Education is her focus

MA’s first woman chair shares her vision

When Gladys Gillis was voted chair of the United Motorcoach Association board of directors in early 2018, she had ideas about where the organization should be headed.

As her first year unfolded, she concluded the organization’s best destination is where the staff wants to take it. “If I have eight objectives and the staff is passionate about three things that match, that is where we need to focus right now,” Gillis said, as she moves into the second half of her two-year term. “If their list of ideas can be ratified by the board, and the staff is passionate about them, we’re going to be miles down the road rather than me trying to drive my own agenda or my own vision.”

One of her initial goals was for UMA staff to attend regional meetings to infuse them with education, innovation and technology. But she listened when staff suggested a more time-efficient and cost-effective alternative: hold quarterly regional town hall meetings that members could participate in by phone or video without leaving their offices.

“We ended up with a superior idea that really meets the needs of bringing education and innovation into a region, but doing it in a way, frankly, that is a little more 21st century,” said Gillis, CEO and co-owner of Starline Collection in Seattle.

Education is key

She praises UMA President and CEO Stacy Tetschner, who was hired in mid-2017, for stepping into his role quickly to make things happen.

“Stacy has been such a great leader. He was the right guy out of all the people who we interviewed to be able to bring us into the next century.”

Another idea that came from staff was expanding on the success of the annual safety seminar held in Washington, D.C., and creating a second one focused on developing sales skills. The Sales Summit will be held May 29-30 at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Getting UMA services deeper into the regions and deeper into the organizational charts of members is intended to make it easier for owners to implement new ideas.

“You can have the person who is responsible for implementation listening to the education, being involved in creating the vision, making choices, bringing things to those busy owners and saying, ‘I’d really like to do this thing. This is what I learned. This is how you do it. This is what it would cost and this is what I think it would do for the organization,’” Gillis said.

First woman leader

Gillis is the first woman to lead UMA in the organization’s top volunteer role. It’s a historic moment that’s not lost on many women members of the association, who could be heard cheering her on when she took the stage at the UMA Motorcoach EXPO in January. But the milestone isn’t something Gillis dwells on. The bigger issue is diversity, she says.

“People want to be able to look around and see themselves in all roles,” said Gillis. “I think it’s important that—when we think about who is on the stage, who is leading and who’s on the board—we ask: Is it diverse? Can people see themselves everywhere they look?”

Gillis has been in the motorcoach industry for more than 20 years. Since co-founding Starline in 1998, she has built a multimillion-dollar passenger transportation enterprise across the state of Washington. The Starline Collection includes Starline Luxury Coaches in Seattle; Wheatland Express in Pullman; and A&A Motorcoach in Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Wenatchee. The growing company owns and operates 108 motorcoaches and has more than 150 employees.

Gillis is wired to be a problem-solver. In her previous career at airplane manufacturer Boeing, she led cross-functional teams that analyzed data about defects to figure out what went wrong and how to fix the problem. In short, she says, her role was to remove obstacles and allow people to move forward.

“If they’re not heading to the vision, then you have to do a better job at setting the vision. But once they are heading toward a vision, your job is to remove the barriers. That’s how I run a business and an organization. That’s the job.”


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