New VIA Metropolitan Transit Chairman Fernando Reyes grew up on the South Side, where he grasped the importance of public transit early.
Today, Reyes is a powerhouse in the business community. As chairman of Reyes Automotive Group II and Reyes Hayashi Automotive, he is a key supplier to the far South Side’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas Inc.
His other companies include Reyes Development, Reyes Properties and Site B Data Services LLC. His community involvement includes former board chairman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, current vice president of the Greater Chamber of Commerce, past president of the San Antonio Fiesta Commission and former Rey Feo.
Friends and supporters say his story exemplifies homegrown success.
“I’m a South Side kid – I graduated from Harlandale (High School),” Reyes said.
The family home was on Linden Avenue near Shelby Drive and West Southcross Boulevard. His father worked as a butcher at the old Swift Armour Meat Packing Plant; his mother was a housewife.
“Her biggest job was on the Mama Patrol (school crossing guards) at Somerset (Road) and Southcross,” he added.
As a sophomore at Harlandale, Reyes got his first real job at the iconic Naples Restaurant on Broadway. The experience impressed upon him the need for comprehensive mass transit.
“We couldn’t afford a car for me to get to work, so I took the bus,” he said.
His next job was at the old Kline’s Clothing Store downtown, and he took the bus there, too.
“The Klines were really good to me. I was 16, and learning about inventory and payroll while I was helping out,” Reyes said. “I had no idea what great experience they were giving me for the future. I learned how to run a small business there, and what it takes to do it.”
He added, “My first goal when I graduated from Harlandale was to get a job at Kelly Air Force Base. My mom always said the families who worked at Kelly seemed to be a little better off. When I started, I was tearing out and rebuilding carburetors for airplanes, and then I got a job in administrative. I met the head of training, and he told me, ‘Fernando, if you want to move up, you need to expand your horizons.’”
Reyes contacted a man in personnel at the Defense Contract Management Agency. At first nothing was available, but he remained persistent, following the contact’s instructions to check back.
“The fourth month he had a job for me,” Reyes said.
His career took off from there; first in Dallas, then Washington, D.C., where he studied the ins and outs of government contracting. He used the know-how to open his first business, a plant in Laredo manufacturing equipment for the military, from beds to backpacks, for 28 years.
When Toyota presented the opportunity to put his résumé to use as a Tier I parts supplier, Reyes and his wife of 28 years, Norma, returned to San Antonio.
His son, Fernando III, or Fred, is involved with the family technology business; his other son Jason works with Toyota joint ventures; and daughter Allison Kara, a recent St. Mary’s School of Law graduate, is a trusted adviser.
“I’ve worked with my dad since I was 25 – going on 20 years,” Fred Reyes said. “He casts a very long shadow. He taught me not just how to do business, but also that business is more than just dollars and cents. It needs to be a win-win for everybody.”
Another South Side native, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, joined Mayor Ron Nirenberg in nominating the senior Reyes to head VIA’s board.
“As a fellow son of the South Side, I have the utmost confidence in Fernando and his ability to lead,” Wolff said, citing Reyes’ skill in leadership and “the much-needed perspective of someone who knows the needs of the community.”
Added Wolff, “Fernando is a prime example of the great leadership that comes from the heart of San Antonio.”
Al Aguilar, founder and CEO of Creative Civilization, an advertising and public-relations agency, serves on the board of the Harlandale Education Foundation with Reyes. He echoed Wolff’s comments.
“Both Fernando and I are products of the South Side, in the Harlandale area,” Aguilar said. “It’s something we share – we never forget where we came from. There has been a misperception in some parts about that area, but leaders like Fernando are helping to change that, and to mold San Antonio’s future, both in his business and in his new role as chairman of VIA.”
Reyes takes the wheel at VIA’s board from another powerful leader, Hope Andrade — the former Texas secretary of state, co-founder of Go Rio San Antonio River Cruises and 2021 chairwoman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Reyes got a head start on VIA’s issues in his role as treasurer of the recent successful initiative to dedicate an additional 1/8 cent of the sales tax to VIA starting in 2026.
The measure is predicted to raise $40 million annually for the city-owned transit company. Reyes’ long history with government contracting may serve well in strategizing how to leverage those added dollars into additional federal grants.
While there’s no specific agenda regarding his new position yet, he’s open to all ideas.
“With Toyota, I am in the mobility business,” he said. “And, with so much new technology, in the next 10 to 20 years mobility will be constantly changing. It’s not just a matter of driving or taking the bus, but of how we get a person from one place to another in the most effective, efficient and safest way. That is our mandate from the people.”