Antoinette Gonzales, otherwise known as the Mini-Bus Lady at Aries Charter in Chicago, has more than 25 years of experience in the special events service industry. As director of sales and marketing, she promotes the services of Aries Charter Transportation and meets the ground transportation needs of clients. As a marketer, salesperson, dispatcher, on-site coordinator, and tour guide, Gonzales is a person of many talents who can get the job done.
Q: How did you get your start in the motorcoach travel and tourism industry?
Antoinette Gonzales: I started my career in the food and beverage industry and had a client who frequently ate lunch at the restaurant I managed. He insisted that I would be great at representing his limousine company and asked me every couple of months to join his team. After two years of him asking, I finally said “yes.” When I started with his company, he had me work every department (I washed cars, drove limousines—everything but accounting!). The company eventually added mini-buses to their fleet, which headed me down the road to larger vehicles.
One day, he called me up front and said, “You’re giving a tour of the city today.” Huh!? But I did it, and I loved it. In the travel and tourism industry, every day is different, and despite some of the trials and tribulations, the joy of seeing people get off the bus at the end of service with a smile is a happy sight to see.
Q. What does Aries Charter Transportation offer to its customers and community that is unique?
AG: When I started working at Aries Charter Transportation 12 years ago, it was a small, local company with about 20 employees. I believe that Aries is now the oldest family-owned transportation company in the Chicagoland area, with two generations working together to take the company to the next level.
The next generation is bringing technological savvy to the company while still being willing and open to learning the industry from the bottom up, and understand that some of the “old” ways—such as courteous and respectful customer service—are still important to our business.
Aries had cameras on buses before it became the norm. We added seat belts years ago. Our main goal is to get our passengers to where they are going in a safe, courteous, and timely manner. Over the years, we have added contract business, over-the-road service, and increased charters, and we are very excited to have recently taken over Gray Line Chicago Sightseeing from another local family and adding it to our ranks.
Q. Describe your leadership philosophy.
AG: I like to find a person’s strength and build upon it, while working on any weaknesses to help develop a stronger individual. I also like to lead by example whenever possible. Need an on-site dispatcher? Grab the jacket and let’s go train you!
Q. What advice do you have for someone just starting out in the motorcoach travel and tourism industry?
AG: Be flexible and do anything you’re asked to do. It might not always seem like it’s important or fun, but it will teach you empathy for your coworkers and help you to understand how all the positions fit into the big picture of the company.
Q. Why did you get involved in ABA’s Women in Buses (WIB) Council?
AG: For the record, when I started in the ground transportation industry in Chicago, it was a totally male-dominated business. The only women in the company were me and our accounts person. The company hired its first woman driver in 1986, and this was to drive limousines and vans, not even a mini-bus.
I’m proud to say that Aries Charter Transportation now has a female mechanic, female lead dispatcher, female driver-trainer/safety officer, and multiple female drivers. Women really have come a long way and I’m very proud to see women serving in a lot more areas of the industry.
WIB gives women in the industry the opportunity to network with other women and learn more about what we do in an industry that is gaining more and more women. The council also provides an excellent opportunity to mentor new women in the business. Thank you, ABA’s WIB Council!
Q. What industry issue would you most like to see resolved, and why?
AG: Safety is always an issue. While some people may not be happy about some of the changes (such as ELD implementation), these changes not only add to the safety of our passengers and other vehicles on the road, but also to the safety of our drivers.
The public is pushing back at price increases across the industry because of some of these safety implementations. As an industry, we need to educate the public on the true cost of an accident—not just the cost of lost equipment, but also the cost of losing a loved one or a person’s own life.