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Three Questions With Erik Ward, CEO Of Pacific Gateway

Editor’s Note: Erik Ward recently took over as CEO of Pacific Gateway, replacing Joe Waller. Ward joined the California-based concessions company in 2016 as vice president of business development and, prior to that, was vice president of leasing with Westfield’s shopping center division. AXN’s Carol Ward (no relation) spoke with Erik Ward about his plans for Pacific Gateway going forward.

Carol Ward: What is your vision for the company, and how does it differ from that of your predecessor?

Erik Ward: I want to continue the vision of our owners – who have shepherded the company over the last 20 years – starting out as a small ACDBE operator in San Francisco, guiding it through graduating from the program then expanding across the country. Joe [Waller] really built on that vision by highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit of the company and building on the innovative approach to travel retail that is so sorely needed in the industry. Joe was a great driver for our rapid growth over the last two years. I really see myself as continuing that vision for the company. We’re in the process of developing 21 stores this year, which represents our fastest growth in our history. My goals are really to make good on the commitments we’ve made to our airport partners and brand partners and joint venture partners around the country, develop and open these great store concepts and build on our internal infrastructure to support that growth.

We’re certainly going to continue to grow. While I was leading our business development efforts over the last three years, my background was also in organizational operations. As we continue to grow strategically, we will be making sure our teams around the country have the support to offer the best customer experience in the airport.

Carol Ward: Airports seem to be moving toward larger packages or contracts. As a mid-sized player, are you seeing enough or more than enough to pique your interest?

Erik Ward: Every airport has made their own staffing and resource decisions about how to approach their procurement process and how many leases they can manage.The role of government is not to be maximally efficient. The role of government is to be maximally responsible to its constituents. That’s my belief. It is on airports to figure out how to be responsive to their constituents in the most efficient way they can be. Sometimes airports choose to package their opportunities in a way that is most efficient to the airport but may not be the most responsive to small businesses and local constituents. As a mid-sized player in the industry, we know, based on our experience, that we can successfully compete against the global players in the industry. We have the scale to compete but we have the touch of a small business and can be more responsive to the local needs of an airport.

Carol Ward: There is a good amount of consolidation in the U.S. concessions industry. What does that mean to a mid-sized player like Pacific Gateway Concessions?

Erik Ward: The airport concessions industry is like every industry in that there are periods of consolidation and periods of divestiture and spinoffs and opportunities for new entrants into the market. Periods of consolidation provide a great opportunity for small business owners to realize the value of the great companies they’ve built over many years, and for acquiring companies to inject the lifeblood of innovative approach and entrepreneurial spirit that these small companies embody. It’s a natural part of the business cycle.