A painful divorce followed by severe financial hardship left Angelica Garcia-Dunn struggling to feed her young children. Hear how she rebuilt her life and achieved financial success by starting and building her Texas-sized shipping company, AIM Global Logistics.
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ANGELICA: And I just prayed and got on my knees and I said, “You know, I don’t want to go through this, I don’t want to. There has to be something.”
COLLEEN: (as music plays lightly in background) Welcome to The Story Exchange, featuring the stories and strategies of entrepreneurial women around the world. I’m Colleen DeBaise.
SUE: And I’m Sue Williams.
COLLEEN: We have all been there -- that low moment...
SUE: When you hit it rock bottom...
COLLEEN: Where anything and everything has gone wrong, nothing has worked out, and the future -- if there is one -- seems grim.
SUE: The good news is that you can find your way back.
COLLEEN: Today, we are going to introduce you to Angelica Garcia-Dunn, a successful entrepreneur in Houston, Texas, who now runs a $20 million shipping company.
SOT: When are those motors gonna come in?
ANGELICA: At AIM Global Logistics, we actually move from a pound to over a million pounds and everything in between, whether it’s via truck, ocean, air, rail. Our specialty is everything over dimensional, so the big and ugly. We love doing that.
COLLEEN: Now, Angelica will be the first to tell you: She knows what it’s like to have it all...and she knows what it’s like to have nothing.
SUE: She really prefers the “have it all” part.
COLLEEN: Don’t we all! But Angelica’s story is particularly interesting, because some years ago -- as sometimes happens -- both her personal and professional lives were a complete mess. She managed to find her way back, big time, thanks in large part to entrepreneurship.
SUE: We wanted to hear more, so we headed to the hot, humid, sprawling oil town of Houston to talk with Angelica. If you go to our website, TheStoryExchange.org, you can watch a video we produced, telling Angelica’s complete story. Today, we are going to share snippets of that conversation. If you’re in need of inspiration, or simply like a great comeback story, this is a podcast for you.
ANGELICA: I was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. My grandparents are from Mexico. I actually have dual citizenship.
COLLEEN: Angelica comes from humble means.
ANGELICA: Growing up my first language was Spanish. I didn’t learn English until probably first grade.
COLLEEN: She learned to work hard at a young age, helping her dad, a mechanic, earn extra income for the family.
ANGELICA: Starting at around five years old my dad had a fruit stand, so selling fruit stand watermelons or whatever it took. And then during the school year we’d actually, I’d help my mom make tacos and tamales.
COLLEEN: Perhaps because of that, Angelica has always been an “achiever” type.
ANGELICA: I was president of the Spanish Club, the Honor Society, and then all the sports. They always made fun of me, they said, “You’re gonna be the you know, first woman President of the United States.”
COLLEEN: She became the first in her family to graduate from college -- eventually getting her MBA from the University of Dallas in 1997. She worked at Bank of America, then Chase.
ANGELICA: And I started off as a teller, worked my way up to relationship banker, and ended up becoming a branch manager. I was actually selling annuities, and doing risk management, and wealth accumulation, and estate planning.
COLLEEN: Angelica’s career began taking off -- and so did her personal life. She got married, had two kids...But when her youngest -- her two-year-old son Mathis -- had ear infections, she decided to take a break from Corporate America.
ANGELICA: So in 2003 I was a stay-at-home mom. I decided not to go back to work.
COLLEEN: This is when life took that difficult turn we alluded to earlier...she made an unsavory discovery about her husband.
ANGELICA: So there was infidelity. He had another child with another woman. I didn’t want to share my husband.
COLLEEN: The revelation was particularly upsetting because of her religious and cultural upbringing.
ANGELICA: In my family there’s no divorce, so I never thought that it was going to be losing my husband through a divorce.
COLLEEN: For Angelica, though, ending the marriage was the only option. But the decision left her vulnerable financially.
ANGELICA: And so it was really -- sorry if I get emotional -- but, um, so I mean I, I remember my kids were young and they said, um, we went to the grocery store and we had we had a basket of groceries and I didn’t walk out with them. My card didn’t go through. And my daughter goes, “Mommy, why didn’t we bring our food?” Oh, I go, “The card didn’t work. We just have to go home and get another card.” That wasn’t the case. So my kids at four and two, you know, we’ve been through a lot.
COLLEEN: We’ve been sharing the story of Angelica Garcia-Dunn, a Houston entrepreneur who has displayed amazing resilience after her life seemed to collapse. Now, Sue, you’re our resident filmmaker. You spent a day with Angelica in Houston for our video profile...
SUE: Yeah, we were actually in Katy, Texas.
COLLEEN: Which is really a suburb of Houston.
SUE: Exactly. It’s pretty typical Texas with strip malls, fast food joints. Kind of anonymous, although there is a cute older town center where Angelica has her office.
COLLEEN: So, six years after Angelica had this terrible low moment, she would be starting her own shipping and transportation company...
SUE: Which now has multiple divisions and 25 employees -- and she leases part of a huge warehouse down near the dock area in Houston. It is massive. It’s really impressive what she’s built.
SOT: We’re just waiting for the money to come in from that.
SUE: But at that particular moment, at the grocery store with her kids, the future looked pretty grim.
COLLEEN: At first, Angelica took a 100%-commission sales job with Northwestern Mutual -- the big insurance company -- but struggled to make a decent income.
ANGELICA: At the time, when you’re hurting, and you’re in pain from a divorce, you’re just not...it was just very hard.
COLLEEN: She told me suicide wasn’t an option, because she had two young children depending on her.
ANGELICA: You know, looking back, it was all lessons learned and it made you stronger. So it didn’t kill me but it made me stronger.
SUE: When you meet Angelica in person you can see how driven and focused she is. She’s intense. But you can also see just how much she loves her work.
COLLEEN: Yeah. And she also relies quite heavily on her Christian faith. Her work email contains a biblical verse.
SUE: She believes, in every situation, there is a way to get out of it, and that you’re not alone...even though she doesn’t like to ask for help.
ANGELICA: My parents and people always came to me for help, so for me to go outside and get help was not -- it just was not part of my DNA.
SUE: A lifeline during those difficult days came from one of her Northwestern Mutual clients, a fellow single mom named Sandra.
ANGELICA: Sometimes I’d have to bring my kids to go see customers at night. She, you know, she saw right through me. She knew what I was going through, so she kind of just took me under her wing. And I remember she always said, “You’re a diamond in the rough.”
SUE: Sandra owned a freight company, ABA, that transported goods by ocean or air to South America. She offered Angelica a part-time job. And that was Angelica’s introduction to the freight industry.
ANGELICA: I didn’t know what a container was, but it was stable income.
SUE: She soon learned the basics of the transport industry.
ANGELICA: So just everything that is entailed in moving just one piece all the way to final destination.
SUE: The part-time job quickly became full-time, and Angelica stayed for three years. The former banker took a real liking to the freight industry’s logistics.
ANGELICA: I feel like transportation, food needs to get to people’s table, we all need to wear clothes, there’s all kinds of things that we all need where we need a truck, where we need ocean, where we need air, where we need rail. It just fascinates me.
SUE: But it was trucking -- a service that her employer didn’t offer -- that really caught her interest.
ANGELICA: As a little girl, going down, traveling from Houston, from Corpus to Mexico, I loved seeing the trucks. My uncle and my family comes from trucking as well.
SUE: Angelica left ABA Express in 2006 to open up a Houston office for System Transport, a large flatbed carrier based in Spokane, Washington. 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 conference led Angelica to take another step. A woman who worked for Exxon took her aside.
ANGELICA: She goes: “You’re a woman, you’re Latina, you know what you’re doing. Why won’t you open up your own company and become a certified minority woman-owned business?”
SUE: So in 2009 -- six years after she couldn’t afford groceries -- Angelica launched AIM Global Logistics, specializing in oil and gas transportation. She used a $500 credit card and $50,000 in savings.
COLLEEN: AIM -- A.I.M. -- stands for her name, plus her two children, Isabelle and Mathis.
ANGELICA: Once I started going off in this, in what I love, in the passion of, of trucking and so forth, that’s when money started coming in.
SUE: The company made $250,000 in revenue its first year. This year, she expects $20 million in revenue.
COLLEEN: What are her offices like? It seems like such a different world than banking.
SUE: It is. Well, she started out concentrating mostly in the oil-and-gas industry, so she ships things like frac sand and water rigs. At the warehouse you see these enormous crates with machines -- pumps and rigs -- they’re 50,100 feet high.
SOT: Hey, I got another one going!
SUE: So you see the sheer physicality of moving these massive machines, but at the same time it’s all about the details. Angelica’s day to day work is in the details, calculating tonnage and dimensions.
SOT: So now you’re at 9, 35, 71, divide that...
SUE: It’s a ton of paperwork.
ANGELICA: So we’re able to be a one-stop shop to service a customer. Imagine moving a rig from Oklahoma, 70 trucks to the Port of Houston, and to move a rig you have to have the cranes, the pull trucks, the tandem trucks, the winch trucks, and then you have to order the permits and escorts. So it’s A to B and everything in the middle.
COLLEEN: With such massive projects, cash flow is a constant challenge for Angelica’s company.
ANGELICA: Whether you’re selling a tamale for 50 cents or whether you are selling a rig for 5 million, it’s all cash flow. You still have payroll, you still have rent. About two years ago we had a customer in Mexico that didn’t pay and we really, really went through some hard times.
COLLEEN: While AIM Global grew quickly thanks to a booming fracking industry, the downturn in oil prices took its toll. 2015 was a tough year.
ANGELICA: I had to layoff about four of my people and it was really hard.
COLLEEN: She knew It was a time to diversify. She’s expanded to provide alternative financing and equipment leasing.
ANGELICA: Being a former banker, we don’t like being concentrated to one customer. So we had to start diversifying not only our clients, but our industries. So we started looking at solar power. We started looking at automotive. Let’s look at government projects. Let’s, let’s look at health care.
COLLEEN: Angelica now projects revenue of $50 million in the next three to five years, something she could not have predicted when she couldn’t afford food for her kids.
SOT: So that’s an 85% margin. Is that cool?
SUE: A few years ago, she and her children built their dream house.
ANGELICA: It was my kids and I choosing the colors of the house, and the stone, and the wood floors, and the granite.
COLLEEN: Her personal life has taken a happy turn as well: she recently remarried and, at 42, is pregnant with her third child.
ANGELICA: Right now I’m in a good place and there’s a lot of amazing opportunities.
SUE: Still, scaling a company can be lonely.
COLLEEN: Angelica practices some of the same habits that she learned when her life hit rock bottom.