Angela Eliacostas grew up with an old school Italian father in Illinois. As the firstborn of four children, she was given a football and tagged along with her father everywhere. By the time she was 12 years old, she knew how to drive and fuel a dump truck. She can still remember being eaten alive by mosquitos on summer nights as she fueled the truck.
“It took 548 pumps to be exact to fill it up,” Eliacostas said. “It truly helped me in becoming who I am.”
As the Founder and CEO of AGT Global Logistics, Eliacostas leads a company that specializes in the integration of all transportation and logistics functions for top-tier companies around the world.
She’s been at the forefront of this male-dominated industry for 25 years, first as a youngster who later rose through the ranks at her father’s company and later when she revived her career by returning to the workforce as a billing clerk at a freight company.
A Spark Of Potential
Eliacostas started her family at a young age. She had the first of her four sons at 19 years old. She was a stay at home mother and her marriage was under strain partially due to financial problems. When she saw things beginning to take a toll on her children, she decided to do something about it. Her decision would give her a new go at a career that would lead to entrepreneurship.
“I started looking for jobs. I applied in transportation because I was familiar with it,” Eliacostas said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to drive a truck. I just didn’t want to be away from my kids for long.”
She began logging paperwork at Freight Flow, a trucking company in the rail yards, and Tom, one of the managers at the company, saw her potential and took her underneath his wing. “He was four years away from retirement and ran the brokerage division. He said I would be the perfect person for this, if I was willing to learn. He said, ‘follow me and I will teach you everything you need to know.’ He was a great guy to work with and when he retired he gave me his cell number and said, ‘if you have questions, don’t panic. You’ll always be able to call me as long as I’m alive.’ Unfortunately, about four years ago, he passed away,” Eliacostas said. “He had a great work ethic. He was a great teacher. He was so patient and willing to teach me anything. Eventually I managed the brokerage end of that company. I did that for almost 20 years.”
Years later when Eliacostas saw the market opportunity for minority business owners, she decided she wanted to take the leap into starting her own company, but it wouldn’t be easy. By then she was divorced and a single parent. When she spoke to the owner of the company about her desire to leave, he made her a deal: continue to manage my company while you get yours off the ground.
Launching A Business From Scratch
She reduced her hours, which hurt her salary, but freed her time. Eliacostas worked a lot of nights and weekends and used her home telephone as her office line, which meant her children had to help when they could. She taught them how to answer the telephone and even wrote out a call script on a sheet of paper. Two of her sons work in her company today.
She said back then on her limited income, she budgeted everything down to the cent. “I was a saver and I had always wanted to put my kids into private schools. I wasn’t crazy about the school district. When it came time to start them in private high school, it was much more expensive. I was a smoker and did a pack and a half a day. I took the money that I used for my cigarettes to pay for my son’s tuition. I was always good at pooling my resources and living very, very frugal. I still was in great shape and had very little overhead. I did most of the work myself. At least I’ll never look back and say I never tried.”
Good thing she stuck with it. Within three years, she was bringing in $2 million.
Building The Company Of Her Dreams
Based in Glen Ellyn, Ill., AGT now has 21 employees and offers air service, HazMat and radioactive transportation, retail delivers, construction management and more. They’ve been recognized with several awards, most recently the Top 50 Woman Owned Businesses in Illinois and the Top 500 Woman Owned Businesses in the U.S.A.
“Our motto here is there’s never an answer of no to any customer. There’s always an option,” she said. It makes sense for a woman who stayed the course despite all the odds stacked against her, to set such a can-do atmosphere at AGT – especially because she broke into the industry at a time when her competition looked nothing like her.
“Between utilities and energy, most of my career dealt with 80-90 percent men. In the last five years, there has been quite an increase in the amount of women I’m dealing with in those industries. It’s been pretty unique to watch it unfold and I feel I was at the forefront of it. Women in trucking, women in nuclear. There’s [now] a lot of groups where we can get together and share our stories and deal with some of our challenges. So, that’s been a huge help, too,” Eliacostas said.
AGT is still growing by leaps in bounds. Last year they made $10 million in revenue and yet she still must deal with men who aren’t ready to be allies to their female industry peers. In 2012, while making a business presentation to a room of 30 (of whom 28 were men), she was heckled from the far end of the room as some muttered things like, “she only got this contract because she’s a woman.” The more she talked, the louder the heckling got and she realized she had to ignore it or address it.
It made her think about her father and his old-school mentality and how he believed a woman’s place was truly in the home. “I said, ‘I grew up with that hurdle and the one thing I can assure you is this, if I tell you I can do it, I can. There is not one piece of my business I have not touched. I’ve done it all – receivables, dispatch – anything here that someone has a question or problem with, I can help. I’m not above doing anything … I understand that you guys think I’ve been given this contract because I’m a woman and we are a minority in here. However, it only opened the door. If I don’t keep my end of the bargain, then slam the door in my face,’” Eliacostas said. “They were quiet. Their boss looked at me and said, ‘I am so sorry. I cannot apologize enough for their behavior. I am very embarrassed.’”
Eliacostas told him, “If you have concerns or complaints pick up the phone and let me know.” To this day they are one of her greatest customers. She encourages other women to stand their ground. “Do not be intimidated. If you know what you’re doing and you have the experience, prove yourself. You shouldn’t let anything stand in your way,” she advised.
Things have grown for her on the personal front as well. She has since remarried and she and her husband George have seven children between them, three grandchildren and two on the way. For more on Eliacostas or AGT, click here.