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Interview With Joyce Carter

Joyce Carter is the CEO of Halifax International Airport Authority, one of the busiest airports in Canada. However, as Joyce is proud to point out, on a per capita basis, HIAA is actually the busiest airport in the country, an impressive fact considering the size of the province. That’s just one of the facts that Joyce is very happy to share in her role as the “mayor” of the airport and surrounding facilities.

We spoke to Joyce about her current role at the airport and, as a Saint Mary’s alumni, we learned how her time at SMU had a direct impact on where she is today.

Let’s start with what you do at the airport as CEO – we are guessing it’s not a one-word answer.

I actually do have a one-word answer as I was asked that recently but I’ll start with the long version. I am President and CEO of HIAA and, with my team, we oversee the management, development and operation of the airport.

And now the one-word answer?

I was recently asked by the Airport Council International, as part of a profile on women leaders, how I would describe my job in one word – and I thought, that’s a hard question. But the answer I came up with is that I am a “collaborator”. So much happens at the airport that requires us to work with other organizations, like stakeholders, our community, our board, tenants, clients, airlines, all three levels of government, security agencies and the list goes on. So the biggest thing I think I do is to collaborate, coordinate and cooperate – to bring it all together to get the best possible outcome.

Some people refer to you as the “mayor” of the airport. Tell us about that.

When you think of all the services that you see – the roads, the lighting, the fire, the police, the building, the maintenance - we provide all that, either through our own employees or we contract it out. So it is like running a small town and, yes, I have been called the mayor of that small town. And I do work with federal, provincial and municipal governments so it’s also similar in that regard as well.

You mentioned you were featured as part of a profile on women leaders. How do you feel being a woman in this role?

Transportation, and in particular aviation, is traditionally not a world dominated by females, particularly in senior roles. I’m a member of the Canadian Airports Council and Halifax would be considered a Tier One airport - a category which is comprised of eight of the largest airports in Canada – and I am the only female leader in the group. I feel very proud of that. I feel that is quite an accomplishment for our community, our board, our management team and for our airport.

What is one of the things you take the most pride in, in your role at the airport?

For me, the economic impact that the HIAA has on the entire province is a huge source of pride and importance. The HIAA generates 1.3 billion dollars in economic activity for the province. And that is significant. The percentage of employment is 2.8% - equivalent to roughly 3% of all employment in the province. Those are some pretty significant numbers. And, with my degree in commerce - my major was accounting - I have a love for numbers. Because those numbers tell a story. And it’s a story that I’m proud to be a part of.

Your degree in commerce is a great segue into your time at SMU. Why did you choose SMU?

Well, being a small town girl from Cape Breton, I knew I wanted to leave home for school, but I was pretty certain I wanted to stay in Nova Scotia. Once I made my mind up to study business, then without a doubt it was SMU. It had the reputation as the place to go, a reputation it still has today, as the place to go if you want to get a business degree. And, as I said, I was from a small town so I wanted to experience a bigger city, but somehow still preserve a small-town feel. Well, SMU had it all – a great reputation for commerce, small enough that I felt I could fit in and get to know the other students and my profs, but also in a big city and with easy access back home for visits.

Getting to know your profs was one of the reasons the size of SMU appealed to you. And did you experience this while at SMU?

Absolutely. And in fact, two professors in particular had a huge impact on my life, as mentors and, today, as peers.

How did these profs play such an important role in your studies and life?

One of my commerce professors, in accounting, was just such a lovely, helpful person. He would often stay after class and provide any extra guidance that the students needed. I have many recollections of staying behind and of him helping and encouraging me. He was a true mentor. And he played an important role in my life later on. When I got my CFA in 2012, he was the one who introduced me at the ceremony. I had looked up to him my whole life and, in his introductory remarks, I felt like he was looking up to me and I was so honoured by that.

And was the other prof also a great mentor?

She actually sticks in my memory more for pushing me. She always challenged me and urged me to think differently – to think in terms other than black and white. And I know she pushed me because she saw there was something more there. She saw my potential and helped me realize it.

It sounds like you had amazing professors. What other SMU experiences stand out in your memories?

The campus. I loved hanging out on campus. I actually didn’t live on campus so even if I didn’t have classes all day, I’d still hang out, just to be immersed in the experience. Even today, if I’m downtown, I’ll try to drive by SMU. It relaxed me as a student and I find it relaxing, even today.

You mentioned that you are originally from Cape Breton. What did you love about moving to Halifax for school?

I was actually married when I went to SMU so whenever my husband and I had a chance, we’d hang out downtown, or on the hill at Citadel Hill, or we’d walk the waterfront. Sometimes we’d head out of town, to the ocean and find a beautiful beach. I mean, you can be on the ocean, or at Peggy’s Cove in 40 minutes. So we’d just get in the car and go exploring and take in everything the area has to offer.

Is there anything else, when you think back on your time at SMU, that really resonates with you to this day?

One thing about a smaller campus is that it is perfect for meeting people and developing close friendships. My classmates became friends and we studied in small groups and worked together on projects. They met my family. I met theirs. I don’t know that I would have developed the close relationships that I did, had I been in a larger setting.

It sounds like you made some lifetime friendships.

Yes, in fact, my best friend today is someone I met at SMU. We met sitting in class one day and I leaned over to her and said “Do you understand what he just said, because I don’t and we became friends. Literally sitting beside each other. We then went on to study together, got our degree together and I’m the godmother of one of her children. So, in addition to a degree, and a career, I also got a best friend for life from my time at Saint Mary’s.