Flying high: Attorney works for Wayne County Airport Authority

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With a career goal of becoming an elected official, Brian Sadek earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Michigan.

“I enjoyed my classmates and the quality of discussion in class more than anything else because it was the first time in my life I'd been in an environment where outward intelligence was celebrated rather than a basis for calling someone a nerd or a dork,” he says. “As a result, U-M began to change my perceptions on what people could talk about and how they could talk about it, a change which I didn’t truly internalize until law school.”

When the idea of politics lost its sheen, but still wanting to serve the public, Sadek planned to go to graduate school for urban and regional planning. 

But Lady Justice had other ideas—setting him on a course resulting in his current role as deputy general counsel at the Wayne County Airport Authority, encompassing Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus and Willow Run Airport in Belleville.

Sadek only took the LSAT on a lark because his best buddy and lifelong “competitor-in-all-things” was taking it—but his LSAT score allowed him to pretty much have his pick of law schools. “At the same time, the urban planners from whom I was seeking advice encouraged me to go to law school because I could still serve the public on big projects without, as they put it, being pigeonholed into the planning space,” he says.

He chose Northwestern University School of Law, ande earned inclusion on the Public Service Honor Roll for public and community service. After graduation, Sadek launched his career with Chapman and Cutler, a larger firm especially known for its public finance/municipal law practice, and the types of big public projects Sadek had always wanted to work on.

“I’m thankful to have learned a ton from some very involved partner mentors at the firm but, always a transit advocate and a bit of a transit nerd to boot, I jumped at the opportunity when one of our clients, the Regional Transportation Authority, offered me an in-house position as its deputy general counsel,” he says.

After 18 months with the RTA, Sadek and his wife, Tifani, made the move back to the Great Lakes State in 2012.

“We felt we were spinning our wheels in Chicago, neither saving enough nor getting particularly good value for the money we were spending on housing and entertainment,” he says.

After narrowing their search to a few cities, they plumped for the Motor City. “Detroit was among those that provided the best value while checking a lot of the boxes that were important to us, like a place with a deep history, teams in at least three of the major sports, a good or growing restaurant and bar scene, and respected arts and cultural institutions,” he says.

Sadek thoroughly enjoys his work for the Wayne County Airport Authority. “Above all, I’ve found that working for a special purpose airport authority, that some call ‘quasi-governmental,’ brings with it variability and the opportunity to work on many novel issues,” he says.

“I also enjoy that practicing in-house for a large airport operator combines aspects of being at a city – for example, we have our own police and fire departments, our own ordinances, and we build and maintain public roadways – and at a private sector company – since we do a lot of contracting and are always focused on the bottom line, in an effort to remain a competitive airport system.”

Sadek appreciates his good fortune in leading several exciting projects—“Because our board and executive team provided space to create and push the airport’s boundaries forward,” he says.

As one example, when Uber and Lyft were still generally unfamiliar to airports’ leadership nationwide, Sadek suggested entering into an agreement with them to operate at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and led negotiations which resulted in agreements which are still, in many respects, the industry standard for airports.

Sadek also served as leader on a team that created a program to donate food that was being disposed of by concessionaires and airline lounges and ultimately established Metro Airport as one of the largest food donors in southeastern Michigan, having donated tens of thousands of pounds to local food banks.

“And I’m most proud of having written the airport’s ordinance provisions relating to free speech and seeing them succeed under pressure, when those provisions governed and I served as liaison to the leaders of the protests against President Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban,’ during which the airport hosted an estimated 8,000 demonstrators that peacefully exercised their right to free speech without impacting airport operations and without the use of tear gas or arrests seen at other large airports where demonstrations occurred,” he says.

With his role evolving from strictly "the lawyer" into one in which Sadek also is a policy advisor, strategic consultant, and general administrator, he recently earned a master’s in management from Harvard to equip him with the practical skills and vocabulary to succeed as a manager as he moved more into managing teams and projects within and outside of the legal department.

“I sought a specialization in Innovation & Entrepreneurship because I've found the projects during which a team or I created something to be the most rewarding, be it a policy, process, or even an entire program,” he says.

Sadek, who was previously involved in the Detroit Bar Association, joined the Washtenaw County Bar Association after moving to Ann Arbor, and attended December’s Holiday Wine Tasting Reception, where he won a drawing for a gift basket donated by The Legal News.

“I really enjoyed how welcoming the WCBA community was—people noticed I was new and introduced themselves, and thanks to their courtesy, my evening was filled with fun and engaging conversations,” he says. “I definitely recommend that anyone on the fence about joining should get involved in their local bar association.”

Sadek and his wife moved last year from Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood to Ann Arbor's Old West Side.

“We're suckers for old houses and walkable historic neighborhoods,” he says. “We loved Detroit and our neighborhood in particular, but our move to Ann Arbor came about after Tifani accepted a position at the University of Michigan Law School, where she is an assistant professor of law for the Entrepreneurship Clinic.”

In his leisure time, Sadek enjoys playing basketball; working on and racing his car; traveling; reading and listening to podcasts, mostly about history; and, above all, spending time and goofing around with his wife, 2-year-old daughter, Mika, 6-month-old son, Tate, and a mixed-breed shelter dog named Abe Lincoln, estimated to be about 9 years old.

Sadek has also made time to be involved in several area organizations.“When we moved to Detroit, we were immediately embraced by the community and wanted to give back and contribute to the greater good however we could,” he says.

“In that spirit, in addition to my day job, I chaired the inaugural Citizens Advisory Committee for the then-new Southeastern Michigan Regional Transit Authority, sat on the boards of the Detroit Historical Society and Detroit Young Professionals, was a member of Leadership Detroit Class XXXVIII, and—probably most fun and impactful of all—was a member-owner of Motor City NYE, which threw the community oriented New Year’s Eve “D-Drop” celebration for over 20,000 revelers in the heart of Downtown Detroit at Campus Martius Park.

“Overall, I’ve given time and effort to causes that align with my passions for transportation, history, and the advancement of our region, and I believe this made me a more effective advocate for those causes.”

Sadek, who went to college on the G.I Bill, gave close to 6 years to Uncle Sam, serving as a Petroleum Supply Specialist in the U.S. Army, primarily in reserve roles. 

He notes his Army training forced on him a level of discipline that he lacked prior to joining,.  “I would say the best thing the Army did was instill in me a desire to lead and comfort with leading teams or projects forward,” he says.

“For example, while still very unsure of my leadership skills and just a few months past my 18th birthday, I was the ‘Student First Sergeant’ responsible for approximately 100 soldiers. Based in a general aversion to failure but, really, out of necessity as much as anything else, I adopted an ‘It's okay, you got this Brian’ mentality that's stuck with me to this day.”


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