XNA offers $205,000 annual salary to next CEO, executive director

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 1,019 views 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority approved an annual salary of $205,000 for Aaron Burkes, the next CEO and executive director for the Highfill-based airport. Burkes accepted the offer after an executive session Wednesday (Oct. 17). He will start Oct. 30.

Also, board chairwoman Blake Woolsey announced Scott Van Laningham, the existing CEO and executive director, would retire from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) on Dec. 31. This would allow Van Laningham to work with Burkes and to complete special projects, such as a history of the airport.

This was Burkes’ first full board meeting since he accepted the CEO position. He previously attended a board committee meeting last week, and Burkes said his last full day in his existing position as president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority will be Thursday (Oct. 18).

Board members offered Burkes the CEO position after an executive session Sept. 27. Burkes accepted the position, and salary negotiations started the following week.

Burkes was one of the top three candidates considered for the job. XNA Airport Director Kelly Johnson and Steve Hennigan, assistant general manager of operations for Bush Intercontinental Airport, were the other top candidates.

Also Sept. 27, board members approved to offer Johnson the position of chief operating officer with an annual salary of up to $185,000, according to the meeting minutes. The chief operating officer position was part of the discussion during the execution session Wednesday, but negotiations continue for the position, Woolsey said.

Johnson and Burkes were two of the six candidates who were selected by executive search consultant Russell Reynolds Associates from a pool of more than 100 people considered for the position. About 70 people applied for the position, and on Aug. 30, the board interviewed the six candidates before it whittled down the number to three. Burkes was selected after a week of interviews and meetings over breakfast, lunch and dinner with board members and with area stakeholders and business leaders.

Burkes said he plans to do a lot of listening when he starts in the position and to focus on the existing airport projects. Some of the projects include the terminal expansion and renovation and the construction of an access road to the airport.

In 2017, Van Laningham announced his plans to retire. On Dec. 13, the XNA board approved spending up to $200,000 to hire Russell Reynolds to help find the airport’s next CEO and complete a structural review of airport administrative staff. Along with the chief operating officer, other positions the board looks to select include a chief financial officer and chief development officer.

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