Angelica Garcia-Dunn's personal life took a terrible hit. Instead of becoming bitter or giving up, she decided to shake up the Texas freight industry.
Angelica Garcia-Dunn, now a successful Houston entrepreneur running a $20 million company, knows what rock bottom looks like. She hit it 13 years ago, after deciding to take a break from her corporate job.
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, to a Mexican-American family, Garcia-Dunn grew up selling tamales and speaking Spanish — she learned English in the first grade — and became the first in her family to graduate from college. She eventually got an MBA, and worked at a succession of big banks, including Bank of America and Chase.
By 2003, she was married with two small children, and one was frequently getting sick with ear infections. “I felt guilty staying at home, and guilty going to work,” she says. “So I decided not to go back to work.”
That was when Garcia-Dunn discovered her husband was having an affair — and, in fact, had a child with another woman. Garcia-Dunn was devastated. The revelation was a particular affront to her religious and cultural upbringing. “I come from a family that doesn’t get divorced,” she says. Ending the marriage, for her, was the only option. “It was just too painful.”
But the decision left her financially vulnerable. One day, “I went to the grocery store to buy basics, like ramen noodles,” she recalls, with difficulty. “We had a basket of groceries, [but] my card didn’t go through. My daughter goes, ‘Mommy, why didn’t we bring our food?’ I go, ‘We just have to go home and get another card.’ That wasn’t the case.” A generous neighbor helped them eat that night. “My kids at four and two, you know, we’d been through a lot.”
Six years later, Garcia-Dunn would be starting her own shipping and transportation company — AIM Global Logistics, which now has multiple divisions and 25 employees — but at that moment, the future looked grim. She found a 100-percent commission sales job with Northwestern Mutual, but struggled to make a livable wage.
“Suicide was not an option,” she says. “I had two young children who depended on me. I basically made a decision — do I become bitter, or do I become better? I chose the latter.”
Garcia-Dunn, whose work email signature contains a biblical verse, relied heavily on her Christian faith to get her through the rockiest times. But she also believes, in every situation, that “there is a way to get out of it, and you are not alone.”
Company on the Highway
A lifeline came in the form of a Northwestern Mutual client, a fellow single mom who saw promise in Garcia-Dunn’s selling abilities — and also saw Garcia-Dunn bringing the kids, out of necessity, along on customer visits. “She knew what I was going through,” Garcia-Dunn says.
The client, who ran a freight company, ABA Express, transporting goods by ocean and air to South America, offered Garcia-Dunn a part-time job. “I didn’t know what a container was,” Garcia-Dunn says, but “it was stable income.” She soon learned the basics of transport, “everything that is entailed in moving just one piece all the way to the final destination.”
The part-time job quickly became full-time, and Garcia-Dunn stayed for 3 years. The former banker took a liking to the freight industry’s logistics. Whether it was food or clothing or barrels of oil, “you need transportation,” she says. “It just fascinates me.”
But trucking — a service that her employer didn’t offer — really caught her interest. “I have a lot of uncles who are truck drivers,” she says. “As a little girl, traveling from Houston, from Corpus to Mexico…I loved seeing the trucks.” She left ABA Express in 2006 to open up a Houston office for System Transport, a large flatbed carrier based in Spokane, Wash. She was soon making over $200,000 a year in salary, working her connections in Mexico to bring in more business.
And then, some chance advice at a petrochemical conference, which Garcia-Dunn attended to solicit corporate business, led her to take another step. An Exxon representative took Garcia-Dunn aside, and encouraged her to start her own freight business and tap into big corporations’ supplier-diversity programs. “She said: ‘You’re a woman, you’re Latina [and] you know what you’re doing,’” Garcia-Dunn says.
A Rig of Her Own
In 2009, with a $500 credit card and $50,000 in savings, Garcia-Dunn created AIM Global Logistics, specializing in oil and gas transportation. (AIM stands for her name, plus her two children, Isabelle and Mathis.) The company posted $250,000 in revenue its first year. She has since expanded to provide alternative financing and factoring, equipment leasing and warehousing. “We’re able to be a one-stop shop,” she says, for clients who ship “the big and ugly” like frac sand and water rigs.
While AIM Global grew quickly thanks to a booming fracking industry, the downturn in oil prices took its toll. 2015 was a tough year, and Garcia-Dunn was forced to lay off four employees. It was a “time to reflect and restructure and find ways to diversify,” she says. “We had to start diversifying not only our clients, but our industries.” The company, which is on track to report $20 million in revenue in its most recent fiscal year, is now targeting the automotive, healthcare and clean-energy sectors, and trying to win government projects.
Garcia-Dunn projects revenue of $50 million in the next three to five years, something she could not have predicted when she couldn’t afford groceries. Her personal life has taken an interesting turn as well: She recently remarried, built her dream house, and, at 42, is pregnant with her third child.
“I know what it’s like to have nothing, and I know what it’s like to have it all,” she says.
Still, scaling a company — and being at the top — can be lonely, Garcia-Dunn says. She practices some of the same habits that she learned when her life hit rock bottom. The most important? “Surround yourself with a great support system, your family and your friends, great employees,” she says. She’s also part of C12, a business organization for Christian CEOs.
“We need to know where to go to get strength,” she says. “We weren’t meant to be alone.”
Posted: September 28, 2016