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Unexpected opportunities: a PHX journey

Ten years ago, then Phoenix (PHX) Operations Agent Tonia Cordes was nervous when Piedmont assumed the ground handling operation in Phoenix. She didn’t know what to expect from a new company and was worried she might lose her job. “My fears were eased when I realized Piedmont cared about us,” said Tonia. “Cheryl Smit, then Piedmont Regional Manager, and Eric Morgan met us face-to-face, answered our questions and assured us they would guide us in running a successful operation. It meant a lot to us to have leaders speak to us in person instead of through email.”

Tonia says it doesn’t feel like ten years have passed since Piedmont came to Phoenix but there have been many improvements since then. “Communication has improved tremendously. People used to keep to themselves and the operation has become a more family-oriented place to work.”

Originally, from Brooklyn, New York, Tonia joined PHX’s former ground handler, Mesa Airlines, in 2003 as a ramp agent. She says that when she moved from New York to Phoenix, she was looking for a career change and wanted to try something different.

“I enjoyed working on the ramp and the workout I got from it,” Tonia recalls. “I took pride in making sure flights left on time and safely and our customers were happy. I really enjoyed customer interactions and working with co-workers from different cultural backgrounds.” Tonia shares she later learned that her co-workers were taking bets on how long she would last. “I’m proud to say I’m still here and none of them are still with the company!”

Tonia became interested in the different challenges the operation faced as they grew and had a passion for continuous learning. After three years on the ramp, Tonia decided she wanted to learn more about the operation. While on a light duty assignment working in Operations, she wanted to learn more about that position and became an Operations Agent in 2007.

“I liked learning about customer service and trying to make a positive difference with each interaction with our internal and external customers,” said Tonia. “Working with the pilots and listening to their feedback on how we can better our processes, was essential as my counterparts and I worked to be the best at our jobs.”  While an Operations Agent, she began training as a Manager-in-Training (MIT) to cover for managers who were unavailable.

It was during the time that Tonia was working as an Operations Agent that Piedmont received the contract to manage the ground handling operation in PHX. “Employees were worried because we didn’t know if our jobs were at risk and we barely knew anything about Piedmont,” said Tonia. “We had to re-interview and thankfully many of us stayed in our current jobs. The transition was a challenge but Piedmont showed they cared about us and our success.”

Later in her career, an Operations Manager position opened up and Tonia applied, reflecting, “I didn’t get the position but I didn’t let it discourage me. I decided I would put in more work and continue learning so when the next Operations Manager position opened, I would be ready.”

When the next Operations Manager position opened, Tonia was prepared and promoted to Customer Care Operations Manager. She wants to be the best manager she can be and makes it a point during her shift to talk to her team members. “I ask my team members how their day is going and want them to know they can talk to me,” said Tonia.

When leadership roundtable meetings were held pre-COVID, Tonia attended all of them to express her concerns and share improvement opportunities. “Heather Dowdy encouraged me to voice my concerns and not be discouraged,” said Tonia. “Senior leadership doesn’t always know what managers deal with on a daily basis and roundtable meetings provide an opportunity to share the challenges we face and talk through solutions.”

She was inspired after one roundtable meeting to speak with Matthew Albright, PHX Planning and Compliance Manager, and share that she wanted to be more hands-on and involved in Piedmont operations. “As a result of our conversation, he included me in new hire interviews and asked for my feedback. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more and contribute.”

Tonia is thankful for the opportunities she has had to grow professionally with Piedmont in PHX. She encourages any team member seeking advancement in the company to be confident and not let anyone discourage you from reaching your goal. “Keep a positive mind, believe in yourself and others will believe in you too. I’ve worked on that, I’ve seen it and encourage others to do the same.”

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