miguel_southwell.jpgHe is an African American doing his job in an exemplary fashion –and going beyond that, helping to beneficially change the trajectory of Africa’s indigenous inhabitants and the Diaspora. In doing so, Miguel Southwell, deputy director at Miami International Airport, is in the process of making history.

In doing so, Miguel Southwell, deputy director at Miami International Airport, is in the process of making history. 

As a top airport executive Southwell is responsible for the business affairs of the Miami-Dade County system of airports, which includes Miami International and four general-aviation airports.  

He directs the key divisions of Real Estate Management; Food, Beverage and Retail Concessions; Parking Operations; Car Rental Services; Hotel and VIP Club Management; Marketing (of passenger and air cargo development); Human Resources; Procurement; Contracts; MIA Business Ventures (including consulting services to other airports); Information Technology; and Fine Arts and Culture.  

Southwell is responsible for raising more than $700 million each year from a number of revenue sources. Prior to joining the county in 2001 he worked at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in various positions including interim assistant general manager of business and finance.

He also served for five years as an adjunct professor of airport and airline management at Georgia State University.


Prior to Atlanta, Southwell oversaw 16 branches as an assistant vice president with Willamette Savings in Portland, Ore. He started his career in the airline industry in the Caribbean island of Antigua, where he was born. He holds a master’s degree in Business Administration. 

Under Southwell’s leadership the Miami-Dade Aviation Department won the Federal Aviation Administration’s top 2012 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Advocate and Partner Award.

Miami International Airport also won the Airport Minority Advisory Council’s top 2012 Airport Concessions Award for meeting or exceeding its Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) goal over a period of no less than two years. 

The DBE and ACDBE programs are designed to provide airport contracting opportunities to minorities and women owned businesses, particularly in the areas of construction and food, beverage and retail concessions at the airport.

Southwell’s view is that “These programs are great for the community. They are essential in building wealth amongst minority and women owned businesses and stimulating economic development within the communities in which they operate.”

Southwell is among approximately six African Americans to hold either the top or deputy’s position among the nation’s more than 400 commercial airports.


Last week he spoke during the Airport Revenue News Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nev., describing his airport’s approach to considering private-sector funds to finance airport capital projects in the U.S. and in nations throughout the African Diaspora including Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Over the past five years Southwell has led the Miami airport’s team in negotiating a number of public private partnerships that will produce more than $1.2 billion in new construction financed by the private sector and 10,000 jobs. He has also provided advice to a number of airports throughout the Diaspora. 

Asked about a potential leadership role that could be of mutual benefit to Miami and countries in the African Diaspora, Southwell pointed to the airport’s longstanding ties with Latin America and the Caribbean, with MIA being the gateway to those regions. 


He also credits Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss for his strong and longstanding advocacy of MIA’s development as the gateway to Africa.

Toward that end, in 2005 Southwell partnered MIA with the Washington-based Foundation for Democracy in Africa to stage the U.S.-Africa Air Transportation Summit in Miami, the purpose of which was to promote direct air service between Africa and the U.S., with an emphasis on Miami. Years earlier Southwell orchestrated a similar effort in Atlanta that contributed to South African Airways’ direct service.

He stated that investment opportunities in Africa are particularly favorable for U.S. firms wishing to take advantage of the privatization sweeping across that continent within various industry sectors.

He points to the growing presence of Indian and Chinese businesses in East, South and West Africa and believes such business opportunities abound for U.S. companies, if only those businesses were able to transport their goods and people via timely and direct air service between the two points. Approximately 75 percent of passengers traveling between the U.S. and Africa now must connect through another continent – primarily Europe.

The next U.S.-Africa Air Transportation Summit will be held in Miami in May 2014.


Among the biggest threats to aviation growth are increasing fuel prices and a looming shortage of aircraft pilots, Southwell said.

The qualification threshold for pilots has risen over the last decade, he said, but being a commercial pilot is still a rewarding career, one that he says not enough black youths are considering. Long haul captains who fly international routes can earn as much as $400,000 per year and may fly as few as 10 days per month. 

Southwell and his staff at MIA have been working with the aviation program at Florida Memorial University, the only historically black college or university (HBCU) in South Florida, to also promote careers in airport and airline management.

Under Southwell’s leadership, MIA has achieved a number of other major accomplishments, including being named “U.S. Airport with the Most New Airlines” in 2011 and “Fastest Growing U.S. Airport in 2011” by aviation industry analysts Anna.aero


His is now the U.S. airport with the most international flights, surpassing JFK in 2012; the most international passenger traffic growth of any U.S. gateway airport over the past four years, with  passenger traffic growth exceeding 7 percent, more than twice the national average, for each of the past two years; MIA’s North Terminal concession program was named Best (large airport) Terminal Concession Program by Airport Revenue News (ARN) during the magazine’s February 2012 annual awards;  MIA was named one of the 10 best airports in the U.S. in 2011 by the readership of Travel and Leisure magazine.

For the past decade Southwell has served on the World Governing Board of Airport’s Council International (ACI), the five-region official association of the world’s airports consisting of 1,650 airports in over 179 countries and territories.

He is also a board member and the immediate-past president of ACI’s Latin America and Caribbean region.

Not only has MIA excelled as a result of his leadership. Last year Southwell was recognized by a number of black publications and organizations, among them ICABA which cited him as among the top 25 most distinguished Caribbean Americans in South Florida. 

In the meantime, he’s still making history.

*Pictured above is Miguel Southwell.