One look around Michael Bachman’s office at McGhee Tyson Airport makes it clear the vice president of finance and administration knows a little more about airplanes than what makes dollars and cents.
Hanging on Bachman’s wall, not far from his public accountant certification and American Association of Airport Executives accreditation, is a certificate of appointment to serve as Lieutenant Colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard and a plaque of recognition for patriotic achievement. A trophy commemorates Bachman’s 20 years with the 134th Air Refueling Group of the Tennessee Air National Guard.
Opposite that wall are windows big enough to take Bachman back a few years with each glance up from his spreadsheets and administrative duties.
“I can sit here and look out my window and watch airplanes take off and land everyday,” Bachman said. “I’m not jealous when I see the KC-135s take off, but they’ve got the 238s flying out of here, and every time I see those out the window I want to be out there flying.
“But they’re saving that for the younger people.”
From zoology to finance
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Tennessee, Bachman began flying search and rescue in the Air Force.
“I had the best job in the Air Force, because I got to go out and save lives instead of drop bombs,” he said.
After seven years, the schedule had taken its toll. Ready to be home, but not wanting to give up flying, he started flying with the National Guard in Knoxville and continue his education.
Life experience created an interest in finance for Bachman.
“I got taken advantage of on several business transactions,” he said. “Like when I sold a house, when I bought some insurance I shouldn’t have bought. It was kind of like I knew I got taken advantage of but I didn’t know how.”
So Bachman became a CPA. He worked in public accounting and as a controller with a coal company before a job opened at the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority in 1988. It’s only fitting that he found out about the position while he was flying.
“I like to joke that there are a whole lot of accountants in Knoxville that know a whole lot more about accounting than I do, but there aren’t many that know more about airplanes and airports than I do,” he said.
As far as his colleagues are concerned, he knows just as much about accounting as he does airplanes.
‘He’s the expert’
Bachman oversees an annual budget of $60 million, as well as the operational aspects of the airport overseeing 177 employees. Since he became VP of Finance and Administration in 1997, he has managed more than $150 million in airport capital improvement projects. He is currently overseeing a $110 million runway project.
William Marrison, president of the MKAA, compared Bachman’s role to that of the “CFO of a small city.”
“We have our own fire and police department, our own utilities department, we provide all services that people flying general aviation, private aircraft, military and air carriers need at the airport,” Marrison said.
The airport is self-sustaining with no local tax dollars coming in. Funding comes from federal and state grants, passenger fees, landing fees, parking and rental car revenues. The fiscal plan must meet certain federal and state guidelines each year. Under Bachman’s financial leadership, the MKAA has won 25 Certificates of Achievement in Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada.
Bachman said it’s a balancing act to ensure the airport brings in enough money while making sure airlines and customers are charged fair prices. It’s a balancing act that aided in the Knoxville chapter of Financial Executives International naming Bachman as Financial Executive of the Year.
“People want convenient, inexpensive air service,” Bachman said. “And my part in that is we have to charge rates and charges to the airlines that are reasonable. … Because the airlines are going to go where they can make money. That’s the bottom line. But we want to always keep our rates and charges to where the airlines feel that they’re being treated fairly.”
Making customers happy is a priority of Bachman’s from ensuring flight, parking and rental car rates are reasonable all the way down to making sure restrooms are clean and caffeine is accessible.
All of which would not be possible without a successful balancing act of funds – something Eddie Mannis, Chairman of the MKAA Board of Commissioners, said Bachman is “the expert” at accomplishing.
“Sometimes he speaks with such knowledge that I just sit and look at him,” Mannis said. “But Mike takes great pride in helping you understand and mentoring you. … Ask him anything you want, and he will work hard to make sure you understand no matter how relevant it might be. I’ve served on a lot of boards, and I think this board of commissioners is very fortunate to have an adviser such as Mike.”
A combination of lifelong passions
While Bachman has retired from the cockpit, he’s just about as close as he can be to his passion.
And it shows in every number he crunches.
“He’s really astute when it comes to financial matters,” Mannis said. “But he really loves aviation and he wants to make sure the traveling public is safe and has accessible and efficient travel system. His love for aviation, love for finance and general interest in making sure we provide a safe environment for the traveling public is really what makes him key to our organization.”