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Kim Day’s Vision for DIA: Asking “Why Not?”

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At first glance, the resume of Kim Day will certainly catch your eye, but when you get to know the woman behind all of those accomplishments, her spirit will decidedly capture your heart.

Upon first meeting Kim, if you sense a genuine, kind-hearted, inspirational and approachable individual, then please don’t waver from that initial conclusion. She is the kind of person who interacts with people seamlessly independently and as part of a team. She maintains a polished appearance with extraordinary composure layered with grace, discretion and sound judgment at all times. She is proactive and anticipatory, able to wear multiple hats simultaneously, all while doing so with a smile on her face and joy in her heart. She does not just have a job or even a career. She has a calling that speaks to her soul; she can execute strategies and schedules with purpose and meaning, tempered with both administrative and personal touch responsibilities. And to top it off, she has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that when it comes to one’s dreams and goals, the sky is truly the limit.

As CEO of Denver International Airport, Kim has clearly brought the facility well into the 21st century. When her feet hit the ground each morning, she doesn’t blink twice, knowing she must oversee 1,100 airport employees, more than 53 million passengers annually and balance an astronomical $880 million budget. Just another day at the office? In a sense, yes, and she seems to take it all in stride. After all, she has spent nearly her entire life around planes.

Kim was born in Waco, Texas, and was raised by two loving and supportive parents who always encouraged her dreams. Her father was a World War II pilot and a Strategic Air Command Information Officer, and it was his career that opened the window to the world of flight to Kim. “My dad fostered in me an interest in travel, and he always took us to air shows whenever he could,” recalled Kim, giving a nod to the old-fashioned romance of air travel. As her dad’s job moved the family around appreciably, they eventually settled in Bellevue, Nebraska, where Kim graduated from high school before transitioning to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. The summer between her freshman and sophomore years found her completing an internship in the architectural field, which solidified her interest in the profession.

Kim is quick to note that pursing an architectural degree takes relentless drive and determination. It is not for the faint of heart, and out of a class of 120 initially, roughly 30 students graduated, most relatively unscratched from the experience. “You need tough skin to get through the five-year program,” she cautioned. “And when I graduated, women comprised about 10 percent of the class. Today it is about 50/50.”

Kim also did some graduate work in business at the University of California, Berkeley. Her impressive career currently spans more than 30 years of experience, 20 of which allowed her to hone her skills as an architect and planner, eventually specializing in airports. The first step in her career began with a position at Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, a high-profile architectural and engineering firm where she migrated from a junior designer to a vice president, becoming responsible for overseeing multiple aviation and transportation projects. She then transitioned in 1998 to Gensler, an international architectural, design and planning firm, where she continued to oversee design and construction. Through this role, she participated in the renovations at Corpus Christi International Airport and Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City.

Perhaps some of her most crowning achievements prior to her position at DIA were at Los Angeles World Airports, where in 1999 she was hired as deputy executive director for design and construction, and was later appointed by Mayor Hahn as its executive director. Her daily calendar was packed with such issues as managing 3,000 employees, overseeing a $600 million operating budget and obtaining the Record of Decision for the $11 billion LAX master plan that took Los Angeles International Airport from 64 million passengers annually to almost 80 million. She is also credited with the successful negotiation of a $350 million reimbursement with the Transportation Security Administration, and maintaining an AA bond rating after the events of 9/11. Additionally, she oversaw a host of projects, including the design for the first phase of the Tom Bradley International Terminal renovation at LAX and the iconic lighted pylons that denote the entrance along Century Boulevard.

Subsequent to her time with LAWA, Kim worked with a consultancy agency specializing in aviation planning, but when opportunity knocked to come to DIA, she did not complain about the noise and eagerly embraced what has since become her best endeavor to date. Kim was appointed to DIA by Mayor John Hickenlooper in 2008 and then reappointed by Mayor Michael Hancock three years later. It is her job with DIA that pushes her to full throttle. “This job utilizes all my skills and training and satisfies my passion for the aviation industry,” she noted. “This is the best job in America. I learn something new every day and love overseeing one of the best airports in the country.”

Kim hails DIA as the biggest driver in the region in terms of economic development, as well as its position as a portal to the world. “We enjoy significant political, community and business support here, especially when it comes to our intentions for expansion,” she said. Kim is extremely grateful for such a supportive community that prefers to answer to new ideas, suggestions and possibilities not with a “Why?” but with a “Why not?” approach.

She appreciates that in this community, words readily transcend into action without hesitation. “Nothing means more to me than the support of Mayor Hancock,” she emphasized. “He accompanies us on trips and helps us to build relationships with airline CEOs. He truly understands and supports our vision for the future.” Part of that future includes transforming this airport, a city in and of itself, into a destination point. By November of this year, a new hotel will open and commuter rail is scheduled to begin in spring 2016, allowing transport from Union Station to the airport, creating a solid tie to the downtown area.

As Kim schedules her own professional agenda for each day, she realizes that no two days are the same, but she is always prepared. “I have the best team in America,” she smiled. “They are all technically proficient and we go about our business in a productive way. We never know what will happen, but my team has developed a discipline to effectively deal with the unknown by constructing hypotheticals and developing financial tools to mitigate the unexpected.

There is Plan A, but we always have Plans B and C in place, and we are well prepared to face the unexpected.” Kim feels blessed to work in such a supportive community and credits its optimism as part of her success. “This is such a wonderful place to be,” she stated. “There are so many positive ideas and there’s so much inspiration to work toward those ideas.”

When she is not addressing the professional issues of the day, Kim enjoys her down time and finds relaxation in cooking, baking, socializing with friends or just rolling up her sleeves to complete some sort of project around the house. She also enjoys the company of her two cats, Sacagawea, a tortoise shell, and Tucker, a longhaired feline, both of which are rescues. However, when push comes to shove, she has no shame reflex in admitting that work is her primary hobby. It stands to reason, too, as her love for what intoxicates her spirit came from her parents who were responsible for giving her that first pair of wings in life. “My parents always believed my brother and I could do whatever we wanted to do in life,” she reminisced. “They were both hard working people and both of them actually earned their college degrees while I was in high school, and my mother went on to obtain her master’s degree while I was in college. It is from her that I have my optimism, creativity and love of life. She has always been my hero.”

Kim realizes she is truly blessed beyond words and will be the first to admit that she did not enter college expecting to become an airport director. “I worked hard to develop my skills,” she noted. “I am also the recipient of wonderful opportunities to which I have availed myself. When I first went to work for LAWA, I really did not know what the job entailed. I simply took that leap of faith. And I am glad I did.”

Next to air travel, sometimes that leap of faith is the best form of transportation.

For more information on Kim and Denver International Airport, go online.