Rhode Island’s Men of the Year

Thursday, January 04, 2018


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Ahmad (L) and Savage (R), Rhode Island's men of the year

They are the oddest couple. One grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan, the son of a father who owned a construction company and a stay-at-home mom.

The other grew up in Rhode Island, the son of a furniture store owner. Herman’s on Westminster Street is where Rhode Island families bought their furniture before the mega-chains and the Internet.

The distance between the two — over 6,660 miles.

Iftikhar Ahmad and Jonathan Savage are an unlikely pair, who in 2017 overcame a wall of obstacles to helped reinvent T.F. Green and spark growth in the Rhode Island economy.

Bruce Sundlun may have built the T.F. Green Airport, but these two helped grow it into the international airport Sundlun always envisioned.

The odd couple came together in 2016 when Savage, as chair of the Board of RI Airport Corporation went out of State and invested heavily in Ahmad — the then-head of the New Orleans Airport. The selection raised eyebrows.

But immediately, Ahmad and Savage began the process of transforming T.F. Green into a “real” international airport.

First, there was landing Norwegian Air, despite opposition and lobbying against the effort by Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin. The two had sided with the pilots association of some of the airlines' largest unions. The latter changed his position.

Then, the Ahmad and Savage needed to quickly accommodate the demands of the U.S. Custom and Border Protection agency. In order to meet the pressing deadlines, “heaven and earth" needed to be moved to meet the requirements -- and once again the odd couple prevailed.

The numbers are immense. More than a half dozen new carriers. The airport has more than doubled the number of direct flights.

There are now year-round direct flights to nearly ten international locations.

As a result of their efforts, there are more than a thousand direct new hires that have been sparked, and thousands of indirect jobs created.

Savage and Ahmad had nothing in common in before the fall of 2016, when Savage and the Airport Corporation Board began the search for a new leader of T.F. Green. They came from different worlds.

But in 2017 the two teamed up and took on every challenge and helped transform Rhode Island’s economy, travel opportunities, and boost tourism.

All to the benefit of Rhode Islanders.

For these reasons, Savage and Ahmad are the 2017 Men of the Year.


Honorable Mention:

Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS for thinking big.

Nick Mattiello, Speaker of the House for repeal of the auto tax.

Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind for pressing forward successfully with one of the biggest environmental initiatives in U.S. History.

Thomas Tobin, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence who has failed to take legal, financial or moral responsibility for the largest pension fund collapse in RI history.


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