Flying high with Perfecto M. Solis of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

What do you do if you want to be an Air Force pilot but you find out you’re color blind? If you’re Perfecto M. Solis, you turn your love of aviation into a successful engineering career that earns you numerous awards and accolades. Serving as vice president of airport development and engineering for Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, Solis oversees a multimillion-dollar budget and up to 100 projects at a time, including his largest project to date—a seven-year, $2 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP). Solis tells Hispanic Executive about the people that impacted his professional journey, the core fundamentals of his business beliefs, and how his passion for aviation took flight.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS “The thing that has surprised me most is that people believing in you can make all the difference,” says Perfecto M. Solis, vice president of airport development and engineering for DFW International Airport.

What influences led you to the field you are in today?  As a child in Laredo, Texas, I had an intense interest in construction and aviation. If there was any construction equipment around, I’d be the first kid going to look at what they were doing. I also loved aviation, and have been fortu- nate to find a career that has combined all those passions I had as a child.

Were there any other events from your youth that impacted your career?
The summer before my senior year of high school, my father passed away. The single most important event in my life, his passing took me from being a typical self-absorbed teenager to being the man of the house. The most important lesson I took from this time was that I could be more than I dreamed. It just takes hard work and discipline.

How did your first job in the field shape you professionally?
Financing college was a burden follow- ing my father’s death. Thanks to Jack Davis, a friend of my parents, I was given the opportunity to meet with Mr. H.B. Zachry, owner of Zachry Construction Company in San Antonio. Mr. Zachry offered me a deal I could not refuse: Finish my civil engineering degree and he would provide a job to allow me to fund my edu- cation while going to school. Through his generosity, I not only finished my degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M, but also gained real-time experience in the profession I’d chosen.

Are there others who’ve deeply influenced what you’re committed to in your work and life?
Every path has led me to someone who has taken an interest in my success. Obviously, a great deal can be attributed to my parents who were lifelong educa- tors and my family who provide ongoing support. In high school, I had two people that to this day impact my life: Arman- dina De Los Santos, my trigonometry teacher, and Viola Moore, my high school principal. At DFW, so many people have taken an interest in me, as well. My CEO and executive staff have reinforced the importance of collaboration, coordination, and communication. In this indus- try, it’s not just about being a technical expert; it’s about being part of a team.

How has your career path prepared you for your current role?
After college graduation, I worked as a structural test engineer on aircrafts, then spent time working as a senior design structural engineer with the FAA, which is where I began to understand engineering on airfield projects. That lead me to DFW Airport in 1996 where I’ve been ever since, working my way through the ranks. As vice president for airport devel- opment and engineering, it’s my responsibility to manage large-scale projects, like TRIP, and lead a multidisciplined team that is responsible for maintaining an average of more than $100 million worth of annual ongoing projects.

What is the best business decision you’ve made in your current role?
Hire the best people you can find and give them the tools and authority to get their jobs done. This belief has been a long-standing practice at DFW Airport and one I completely embrace. I’ve surrounded myself with a team that has always delivered.

You’ve accomplished quite a bit in 26 years … what’s next?  Right now, I’m in the middle of a large renewal of four of the five terminals at DFW Airport, which will not be completed until 2017. I’m charged with basically gutting the entire terminal and starting over with the existing structure while keeping DFW Airport operational through this major construction.

Were there any surprises along the way in your career?
The thing that has surprised me most is that people believing in you can make all the difference. From my promotion to a senior project manager to my current role as a vice president, others belief in me and my abilities has really been key to my success.