SUNY Brockport alum Michael Giardino was recently appointed director of aviation for Monroe County’s Greater Rochester International Airport. Giardino, a retired US Navy Commander, was excited to share with us some great stories and details about his SUNY education and the pathway it provided to his success.
How did your SUNY education help you prepare for your military experience?
First and foremost, I would not have qualified for a officer’s commission without a bachelor’s degree, so you could say that my SUNY degree meant everything to me as far as preparing me for the military. However, in practice, the study habits that I had to developed in college were instrumental to my success in office candidate school and flight school. I could name a few SUNY Brockport professors (but I won’t), who knew the right time to turn up the heat a little bit, and that paid off a great deal because the competition in flight school was pretty tough. When I studied meteorology at SUNY Brockport, I learned that knowing the physics, math, and chemistry of the atmosphere very well improved my ability to understand and forecast weather. But I also learned that the forces that determine our weather are fluid and extremely dynamic and being wrong was part of the business. We had a weather forecasting contest every semester at SUNY back in those days. Developing thick skin was part of that contest because one SUNY grad, who shall remain nameless (but now runs the weather office in Buffalo), would say things like, “you’re out of your mind” or “you’re crazy” when critiquing another students forecast. We had some good debates and it was a positive learning atmosphere always based on fact and science, but enough room for a little bit of ‘gut feel’. Whether in the Navy, other government enterprise or private business, to succeed, you have to be as well-informed as you can be, sometimes make decisions from your ‘gut’, learn from your mistakes, and move to the next problem (or weather forecast) when it’s all said and done.
What is a typical day at work like for you?
Lucky for me no two days are the same at the airport and in County Government. The airport is a dynamic environment and that suits me just fine. That said, I am a creature of habit and routine. I succeed and fail by my ability to manage my time and calendar. I firmly believe in having a plan. As a Naval Aviator and US Navy Officer I relied heavily on policies, procedures, manuals and instructions. Well crafted documents and checklists are extremely useful tools to ensure consistent and safe operations in any organization, not just on the bridge of a ship or in the cockpit of an aircraft. At the same time, leaders and managers have to have the skills and flexibility to change course and react to “life”. So to answer your question, I am just as comfortable with a day of staff meetings and office visits as I am with leaking pipes, a business meeting out-of-town or unexpected snowstorms that slow down (and hopefully don’t shut down) airport operations. I do try to get out in the airport terminal at least once a day as well as tour the grounds by foot or car once a day too.
What was your involvement with any clubs/student organizations on campus?
I was active socially within the Department and we had a chapter of the American Meteorological Society. Outside of that, I worked a job in Rochester and, sadly, I commuted from Rochester. If I had it to do over again, my living arrangements would have been on or near campus. I came to Brockport after two full semesters at the University of Rochester, so I missed out in that respect.
How does it feel to be one of the few Monroe County airport directors with aviation experience?
It certainly helps that I understand the aviation side of the operation, but aviation is not all we do. We have to run like a business. That means we have to generate revenue, not just airline revenue but non-airline revenue. Non-airline revenue keeps the costs low for us and thus reduces the amount we have to charge the airlines for operating here. For the airlines, lower operating costs means lower fares and more frequent flights and that’s good for Monroe County and the surrounding region. Therefore, I am fully involved in marketing this place. Not just advertising but coming up with ideas for attracting businesses that may want to operate at or near the airport. We are in a perfect geographic location and we are THE transportation hub for a 9 county Region. The airport director must also be cognizant of security and law enforcement procedures, facilities management, environmental compliance, construction planning and execution, public relations and customer service. Having aviation experience helps and aviation is why we exist, but aviation is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the overall operation.
What do you think you can bring to the Monroe County airport that your predecessors have failed to?
The former directors should be commended for their work. Since I left Rochester in 1985, the improvements to this airport are remarkable. The terminal project, service roads and parking area are the most obvious to the naked eye, but what the traveling public does not see are the tremendous improvements to the runways, taxiways, ramps and airfield lighting as well as many other safety upgrades on the entire property. The staff here are top-notch professionals and well-respected around the country for their expertise.
What advice do you have to share with SUNY students?
Work hard (now and in the future), have a passion for something, and then pursue it. Take a chance, manage the risk, and execute. Setbacks WILL come along. It’s the response to the setback that is what is important. Having fun and working are not mutually exclusive.
We’d like to thank Michael for his time and help. His passion is obvious and we wish him the best of luck in his new position!