Home / Ten questions for Paul Kehoe, CEO of Birmingham International Airport

Every month we will bring you the opinions, insights and never-before-known facts about key people from across our region. This month we put BHX chief Paul Kehoe in the hotseat…

You took up the role of Chief Executive of Birmingham Airport in 2008 ; and Chairman of Marketing Birmingham in 2009 , what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time – and have we gone far enough?

The biggest changes are not in infrastructure – yes, we are building lots of things, yes there is inward investment, yes the trams are running on our city streets but it’s not any of those that make it for me – it’s the realisation of the people that they can have a bright future. Whilst we might be the centre for manufacturing in the UK, the biggest legal system and business support city outside London, it is the confidence I see in the people, politicians and business leaders of this great region.

There is a positivity and a belief that we can achieve more. The people of the West Midlands might be self deprecating, but the influx of outsiders has added some steel to the backbone of the locals and together we all know that change is possible.

Can Birmingham truly be a ‘global business destination?

It’s already successfully competing with other leading global business destinations. Birmingham is in the centre of a £110 billion regional economy and has the largest concentration of businesses outside of London, with 2,000 international firms and world famous brands such as Deutsche Bank – which relocated operations to the region from the capital – as well as leading global employers like JLR, Mondelez and KPMG choosing to do business here.

This success speaks for itself and I believe we will see much more in time as the airport grows, HS2 arrives and more businesses realise the enormous benefits of relocating and investing in Birmingham rather than the overheated, overpriced capital.

The airport is adding more routes and flights every month. What opportunities do they hold for the region and its businesses? 

The value of the connectivity provided by our airport in 2014 was calculated at £1.1 billion GVA for the region and if the airport was able to secure all the long haul routes that there is local demand for, this could add a further £248 million to the region’s GVA. It’s therefore concerning that the Airports Commission has put too much focus on hub capacity in the south east and not enough on the role of long haul airports across the country.

We have not yet seen a strategy for using airports to rebalance the economy and plug the region into international opportunities. Wherever a new runway is decided it will take 10 to 15 years before it becomes operational. In the meantime, Heathrow is full and more and more people want to travel from their local airport – so we have to take advantage of this enormous opportunity.

Is the region’s growth keeping pace with the rest of the world? What more needs to be done?

Birmingham is among 600 top global cities thought to be responsible for 65% of global GDP growth by 2025. I’d say that more is already being done – and history shows that our region’s innovative, creative and entrepreneurial spirit won’t see these successes slowing down any time soon.

The region compares well to national and world economic performance and is experiencing one of the most exciting periods of regeneration and development in recent times. With a GVA economic impact in excess of £48.3 billion, the region has seen a 12.5% growth in the last five years and has attracted record investment from across the globe, securing almost 90 FDI projects and 5000 new jobs in 2014/15.

Last year we saw the completion of a £1 billion investment programme with the opening of the redeveloped New Street station and Grand Central, Resorts World and our runway extension – but there is so much more happening that will help give the region power it needs to compete on the global stage.

The Midlands Engine, Birmingham Mayor and the WMCA will bring a significant amount of attention, budget and responsibility. What’s your take on this…

A well-functioning combined authority is crucial for unlocking greater powers and growth in our region. Devolution to regions is the country’s direction of travel, and the Midlands has grabbed this opportunity to set our own future.

Birmingham Airport has fully supported a strong combined authority because it is important that our region speaks with one voice to support the businesses within it.

We have heard a lot about the Northern Powerhouse, but HS2 is a game-changer for our region and really will support the Midlands Engine.. It will connect the Midlands to new opportunities in the UK and around the world, and create thousands of new jobs.

To ensure the West Midlands is HS2-ready, we must also invest in connectivity so that more passengers can enjoy seamless, fast and cost effective travel across the Midlands and to and from our airport. Midlands Connect will develop this vision for regional connectivity that is so vital for supporting and attracting businesses and skilled workers. Great strides have been made already by the councils and LEPs to unite and do what’s best for the region and the Combined Authority now has to build on this if we are to realise our potential to be the country’s engine for growth.

Why do you do what you do? 

Because I enjoy what I do. So longs as there are more ups than there are downs, then we are getting better. Even the downs are not negatives, they are learning exercises. The more learnt, the better we become.

What is your leadership style? 

Direct, sometimes blunt but with a hint of tact, empathy and diplomacy. What you see is what you get, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, prepared to listen and learn. Keen to delegate and trust and give benefit of the doubt but concerned when faced with incompetence.

Often described as an iconoclast or a maverick, I can conform but I don’t let protocols get in the way of a good idea. I like to think I lead from the front but you can’t be there all the time. Delegation to great people is my modus operandi.

Best piece of business advice? 

Taken from flying but true of management also – aviate, navigate and communicate. Do what you are supposed to do, find out where you are then tell everyone who needs to know.

A life in the day of…

07:00am

Wake up (apart from Mondays when it’s either 05:30 – 06:00am)
Light breakfast or breakfast briefings with business stakeholders around the Midlands.

08:30am-19:00pm

BHX Office bound or out with airlines, suppliers, staff, partners, consumers, communities, charities, Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, Birmingham City Council, Marketing Birmingham, or meeting journalists, government ministers, MPs, civil servants, competing airports, partner airports and shareholders. I then find some time for lunch at my desk as I’m not great with big meals at lunchtime.

19:00-00:00am

Dinner with some of the above or presentations where I “sing” for my supper, telling business groups why Birmingham is a great place to invest in or how the airport needs their support. Then I occasionally crash out in front of the TV or a film.

What do you do to relax? 

I normally relax at weekends – I spend time with my wife and the odd chance to fly, or to meet my personal trainer whose aim to is to keep in me in shape to perform the above.

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