Flying with the times

Dennis Chant inspires others to aim high

FROM a one-man show in 1999 to more than 100 staff today, Queensland Airports Limited (QAL) has become a soaring success story under the control of its managing director, Dennis Chant.

Last year, QAL turned over $56 million - $37 million of which came from the Gold Coast Airport (GCA).

Mr Chant created his own leadership role within the corporate entity that acts as an umbrella to three airports in Queensland - Gold Coast, Mt Isa and Townsville. He now oversees more than 100 staff across three terminals, but it's the Gold Coast terminal that he has been instrumental in putting on the map - the gateway to Australia's premier tourist destination.

More likely to fly economy to set a 'good example to the troops', the affable air transport doyen has transformed the GCA into one of then fastest-growing terminals in Australia. With runway extensions due for completion in March 2007, Asia is the next port of call with direct flights taking off next year.

A single, extra 767 flight per day will provide an additional 100,000 seats a year into the region, create an estimated 800 direct and indirect jobs and increase immediate expenditure by $130 million.

"One challenge I face from a leadership perspective is getting individuals to
think as a team"

A low-cost focus, coupled with fast and efficient access, has accelerated the airport's rapid growth, with passenger numbers doubling in the past five years to more than 3.5 million each year.

This has been achieved with a finely honed team. Mr Chant is both respected and revered for his ability to empathise with this team, many of who now sustain viable careers in the airline industry.

"One challenge I face from a leadership perspective is getting individuals to think as a team," he says.

"We only have four people working at Mt Isa Airport, but they face the same challenges and adhere to the same philosophies as we do here at the Gold Coast, just on a smaller scale.

"The term 'triple bottom line' is too jargonistic, but our staff are across social, environmental and economic aspects of
the company.

"The big challenge as a small enterprise is attracting the right talent and you

have to do that with more than just remuneration. There has to be a level of job satisfaction.

" We have doubled our numbers in the past three years and can offer people career opportunities. We don't measure output by hours, but by achievements, to be constantly challenged by growth.

"I like to delegate and I think you have to challenge people and encourage them to take risks. If someone makes a mistake, they should not be banished for it.

"If you have not made a mistake, it usually means you have not pushed yourself," he says.

"I challenge my staff to find new horizons. It's important to be constantly learning and to create new challenges, otherwise you fall by the wayside."

Mr Chant says administration, accounting and IT positions at the airport are snapped up quickly, with candidates realising the vast opportunities in one of the city's key infrastructure hubs.

In 2002, he appointed a full, in-house management team at GCA, while the broader QAL is made up of 'whole services of well-defined small businesses', from revenue generation to cost control and customer service.

"As a group, we are very self sustaining," says Mr Chant, who was the sole employee in management one year after the GCA was privatised in 1998.

"We then took over and brought in our management team. I suppose my strengths lay in being able to take over a Federal Government entity and localise it by handling the infrastructure and re-branding where necessary.

"An airport should reflect the city that it serves and we have worked very hard on that branding."

Mr Chant, one of two Australians on the board of Airports Council International, attributes his management skills and open-style communication to a country upbringing in Roma, outback Queensland.

He completed an engineering degree in 1975 before graduating with masters in business from the University of South Queensland in 1993.

"I'm fortunate that I come from a small town. I think it makes you more open and confident," he says.

"As a young engineer, I had to learn how to communicate on large construction sites, which can be daunting - coming straight out of university and telling a six-foot builder how to do his job. Coming from the country, I think you are more at ease with the world."

Mr Chant offers a simple yet practical philosophy on what he be believes constitutes quality leadership.

"If you can define the outcomes, you can define the challenge," he says.

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