Gladys Gillis: The right leader at the right time

When the United Motorcoach Association board of directors gathered this past June for strategic discussions about the organization’s future, they didn’t just talk theoretically about trends like autonomous vehicles. They climbed aboard an Olli minibus and toured a waterfront resort along the Potomac River in a driverless bus that was created on a 3D printer.

The opportunity to experience a key industry disruption—and the understanding that resulted—was thanks to the extensive connections and creativity of Gladys Gillis, who will turn over her gavel at United Motorcoach Association Motorcoach EXPO 2020 after two years as board chair.

“It created an ‘a-ha’ moment for everyone on the board,” said Stacy Tetschner, UMA President and CEO. We not only talked about the future but also took time to experience it.”

Gillis has looked to maximize value for the board each time it has met, Tetschner said. That hasn’t just meant sharing her own experiences as founder and CEO of her successful Seattle-based Starline Industries or even generously hosting the board on her home turf. It’s also meant really listening to others’ perspectives.

Her commitment to getting all voices heard is perhaps why, she believes, her election as the first woman chair of UMA was a non-issue.

“Frankly the board is pretty much gender blind,” she said. “I felt it was important to make sure everybody gets heard. My board meetings may have taken a little longer to go around the room and ask everyone to comment on a subject, but all in all, I think it went pretty well.”

Gillis deftly handles both the boardroom stage and the larger stage at events like last year’s UMA Motorcoach EXPO. Sharing the podium with some of the country’s top speakers, she perhaps drew the biggest laughs at the events she helped to emcee.

Levity, she said, defuses stress better than most anything, but so does caring about helping everyone in the industry to succeed. That’s something just in her DNA and the reason she has readily devoted the time needed for regular meetings.

“The last six to eight years have been a very important time for UMA. We had an executive transitioning out, and we had to get a new executive up and running, all the while keeping an eye on the budget and continuing to grow services to mean something to the membership. It was fun to be there for it and a treat to be able to work with people like Brian Annett, Bill Allen and Dale Kraft. It’s just been a joy.”

Gillis will continue in leadership as the immediate past chair. Her own company is moving into exciting new directions, too. She’s in the midst of a planned expansion that will take Starline’s services across the country and grow the bus-to-consumer market.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for the charter industry to provide buses on a less regular basis, primarily when people want to go from point A to point B for concerts, sporting events, festivals. Frankly, the consumer market is an opportunity to change the profit margin model in a very positive way.”

In the meantime, she’s excited to continue to support the education efforts of UMA as it continues to evolve. Tetschner said that Gillis’ shared passion for advancing the industry through teaching helped him succeed in implementing the vision he brought to UMA in mid-2017.

“Some of the most visible advances in this area are the Sales Summit that was launched in 2019, the video-based virtual town hall programs that are centered around education and learning from other operators and the formation of the Bus and Motorcoach Industry Foundation, which will have a key on-demand education component that will allow operators and their employees to access industry-specific education videos through their LinkedIn profile,” he said.

The fact that 100 people attended the sales summit is evidence the membership is energetic and engaged with the new direction, Gillis said. The most recent virtual town hall meeting—another innovation of the past year—drew 150 people who logged on and listened—another indication of high engagement levels.

One of the next educational and institutional challenges comes in the area of information technology, she said. “Operations departments are being flooded with data. We’re all using electronic logging devices that produce data on speeding, hard braaking. Some of the cameras have artificial intelligence and are literally recording stop signs.

“How do we manage that and not let those events get out of hand? Technology has to become our friend. ELDs can create automated payroll reports, and our shops can get inspection reports in real time. Getting all the systems to tie together and communicate is a big IT challenge for our industry that I do not believe has been solved anywhere.”


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