Forming lasting relationships has been the cornerstone to Pat Ziska’s career. As she looks back at her 46 years with Motor Coach Industries (MCI), she recalls that many of her special moments happened at the UMA Motorcoach EXPO.
One of her favorite UMA EXPO events took place in Las Vegas, when MCI hosted a wedding ceremony for a Canadian client in February 2005.
Jamie Murray, owner of Parkinson Bus, and his longtime love, Lynn Hewitt tied-the-knot under a wedding arch of flowers in MCI’s booth. “We created a chapel setting and had a Las Vegas minister come to marry them,” Ziska said. “We had a full house of people there to witness and celebrate their marriage vows.”
She remembers celebrating her 30th anniversary with MCI at the UMA EXPO in New Orleans in 2007, when the company hosted a customer event at a beautiful mansion in the city’s Garden District and paid tribute to the hurricane heroes.
“It was after Hurricane Katrina,” Ziska said, “so there was a special celebration in our booth and we recognized our customers who were called into service during the worst of the hurricane. We gave awards to all of the New Orleans operators that supported the relief and rescue and people.”
Ziska also recalled when MCI celebrated its 60th anniversary at the UMA EXPO in San Francisco with an evening cruise on the bay that sailed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We had fireworks on the mountainside. They had our MCI logo glowing. That was really, really special,” she said.
One more EXPO, then retirement
The 2023 UMA EXPO in Orlando is going to be special for Ziska as well. It will be her last EXPO before retiring.
“I’m really looking forward to being there to say thank you and share memories and stories one last time,” Ziska said. “The relationships I made with people over the years have been special.”
She believes the UMA EXPO conference holds a special place in people’s hearts because it’s where they reconnect with the industry and learn about the latest products.
“People look forward to EXPO because the convention also lets them take a vacation break,” Ziska said. “We always like it when UMA selects attractive destinations, because it means as exhibitors, we can come up with fun things operators and their families enjoy as a way for us to show our appreciation.”
Ziska has been a vital part of EXPO and the industry, says Ken Presley, Vice President, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations/COO, for United Motorcoach Association
“Pat has been a constant at MCI and the industry since I came into the business in the early eighties a true industry stalwart. She’s always had a sensibility in understanding the hard work that operators put into their company and created that bridge of possibilities and customer service,” Presley said. “Over the years I have heard operators comment about a particular difficulty or challenge only to say, bus Pat Ziska took care of it, perhaps the highest compliment.”
Following the golden rules
Her unusually long career in a male-dominated industry is a testament to her adaptability, which has served her well as her company has changed hands and leadership over the years. She summarized her strategy like this: “Be yourself and treat people like you would like to be treated. Those are two important golden rules. If you live that way, it brings you many rewards. You have the satisfaction of getting things done and having repeat business. Customers come back because they remember when you took care of them, when you made that transaction work when they didn’t know if they could get it done.”
She practiced that same philosophy with her colleagues.
“With my fellow employees, I tried to make it easier for them to get something done and pave a path to helping our team be successful,” Ziska said. “I always made sure that our team and the folks who support our customers were getting what they needed, both from a recognition standpoint and also the information flow so that as a whole we could be successful.”
Ziska’s career began in late 1976 after she completed a two-year business program out of high school and she was invited to apply for an entry-level position with Hausman Bus Sales in Chicago. She had been interviewing at companies in downtown Chicago and had several offers, but when she learned about the bus sales and repair company located just outside the downtown area that was looking for someone to work in their new coach sales team, she was intrigued.
“From the moment I walked in, I found the creative energy and the spirit of teamwork was something I wanted to be a part of. I accepted the role of administrative assistant in the new coach sales department before leaving the interview that day,” Ziska said.
Gradually expanding role
She officially joined MCI when the manufacturer acquired Hausman Bus Sales in 1989. During her nearly half-century career, she has held many roles, all within the new coach sales department.
“Starting in the sales administration role, I interacted daily with the regional sales team and the factory while working in the office with senior management,” she said. “Eventually I took on an expanded role supporting the sales team by working directly with the customers as New Coach Sales Coordinator. There are customers who still today tell me that they have the paint chart approval form I mailed them in 1979 or the first Agreement to Purchase I sent to them in 1982, with others recalling similar memorable and milestone service transactions.”
Her career expanded after she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing while working full time. After graduation, she took on the marketing role for the sales department and continued in the sales department managing two full-time coordinators as Director of Marketing and Contract Administration.
“In this role, I began traveling and managing the advertising, marketing and communications, and trade show event planning,” she said. “As the company grew and sales increased, my work became more focused on sales, which is what I really wanted to do. I became Regional Vice President – Central Region, managing the new and pre-owned sales teams based in Chicago, Dallas and Canada, in 1996. Following that, MCI ultimately promoted me to Vice President – MCI New Coach Sales for North America.”
Lessons from father
Joining the sales organization at the grassroots level allowed her to be a part of a team and a program that was evolving. She didn’t mind being the only woman on the team because she grew up with brothers. She also benefited from the lessons she learned from her dad, who was a career salesman.
“I would listen to him on the phone talking with his customers,” Ziska said. “He always ended those conversations with the words, ‘Thank you kindly.’ Being the middle child in a large Irish family, I had the opportunity from an early age to express my opinions, have a sense of humor, and be myself. It just came naturally to try to collaborate well with all people and I rarely felt intimidated or afraid, although I was respectful of my role within the organization and knew when to speak up or not.
“With time and experience, my confidence grew. I learned it did not matter whether you were male or female. What did matter was producing results, having the confidence to make good decisions, and to follow through on commitment – this was what made all the difference.”
The biggest challenge of being a female in a male-dominated industry was people underestimating what she had the potential to do. Ziska had to fight for opportunities and accomplishments, and she had to work hard to prove her abilities and gain advancement. None of it came easily.
Among her favorite milestones is when General Motors exited the coach manufacturing business. As a result, Greyhound turned to MCI to build its coaches. MCI’s product introduction into the U.S. market impacted the market share of its North American company headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The MC-9 became the top selling coach and reigned for decades. Ziska was part of every sale.
The introduction of the Renaissance coach in 1997 was significant for Ziska because she was involved with the factory team in the design elements and its marketplace introduction. Its spiral staircase and sleek design, strong passenger appeal and unique, curvy exterior features changed the market forever. The Renaissance evolved into what is today’s MCI J4500. Ziska’s biggest personal career milestone came when MCI appointed her to lead the sales organization, a position from which she will be retiring in early 2023.
“This has been an honor, a blessing, and a role I have truly enjoyed,” she said. “I will miss the personal interaction and sense of achievement you get daily when working with others to solve problems and reach goals. I will miss the conversations with customers and coworkers and the sharing of memories and accomplishments. It has been a joyful journey, not always an easy one. But I am grateful to the industry and to Motor Coach Industries for allowing me to be myself and make the contributions that have helped take the company to where it is today. I cannot wait to see how it continues to grow and evolve.”
Looking forward, she and her husband own a little farm near Madison, Wisconsin, where they have entered the mysterious world of growing hay and owning large farm animals and poultry. Two of the couple’s four adult children live nearby, and she’s hopeful the other two will make the move from Illinois to rural Wisconsin.
“I look forward to traveling and spending time with my husband, children and grandchildren and solving different kinds of problems while acquiring new hobbies and interests,” Ziska said. “In the end, I will never miss seeing an MCI coach going down the road, and I will always feel that I am part of the MCI team and story.”