Pena, who has more than 21,000 hours of flight experience, is the new owner of the AAMCO Total Car Care center in Cartersville. He purchased the shop earlier this year after quitting Phoenix Air for a new job opportunity, which later fell through.
“So I resigned from Phoenix Air, so that timeframe gave me the wisdom of, you know, [realizing] that, all right, that’s God’s will and I ended up coming by this store and asking the previous owner about the franchise,” he said.
Pena is originally from Venezuela, where he worked for the nationalized oil company Petroleum of Venezuela. He said Phoenix Air purchased eight Gulfstream jets from the oil company and he was one of the pilots who flew them back to the U.S.
“We flew the airplane here in town. On the way here, Dan Thompson, the vice president of Phoenix Air, offered me a job, and I brought with me three more pilots. And then after a month they required two more pilots, a total of six moved from Venezuela to [the] U.S.,” he said.
With Phoenix Air’s assistance, Pena received a temporary visa and later a work visa allowing him to stay in the country. He eventually received a green card, but he does not yet have U.S. citizenship. He later applied for asylum, and it was granted in 2009. The naturalization process has been slow, he said, but he looks forward to next year when he can apply.
“I cannot wait for that,” he said. “Because I have already lost eight years.”
While working for Phoenix Air, Pena spent two to three weeks for eight years at a small airbase in the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska. His pictures of the island show a flat, snow-covered piece of rock completely isolated in the Pacific Ocean. Being away from his family for so long is something he now regrets.
“One of the things that got my eyes open, is my wife and I already [sent] off the kids, all our kids are graduated from college, out of home. So it’s just her and I, so she doesn’t deserve to be alone. So I wanted to be with her every night instead of flying around,” Pena said. “The pilot life is unique. You know too many countries, you visit too many places, you enjoy yourself, but hello, we are not just me. We are one. The one thing that I regret today [is] not enjoying my kids to grow up.”
Following what he called “God’s will,” Pena began searching for a business franchise to purchase so he would be able to work during the day and come home to his family at night. After considering a number of restaurant franchises, he settled on the Cartersville AAMCO. He said he did have to replace part of the staff after the management change, but he added all of the employees are from Cartersville or northwest Georgia. He has emphasized training and pushed his employees to get their corporate certified training certificates.
Pena said he also is pushing his employees to be as customer-oriented as possible.
“I always, one of the things I teach my members here — my people here — that all the time go that extra mile with the customer. You don’t have to be always greedy with trying to charge for everything. But at least to be honest. That’s my motto: try to be honest with the people and tell them the truth,” he said.
Pena’s business is located at 842 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, Cartersville. Call 770-607-1444 for more information or to schedule a service call.