Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Cheryl Cohen-Vader ’77

Cheryl Cohen-Vader ’77 is second-in-command at Denver International Airport.
(Courtesy Cheryl Cohen-Vader ’77)

PROFILE-Cheryl Cohen-Vader ’77
Managing the unpredictable

As chief deputy director of Denver International Airport, Cheryl Cohen-Vader ’77 practices hands-on management. That includes shoveling snow — as she did after one big storm last winter when she joined a crew digging out directional signs on a runway, a chore done manually until the airport leased equipment to do that task. “It was a good way to exercise and also meet people who I wouldn’t ordinarily meet,” recalls Cohen-Vader.

With 1,100 employees and another 30,000 concession workers, contractors, and other people “badged” to work there, the 53-square-mile facility offers Cohen-Vader countless chances for meetings. The 10th-busiest airport in the world, Denver Airport serves 130,000 passengers and 1,670 flights daily.

Snow emergencies are just one part of Cohen-Vader’s unpredictable workday.

“There is no average day,” she says. At a recent senior staff meeting, she discussed issues concerning stranded passengers before being grabbed by the head of operations to talk about the airport’s snow plan, and later talking to reporters about the results of an audit. Another day she had to deal with the collapse of a walkway passengers take from a waiting room to the plane. (The walkway had landed on the plane’s wing after all the passengers had deplaned; no one was injured.)

Cohen-Vader, who majored in sociology as an undergraduate, initially had not planned on working in a public-sector job. She earned an M.B.A. at Columbia and became an investment banker. She joined Denver’s city government as revenue manager in 1996; as one of Denver’s biggest assets, the airport became a major focus of her work. She spent two years as Denver’s deputy mayor before taking her post at the airport in April 2006.

Security issues always demand attention. After the terrorist attack on Scotland’s Glasgow Airport in June 2007, Cohen-Vader says, the airport increased the number of police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs. Recalling another security issue, she says, “In August 2006, the liquids ban was instituted in London at 1 a.m. Denver time and we had to institute it the next morning. That was quite an adventure.” P

By Van Wallach ’80

Van Wallach ’80 is a freelance writer in Stamford, Conn.