Leading in lockdown – a look at Lesley Cowley’s first year at Airport Coordination Limited


Lesley (top right) chairing ACL’s board online back in July 2020


Lesley Cowley began her role as ACL’s new Chairperson in March 2020, bringing with her a wealth of experience as a non-executive director and as Chair of the DVLA, National Archives and Companies House. Lesley became Chair Designate in January 2020, unaware of the events and challenges which lay ahead and that her new role would predominantly involving Chairing a Board online. We sat down with Lesley (virtually) a year on to find out just what it was like Leading in Lockdown.

You began your role as Chair of ACL’s Board when the nation was in its first lockdown, what is it like beginning a leadership role virtually?

I was fortunate to be able to meet Board members and to attend one Board meeting as an Observer prior to lockdown, which was really helpful. My first Board meeting as Chair was a virtual one, but I found people very welcoming and willing to embrace what was to become a ‘new normal’ for many Boards. All of my induction and meetings since then were virtual, so I have missed seeing people in person. I do think you have to work harder to connect with people for the first time in a virtual meeting, as opposed to an in-person one. Virtual meetings are also harder to chair I think.

Last year was one of the most challenging in aviation history, how did your first year at ACL compare with your original expectations?

Last year was indeed incredibly challenging for the industry and for all of us. Like everybody, my original plans and expectations had to change in 2020. I had expected more meetings with staff to learn about their work, to have introductions to key customers and stakeholders and also to attend my first slots conference, but many of those things had to be postponed.  I have had to be flexible and agile and have been very impressed with how agile, adaptable and resilient the team at ACL have been too.

What one thing are you most proud of in your first year as Chair?

Whilst I was sad that our previous CEO decided to move on from ACL to pursue new projects, I am most proud of recruiting Neil, an excellent successor, and bringing in the ‘new CEO project’ on time, in spite of challenging deadlines and the pandemic.

As an independent Chairperson, what benefits/attributes do you bring to the ACL board?

I bring my experience of being a CEO leading a key organisation through growth and challenge over a period of more than 10 years, plus my private and public sector experience as a non-executive director and Chair. This means that I am well placed to provide both support and challenge to ACL and its Senior Team. As an independent Chair, I am able to form a completely fresh and independent view of matters, free from any conflicts of interest.

What attracted to you to ACL?

The opportunity to lead the World’s leading independent airport coordinator and to learn more about how the aviation sector works.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of our company right now?

Our great people and great customer service.

Finally summarise this last year in 3 words:

“You’re on mute”.


Interviewer: Denise Wakeford- Sales and Marketing Lead
Interviewee: Lesley Cowley- Chair of the Board

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