Patricia Ziska learned to adapt and grow with changing markets, demographics and policies — a trait that contributes to how she evolved from an assistant to a top player at Motor Coach Industries Inc. (MCI).
Ziska will have spent 35 years with the company in December and can celebrate that time with her recent promotion to VP of private sector sales and marketing.
Right out of high school in Chicago and after a year of business school, Ziska started at Hausman Bus Sales as an administrative assistant. She wanted to stay in Chicago, but outside of busy downtown, so she applied for an entry-level position to help coordinate sales at Hausman, which sits on the outskirts of the city.
"It was really the first or second job I interviewed for, and I took the job on the spot without even thinking about it," she says.
Ziska's father was in sales his whole life, which she remembers as a motivational factor in her career choice.
"I enjoyed listening to the rapport and camaraderie that he had with his customers," she says. "I loved watching how he'd celebrate when he closed a big deal — the high energy he felt from the selling talent he had. I admired these things and I'm just continuing in his footsteps."
At the time Ziska was hired, Hausman entered into a manufacturing sales agreement with MCI, where he specialized in bus and used Greyhound sales. The timing for Ziska was perfect as MCI began setting up a new department for coach sales in the U.S., since it already had a footing in Canada. From here, the company took off.
During her earlier career, Ziska also attended night school and finished with a bachelor's in business administration at Loyola University in Chicago. Meanwhile, MCI was adding sales territory, coach models, and sales and service centers.
For the first 20 years, Ziska spent her time in inside sales positions - she also had four kids. But in the mid-90s, she stepped into a management role as regional VP for the Midwest, where she was responsible for new and pre-owned coach sales. She hired most of the sales teams in these regions, many of whom still work there today.
But, one aspect of the business that has changed hands over the years is management. "There was certainly a lot of evolution happening not only in the market but MCI's corporate culture," she says. "So, one skill I've acquired over the years is my ability to work well with different management teams and being flexible."
New situations certainly did come — particularly after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where MCI stocks were bought by Mexico-based company DINA S.A., which changed the structure of MCI by eliminating regional positions. Ziska was moved to corporate at Schaumburg, Ill., and became responsible for major account marketing and sales.
Ziska helped start — and lead for five years — the Motor Coach Council, a cross-sectional group of operators aimed at promoting motorcoach travel and green initiatives in the industry. Ziska also worked to create a customer council and has maintained this group for about seven years.
Success for Ziska came through her openness to change and using these opportunities to plan for the future. And as someone who tends to be one of few women at corporate meetings, Ziska keeps this philosophy in her own ambitions.
"I definitely had to be assertive as a woman to achieve my growth goals and career goals," she says. "I am raising a daughter and have two sons and she is the youngest, so I tell her 'don't be afraid to ask for what you think you deserve. Just speak up.' "