Andres Gonzalez: ‘We have a talented group of people who are instrumental in accomplishing our long-term success. I couldn’t be more excited.’
Like many busy professionals, StratAir President Andres Gonzalez’s morning routine starts with coffee.
“I can’t function properly without it,” he laughed. “I look over my e-mail, see what meetings of pending items I have for the day. After I drop my girls at school, I head to the office. I love getting a front-row seat to watch our team come together and solve problems. They might all start the same way for me, but every day is different in the air cargo industry.”
Miami-based StratAir joined the Saltchuk Family of Companies in 2016, providing specialized cargo, ground handling, and warehousing services, as well as a mix of scheduled and charter services to key import and export destinations throughout North American, the Caribbean, and South America.
Gonzalez joined the company in 2018 as Vice President, officially taking the reins from StratAir founder and President Terry Went this past February. He said each and every shipment is a chance to improve.
“There is nothing more gratifying when customers reach out and tell us they notice the ways we’re improving to better serve their needs.”
Gonzalez was born and raised in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, the second of three brothers.
“My parents, Jose and Annie, both worked full time, and thanks to that, my brothers and I were able to receive a great education. My brothers, Jose and Ricardo, and I grew up very close and spent a lot of time together playing a sport every afternoon after school. You name it—tennis, basketball, baseball…I was able to participate in a lot of tournaments. That helped me create a lot of discipline and a desire to always get better.
When Gonzalez got a little older, he said, he began focusing exclusively on baseball.
“Growing up in a baseball-obsessed country, I dreamt of becoming a professional baseball player. Fortunately, I was able to play D-1 college baseball in Tallahassee, Florida, during my freshman year of college.”
As the sun set on that dream, new opportunities began to emerge. Gonzalez moved to Miami to complete his double major in Civil Engineering and Industrial Engineering at Florida International University. Later, he earned his MBA at the University of Miami, then took a job at LAN Cargo (now known as LATAM Cargo) as an Import Control Analyst. After seven years, he took a position with the aviation supplier AerSale, where he worked for just seven months before joining StratAir.
“I knew StratAir from my days in LATAM, as we shared that same ramp where our aircraft parked, and I thought it would be a great opportunity. On Day One, I noticed the camaraderie and togetherness of the team. It was very easy to blend in and feel well received.”
Terry Went, who founded Strategic Air in 2000 and joined the Saltchuk Family of Companies in 2016, staying on as President, said he was looking for someone in the market to support him in that role.
“We started very small—there were only five of us,” Went explained. “We grew the company over 16 years to 130 employees.”
Went said the decision to seek a parent company was made due to a desire to reduce risk in the market while growing even larger.
“By 2018, I was looking to hire a vice president. I’d had some other people I’d interviewed—I’d been interviewing people for…eight months to a year. I met Andres for lunch, and we hit it off. He has an engineering background and a very strong knowledge of warehousing. He understood our operation from the ground up.”
Went said Gonzalez’s transition to President of StratAir was strategically planned.
“Andres has grown tremendously,” said Went, who is currently Chairman of the company and Senior Vice President of Commercial Development for Saltchuk Aviation. “He earned a lot of respect in his role as Vice President. He’s been able to communicate with the staff, take responsibility for the P&L—we’re in a completely different market than when we started. He faces challenges, but everyone’s committed to working together for the common good.”
Actively working to improve
Gonzalez’s greatest professional challenge was opening StratAir’s facility in San Juan at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“We had to do everything remotely,” he said. “The facility successfully launched in late May of 2020. We got awarded a bid in early April of 2020—we had only a few months to get the equipment, employees, and vendors, and train everyone. The most difficult part was not being able to meet our vendors face-to-face or interview employees in person. But it was great team collaboration to get it done and successfully deliver the customer promise from the very first day.”
Since the launch, Gonzalez said, the company has been growing quickly.
“We’re actively working to improve our aircraft reliability,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re growing organically and protecting our core customers. Implementing a cargo system by 2024 will help us reach that goal as we introduce systems that can support our growth.”
Growth primarily fueled, he added, by the uniqueness of the destinations the company serves.
“Not only do we serve as big freight forwarders, but we also have a customer base who are shipping products back to their native countries. We ship materials that are very important to families both here and abroad.”
What sets StratAir apart, he concluded, is the way every employee understands the importance of these shipments.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without each and every one of our employees. It’s very important that we continue striving towards our objectives. We have a talented group of people who are instrumental in accomplishing our long-term success. I couldn’t be more excited to be working with this group.”
Gonzalez and his wife, Maria, have been married for seven years, and the couple have two little girls. Valeria is five. Elisa is three.
“My wife also works full time, and we both quickly realized it’s very difficult to maintain a work-life balance with two young daughters, but we wouldn’t change it for anything. We both grew up very close to our families and want our girls to experience that as well.”
He said he’s blessed to be able to lead StratAir to its next level of success.
“Andreas is clearly the right choice to lead StratAir into the future,” said David Karp, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Saltchuk in Alaska. “From day one, his broad perspective of the market, coupled with his commitment to providing excellent customer service, has been an asset to the business.”
“I feel very confident in the team we have. If we position ourselves correctly, we can be in line to take a huge step forward and see greater success than what the company has already accomplished. I see a team hungry to make it happen, and hopefully, I can help guide them through it.”