Since Michelle Brantley brought her planning and project development expertise to Ontario International Airport (ONT) in 2019, the leader has seen multiple successes. As director of planning, she built her department from the ground up and updated the FAA required Airport Layout Plan to ensure compliance, which led to more federal funding for key projects. She has also spearheaded efforts to identify future needs for the airport and worked with tenants on development proposals.
But by far, her greatest achievement at the airport runs deeper than the projects she’s helped to complete. She’s most proud of the bonds she’s forged with her team and the strong relationships she has formed with regulatory and business partners, says Brantley, who currently serves as chief capital development officer.
“Above all else, the team we built here and the people who are working every single day on planning, development, and sustainability of the airport are what’s important to me,” she says. “I’m so blessed to work with them because we’re all incredibly committed to doing what it takes to help this airport provide for the needs of the region.”
Brantley shows her commitment to the airport and its people by being a servant leader who removes obstacles and isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves. However, the leader admits that as she focuses more on strategy, she’s working to redefine what service looks like.
“I’m evolving as a coach. We’re a very lean staff, are always moving, and have a lot going on all the time. Because of that, it’s easy for me to give the answers or what I think should happen but it’s probably more beneficial if I ask more questions and help people find the answer on their own,” she observes. “It’s been hard making that transition but I’m navigating it by listening to informative audiobooks and podcasts and seeking out other sources on leadership development. Centering myself before certain meetings also helps me get into that space.”
Brantley and her colleagues have spent the last few years focused on modernizing and improving the medium-hub airport, which serves the Inland Empire and Greater Los Angeles metro areas.
ONT Project Highlights
- Development of signage and wayfinding standards for a project to replace all terminal signage in 2024
- Upgrading checked bag security screening equipment at ONT to the latest technology using a TSA grant
- Rehabilitation of some existing parking lots in 2022 and 2023 with more to come
One way has been through a multiyear program that’ll rehabilitate an airfield runway, modify the geometry of four taxiways to meet FAA standards, and to provide a new modern airfield lighting vault to house equipment. The capital development team was able to secure $65 million in grant funding for the program and is excited to begin the second year of construction in 2024.
Moving forward, Brantley is excited to see how the airport evolves amid emerging technologies.
“In 2019, we were talking about a lot of technology that was aspirational like everyone is going to just fly in their little pod to the airport. But I feel there’s been a drive toward a more realistic and measured view of what that future looks like, which is incredibly helpful for planning purposes,” she says. “It’s still not easy to plan for disruption but as we have more relevant conversations about the actual implementation of some advanced innovations, it’s a lot more useful in planning and development.”
Brantley’s advice for success is geared toward young people who are anxious about their future. The key to quelling that anxiety is to “focus on the job in front of your while preparing yourself for the next steps.”
“Sometimes we get so anxious about the future that we might not be grounded in the present. The reality is if we’re focused on doing the best job we can where we are, then we are naturally preparing ourselves for what comes next,” she says.
Another gem: without failure, you can’t succeed, Brantley says. “The same way we celebrate our successes, we should celebrate our failures. That’s how we learn. We should be responsible, but we can’t be afraid to fail because we won’t advance if we don’t.”
Michelle Brantley on Coping via Camaraderie
“Airports are stressful environments. As we advance our capital program and there are more complex projects, the stress levels can get really high. That’s why our organization prioritizes fun, well-intentioned teasing and healthy competition. To cope with the stress, we have team-building activities that allow each member to share something, connect with each other, and just bring their entire selves to work. We work hard but we never want to forget that every one of us is a whole human being with a life outside work.”
For over 50 years, we have proudly served public sector clients nationwide. As a small, minority, and woman-owned business, KDG provides Project Management, Construction Management, and Project Controls services. Our seasoned team has successfully managed 250 projects, contributing to the seamless execution of $30 billion in Capital Improvement Programs.