Dec. 20--Memphis International Airport's top administrator bid farewell Thursday amid tributes from his bosses on the Airport Authority and No. 1 customer FedEx Corp.
Larry Cox, who officially caps a 41-year career Jan. 2, said he's proud to have led "the most important nonprofit organization in this city, this county, this state, and maybe the United States," which he estimated has had an economic impact of $400 billion to $500 billion since 1970, mostly because of FedEx's home base.
"I think every day what would Memphis, Tennessee look like without FedEx," Cox said during his last board meeting in more than 30 years as president and chief executive officer. "This Airport Authority has been hugely important, has been hugely successful, and it's not because of me; it's because of everybody in this room," said Cox, 66. The airport and related businesses have a $28.6 billion annual impact in Memphis, primarily because of cargo traffic that's more than 99 percent FedEx.
Authority board chairman Jack Sammons said, "This young man gave Fred Smith his first tour of the airport," when the FedEx founder was looking to move operations here from Little Rock.
As an independent board with financing ability, the authority became a partner in the FedEx Express world hub, starting with a $2.9 million bond issue. Sammons said he enlisted Cox's help in locating financial documents and other source material that will eventually be used for a historical exhibit in the terminal lobby.
Sammons said Cox left the airport well-positioned to rebound from a steep slide in passenger traffic "because of the way our debts have been structured and the talent you assembled."
Memphis stood as the world's largest cargo airport for 18 years before it was relegated to No. 2, behind Hong Kong in 2010, because of explosive growth in Asia.
"This has meant huge, huge economic development for Memphis and the region," said Ross Guscette, FedEx manager of airport relations and development. "Larry, your foresight helped make this happen. We've enjoyed a cooperative and productive relationship over the years."
Bob Martin, a former authority employee, said Cox was instrumental in convincing the former Republic Airlines to locate a hub in Memphis in the late 1970s when it was considering Kansas City. The hub stood for more than three decades, until Delta Air Lines discontinued it last fall.
Cox leaves as the airport struggles to overcome losses of passenger service resulting from Delta's downsizing. He originally planned to retire next July but moved up his departure after the Airport Authority settled on his No. 2, executive vice president and chief operating officer Scott Brockman, as his successor in the $350,000-a-year job.
"It's been great, but it's time to go," said Cox.
Copyright 2013 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
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