The sheer number of aviation passengers in the U.S. alone is steadily rising, hitting a record 2.8 million travelers per day. This growth has aviation leaders across the ecosystem looking at how to improve the passenger experience from before you enter an airport by checking you in for your flight, issuing luggage tags, and transferring your luggage to the airport for a luggage-free travel experience. While Bob Miles spent most of his career in the healthcare industry, he is taking on the challenge of making travel easier as the president of Bags.
However, Miles didn’t start out in the travel and hospitality industry, even though he was living in the heart of the tourism in Florida. He started out with hoop dreams, playing basketball at Florida State University before becoming a Certified Public Accountant. “I realized that I did not have a career in basketball after college and I decided to go through business school and get a degree in a field where I knew employers were hiring,” Miles said about his getting started in his career. “At that time, there were eight major accounting firms, known as the ‘Big Eight’, who were rapidly growing and hiring accounting graduates,” Miles recalled.
Miles was eventually hired by one of his clients and went from public accounting to a financial role in a major health system. After seven years, he was presented with an opportunity as a Chief Financial Officer of a company that was funded by venture capital and private equity that had an interest in healthcare care management. “This became my first career chance to assume a CFO role at a company,” Miles said.
Yet, the most defining moment of Miles’ career was when he left healthcare for the consumer products industry. He was recruited as the CFO for a firm that contract-manufactured consumer products in China and Taiwan and were sold to Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and other big-box retailers, but soon became the COO. “We experienced tremendous growth during these years, and it exposed me to business and operational areas such as supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, foreign trade, and customs,” Miles stated. Those experiences paved the way to his move into the aviation industry.
“For a person that started out in finance, this was probably the most significant moment to move from finance into operational areas,” Miles observed. Miles eventually went back to the healthcare industry and thought he’d retire there, but that was before the doors to the travel and hospitality industry opened up to him.
In 2013, an old basketball teammate from FSU called Bob and presented him with a new opportunity. This friend, Craig Mateer, was the founder and owner of Bags, which started out as a valet and parking management company, but was evolving into a travel management company. Bags was experiencing growth and needed a leader who could take over the day-to-day operations, while Mateer continued to help define new opportunities for innovative products and solutions for the aviation industry. Mateer offered that leadership position to Miles, who accepted the role of the president.
Today, Bags offers numerous services in the aviation industry and strives to make travel easier to improve the passenger experience. The company’s solutions help improve parking operations and reduce congestion at curbside, ticket counter, and baggage claim areas of the airport. By easing this burden, passengers can more easily travel throughout the airport. Leveraging partnerships with Collins Aerospace, Bags developed a system that provided a common-use application to connect with airline host systems, enabling remote check-in for passengers. In addition to alleviating challenges that arise with baggage delays, Bags also works with airports and airlines to help passengers get their luggage back, with live updates to passengers throughout the process.
“In the nearly six years that I’ve been with Bags, I’ve learned that the aviation industry is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable to work in,” Miles noted. “The aviation industry is hyper-competitive relative to the airlines who are vying for market share and customer loyalties. As each one tries to outperform the other, they put demands on service providers like us which, in turn, makes us better at what we do.”
Now, Miles is in the midst of an industry with projected explosive growth in travel numbers, providing even more opportunity for him to lead his organization to improve the passenger experience. “In our home city of Orlando, we just announced that we had a record-breaking 75 million visitors last year,” Miles said. “Our local airport, Orlando International Airport, is approaching 50 million flying passengers too.” Orlando International Airport and Bags have had a long-term relationship in creating innovative travel improvements for airport visitors to the Central Florida area.
Similar to how Miles considered the job market for public accounting, he looks at the opportunities in the aviation industry and encourages the younger generation to consider it when looking for a career. Whether with an airline, airport, or service provider like Bags, Miles believes, “Airports have become a strong economic engine for the community, opening doors for people starting out. For young entrepreneurs, there is tremendous interest in innovation and improving customer travel as the industry experiences a surge in growth.” The market is ripe to create “memorable travel experiences.”