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DFW Airport board considers $600,000 retention package for CEO

DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue delivers remarks before Japan Airlines’ inaugural flight from DFW to Tokyo Narita last year. Special/Brandon Wade
DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue delivers remarks before Japan Airlines’ inaugural flight from DFW to Tokyo Narita last year. Special/Brandon Wade Star-Telegram

With top executive positions open at airports in New York and Atlanta, the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport board appears to be concerned that its chief executive, Sean Donohue, might depart.

The airport board is considering a retention package for Donohue that could give the 55-year-old CEO a $600,000 payout if he stays for the next four years, according to documents prepared for the airport board.

“We have just updated our strategic plan and we want to make sure that our CEO is around to execute on that plan,” Sam Coats, the airport board chairman, said Tuesday after board members discussed the matter in closed session.

“Airlines are looking for people,” he said. “As you know, there are some other airports looking for people at this time, and the board and the [Fort Worth and Dallas] mayors felt like we should put in place a retention program that will incent him to stay around here at least for the next four years.”

If approved, the airport would contribute $150,000 in each of the next four years, starting in January, to a tax-deferred account. Donohue would receive the full amount from the account if he is employed at DFW until Jan. 1, 2021. If Donohue leaves or is terminated for cause, he would forfeit the entire lump sum payment.

The deferred compensation would be in addition to Donohue’s existing annual salary of $466,796. The board also is considering giving Donohue a raise. Donohue is already among the top paid public executives in Tarrant County, according to a Star-Telegram survey.

Coats said Donohue is not paid as highly as some airport executives at airports in some other countries, but acknowledged that he is well-paid compared to other U.S. airport executives. He said he did not know if Donohue had been recruited or applied for other open airport jobs.

Donohue is also eligible for a six-figure cash bonus for achieving seven out of ten “key performance indicators” set out for him last year. The board is considering a $129,535.89 bonus for Donohue, which is equivalent to 27.75 percent of his annual salary.

Donohue improved the airport’s customer survey score and reduced the number of runway incursions in the past year. However, he did not meet the airport’s goal of increasing international seat capacity by more than 3 percent. Even though Japan Airlines added a daily flight to Tokyo Narita, DFW’s international growth was hurt by Emirates Airline downsizing its daily flight to Dubai from an Airbus A380 to a Boeing 777-300ER.

The full airport board scheduled to discuss Donohue’s salary, bonus and retention package, and possibly vote on it, at its monthly meeting Thursday morning.

Donohue was hired as CEO at DFW Airport in 2013 to succeed Jeff Fegan, who retired after leading the airport for 20 years. Donohue previously worked as chief operating officer at Virgin Australia and in several executive positions at United Airlines.

During his tenure, Donohue has overseen the $2.7 billion terminal renovation program at the airport. The project budget swelled initially as additional items such as a new parking garage were added to the project, but Donohue has brought the project back on schedule.

Donohue is currently one of the highest-paid airport executives in the U.S. Chicago O’Hare Airport’s top executive, Ginger Evans, earned a $300,000 salary last year along with a $100,000 bonus. Deborah Flint, who oversees Los Angeles International Airport, received a salary of $330,000 when she was hired in July 2015.

A couple of high-profile airport executive jobs are currently open.

Earlier this year, Atlanta’s mayor fired Miguel Southwell, general manager of the country’s largest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Southwell’s salary in 2014 was $221,000.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports, has been searching for over a year for a chief executive and has offered to pay $450,000 a year for the position.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk