complete this expansion on-time and on-budget. We’re on track to do that. Long-term I want to keep growing our air service domestically and internationally.
How can TIA affect the region besides travel?
Right now we have about 2,000 construction workers on our campus – working on our rental car center, people mover, terminal and concessions build-outs. That has a huge economic impact on the region. We’re creating jobs. Our new concessions program includes dozens of local concepts. That also has a positive economic impact on the region. But probably one of the things I’m most proud of is our work for United Way. We have been hosting a 5K on our runway for the past four years to benefit United Way. That in combination with our employee giving raised more than $138,000 for United Way this year. Last year we were named on of United Way Suncoast’s Most Generous Workplaces for the second year in a row. I’m so proud that we’ve been able to assist people in our community who are in need.
One of your stated goals is to increase the number of direct international flights out of Tampa. What are we doing to reach this goal? How far have we come since 2011?
We’ve got one of the best marketing teams in the country and we’re working with our partners to bring in those flights – the tourism agencies, chambers of commerce, economic development groups. We support their efforts and they support ours. That strategy is working. We’ll end this year with a 100 percent increase in international travelers at the airport compared to 2010.
We have come a long, long way!
At Pace University you almost became a photojournalist. What is it about photography that you enjoy? Do you still take pictures?
I’ve always had a creative side and that’s my creative outlet. These days, I focus on nature photography.
What is something that you learned later in your career that you wish you knew at the beginning?
I’ve tried to slow down a bit, but my team would disagree with that.
What do you consider key traits or qualities in an effective leader?
Leaders listen. They enable greatness in others.
Who in the Tampa Bay area would you nominate for a future installment of “Leading People of Tampa”?
There are so many people in this community making a difference.
How do find time for the little things in life when you’re as involved around town as you are?
I have always made my family a priority. That hasn’t changed.
What’s next for Joe Lopano?
Right now I am completely focused on bringing in new flights to better serve our region and finishing this expansion on time and on budget.