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Atif Saeed, a bald Pakistani man with a trimmed and short gray beard. He is shown from the shoulders up wearing a dark blue suit. He is facing the viewer and smiling.
Photo credit: David Rosenblum, PHL Airport.

Meet Atif Saeed, entrepreneur, aviation executive, and new CEO of the Philadelphia International Airport

As he takes the reins of the only major airport for the sixth largest metropolitan area in the nation, AL DÍA sat down with Saeed to learn about his journey.

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On Dec. 1, 2022, Atif Saeed officially took on the position of CEO for the Philadelphia International Airport, overseeing the annual servicing of 32 million passengers, 106,000 full time jobs, and the generation of $16.8 billion every year.

But who is Saeed, and why did he come to the Philadelphia International Airport? Recently, he sat down with AL DÍA so we could learn more about him and how he came to be the head of one of the largest airports in the nation.

Saeed was born in Pakistan, one of five children. His mother was a teacher and his father was an attorney, both of whom put an emphasis on education. Despite leaving the south Asian country at a young age, he holds fond memories of his childhood, going back once a year to visit his family.

When he was 17, he came to the United States to study in college, but would drop out to pursue several entrepreneurial endeavors, ranging from owning multiple different restaurants to running a limousine and sedan transportation for nearly nine years.

After operating several small businesses for years, Saeed decided to go back to college, earning his bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix, and then a Master’s of Business Administration from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Other studies he took to expand his education included professional development programs, such as those in government administration, airport management, and leadership in airport spaces.

Following his graduation, Saeed began work as Assistant Director of Landside Operations for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) based in Minneapolis.

His decision to enter the airport industry wasn’t just because it put together his knowledge in business and public policy, but let him fulfill the desire to support his community.

“I [oversaw] the parking and ground transportation operations, which is a very major revenue source for all airports — including Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport — which is a commercial airport that [the MAC] runs similar to Philadelphia International Airport,” Saeed explained.

Trial by fire

A few years after he began his work as Assistant Director, Saeed took an opportunity to work as the Vice President of Finance and Revenue Development, taking on new responsibilities such as the MAC’s overall financial functions, its employee benefits, and the risk and insurance departments.

With an expanding portfolio and a growing understanding of how airports function, Saeed made his way up to Chief Financial Officer, retaining his previous responsibilities as Vice President and gaining new ones as a leader as he oversaw the company’s human resources’ labor relations, and employee development functions.

It was only a few months after his start as CFO that the COVID-19 pandemic struck, cutting the airport’s traffic down by 95%.

“Airports deeply depend upon the passenger to travel to our airports for generating revenue… Losing all the revenue while having to run an airport, which is a very high fixed cost business, became really, really challenging,” Saeed said.

To give further information about how airports operate, Saeed explained how airports act as centers for commerce. Inside each airport, there are numerous small businesses such as restaurants, shops, and service providers.

As a former small business owner himself, Saeed was familiar with the needs, functions, and perspectives of the businesses the MAC worked with.

“For us to be successful as an airport, it's imperative that all our business partners are successful, including our small business partners,” Saeed said.

Through a joint effort by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Airports Council International-North America, the MAC joined a coalition of airports seeking federal aid, of which they received three installations over the following two years.

But in order to make the best use of it, Saeed needed to understand the needs of the businesses that operated in the airport, meeting weekly to understand their concerns, find solutions, share useful information, and how best to give financial support.

These meetings would run through the length of the pandemic, becoming monthly meetings as air travel resumed, the goal now to plan ahead for the future and ensure that they are prepared.

“What was instrumental was immediate and consistent communication, open doors, understanding their concerns, and figuring out ways to be able to provide solutions for them,” Saeed said.

Coming to Philly

The choice to come to the Philadelphia International Airport came after Saeed found an opportunity to make the switch.

“After I started going through the interview process, I met with the business leaders, community leaders, and other employees within the city, as well as the airport. I was quite convinced that this was the place I wanted to be at,” Saeed said.

“Having an opportunity to run a great airport and a great community was just something I couldn't turn down,” he continued.

The coming years of traffic are already being prepared for, ranging from the 2026 World Cup hosted in the city and the 250th anniversary of the founding of the nation, to the NCAA lacrosse championships in 2023 and Wrestlemania in 2024.

Having been CEO for a month, Saeed looks forward to integrating into Philadelphia’s community, and providing service not just as an employee of the city running the airport, but as a fellow member of the community around him.

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