John L Barry
President and CEO
Wings Over the Rockies
Location: Denver, Colorado
*Second Year Honoree*
John L. Barry knows a thing or two about how to handle high-stress situations, and the pandemic was just the latest high-profile example in his career. Barry was White House liaison to the NASA administrator in 1986 when the Challenger shuttle exploded. He was in the Pentagon during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. He was superintendent of Aurora Public Schools when 150 students and district employees were in the theater during the Aurora theater shooting.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wings Over the Rockies museum, where Barry is CEO, instituted pay cuts to keep the team intact. Barry took a 50% cut, members of his leadership team took 20% pay reductions and the rest of the employees took 10%. Under Barry’s leadership, the museum rebounded in 2021, finished in the black and reimbursed all 2020 employees with the funds they gave up that year. (Barry declined to be reimbursed.)
“I have learned to foster an environment of excellence, you have to have a plan and you have to measure progress,” Barry said. “Everyone in an organization wants to know the big picture, the strategic plan and where the team is going. Strategy, as I have learned, is connecting ends with means, or in other terms, connecting a vision with goals and objectives.
“If you have a clear and succinct vision, mission and values with goals, objectives and tasks that are measured on a quarterly basis, people amaze me on how they can fill in from the bottom, rather than top-down guidance, and execute the implementation of the big picture.”
With Barry leading the way, Wings has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Aviation Museums in the U.S. by USA Today and as one of the Top 20 Best Aviation Museums in the World by CNN Travel.
The museum is committed to growing the aerospace workforce in Colorado. It offers a unique program for high school students to acquire their pilot’s license. It gives free flights in an aircraft for students eight to 18 years old. It flew more than 200 students in 2021. After the flights, the students receive a free online ground-school course (valued at $250), targeted at high schoolers. If they pass the online course, they can take the FAA written exam, with programs to help reimburse the required fees.
Wings also offers scholarships up to $10,000 for flight training in partnership with the Ray Foundation. In a little more than two years, it has offered over 80 scholarships worth more than $750,000. As a result of the program and scholarships, 24 pilot licenses have been completed, and 44 students have had at least one solo flight. “We are well on our way to our goal to have over 80% of scholarship winners as new pilots because of our Aviation Pathway,” Barry said.
Barry is a titan for the second time, earning the honor first in 2021. “I have been honored to be associated and stand alongside the other 99 titans this year,” he said. “I have learned from the other titans in my effort for continued improvement, and I have valued the various seminars/briefings in growing my own ability for leadership — you are never too old to learn.”
"You are never too old to learn."