As Memphis International Airport expands and contracts depending on the time of day, the state of the airline industry and the financial climate, much of the responsibility of keeping the facility running smoothly falls to John Greaud.
The vice president of operations for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and his team of approximately 240 employees are charged with seeing that day-to-day functioning of the airport remains at a constant.
The MSCAA owns and operates three airports – Memphis International, General DeWitt Spain north of Downtown and Charles W. Baker in Millington – yet most of the focus of Greaud’s work and resources are on Memphis International.
FedEx, UPS, Wilson Air Center, Tennessee Air National Guard and Signature Flight Support all lease ground from the Airport Authority but are responsible for managing and maintaining their own facilities.
Three divisions fall under Greaud’s purview.
The maintenance division includes maintaining the structure and public spaces of the terminal, the landscaping, runways, taxiways and road systems, but not the detail maintenance of space leased by individual airlines and concessionaires. This division is also responsible for vehicle fleet maintenance for Memphis International, Baker and Spain.
The development division handles environmental, planning, design and construction of the facilities.
The third of Greaud’s divisions is operations, which covers the airport’s police department, communications center and ID office. It is responsible for emergency planning, certification through the Federal Aviation Administration and the coordination to ensure they meet those requirements daily, Transportation Security Administration coordination, and aircraft rescue and firefighting.
In addition to these three divisions, Greaud also oversees the customer service department and its 65 volunteers, and the Dorothy L. Bobbitt Health Station, which is contracted out to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
It’s a massive job, he admits, “and that’s part of the reason there’s not a typical day, it’s all over the place, I go wherever I need to based upon the time.”
The son of an Air Force pilot, Greaud moved around a lot as a child.
“People ask me where I’m from and I say, ‘I don’t know,’” he says with a laugh.
For the record, he was born in Texas and lived in England, South Carolina, Las Vegas, and Virginia for high school and college. His career began with training from Virginia Tech, followed by four years in the U.S. Air Force as a civil engineer.
“I did a variety of things there, to include essentially what my development division does, and then for a while I was involved in the maintenance end of things,” Greaud said. “So that’s where I started my airport experience, in the military.”
A year as a district manager for Taco Bell gave him experience – though vastly different from his engineering background – as a manager.
“Part of what the Air Force does with their officers when they come in is they teach you to be a manager,” he said. “As I was seeking positions outside the Air Force, I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a design desk all day long and do detail design; that’s just not my personality. I need to interact with people and be involved in other things.”
He would eventually find his way back to the tarmac, though, and landed his first job with a civilian airport in Birmingham, Ala., as an engineer.
He came to Memphis International in 1989 as a projects engineer in the development division, where he worked for nine years before becoming director of maintenance for another nine. He began his current position in 2008.
Greaud retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2011, and enjoys spending time now with his wife, Joanna, their two children, Josh and Julie, and two grandchildren. When it comes time to unwind, he hits the water with the Collierville Ski Club.
With such extensive experience with airports and the airline business, Greaud sees firsthand the current state of his industry with its airline mergers and a change in philosophy from chasing market share to chasing profit – and yet he remains cautiously optimistic for Memphis International.
“What I see going forward,” he said, “is that we will see a slight increase – slow, steady growth – in local traffic.”