I was most delighted to recently spend a most enjoyable evening in good old London Town with two fine chaps, one a gentleman that I have known for years indeed we started our careers at virtually the same time. A true bus gentleman of the old school, he has gone on to have a glowing and very successful career as a Managing Director for a range of well respected bus Companies. And unlike many he has worked for several of the big 5, certainly 3 , namely Stagecoach, Go Ahead, and Firstgroup.
This has given him a pretty unique insight into just what does make a good leader in the Bus and Coach Industry. By contrast the other fine gentleman who we enjoyed a pint or two of the amber nectar with had just set foot on the journey of being a Managing Director, and in fairness I can easily see why at a relatively young age he has achieved such a senior position. As the beer flowed and recollections and memories were shared it struck me that the big common denominators that emerged to create a successful bus depot were actually quite simple. First get the buses out, and the money in. Second, motivate and engage with the work force, if you look after them, they will look after you. Thirdly, become a key part of the community that you serve, do not just be seen as a bolt on, but as a crucial life blood without whom the communities would not function. This requires a very pro active attitude from depot manager down to depot cleaner, all need to feel equally important with a vital part to play. But of course at the heart needs to be the driver. The everyday face of the Company.
It is impossible for one Manager to achieve this in isolation it requires a collective approach, and very often a key agent is the trade unions. I was always lucky to have mostly really excellent union officers without whom whatever ambitions I may have had would never have seen the light of day. They understood that a respected workforce was a happier workforce, I witnessed more than enough bad Managers who successfully destroyed the character and spirit of what had been a good depot by single handedly being aggressive and unapproachable. Some Managers seemed to take a view that confrontation and division were what was needed to make sure the workforce knew their place.
Utter nonsense of the highest order, I used to say how can you expect drivers to be polite and friendly to the passengers when they get shouted out and frankly bullied by the depot staff. Working in those climates was horrible, and without doubt the depot performance always declined. Drivers going sick, not doing overtime, not swapping shifts, or changing holidays all those helpful little but important things that keep the buses out and the money in slowly dissolve in acrimony and an us and them mentality. You cannot run a bus depot like that and nor can you make a good business where people want to come to work.
So, as the evening drew to a close we all concluded that success was actually a simple formulae but as a leader you needed to believe it and live it. And in fairness once the majority saw it and believed in it it soon became expected. Yes of course there are always those cynics who will never buy in and sneer, but, in truth they became isolated as most people want to come to work, do the job, get appreciated for it and go home. Ironically it reminded me of a chap who once turned up at a depot that I used to manage, it was a good depot that had overcome many challenges with fierce competition and the staff were a good bunch. One day it was announced that a new gaffer was coming to take over. So on the appointed day this chap turned up drove straight into the garage and promptly parked his car into the bus pit. He disappeared into said four foot deep pit badly damaging his nice shiny company car and managing to lose any credibility without actually stepping foot into the depot,because he was trapped in his car and could not get out. Failed before he began.Also note to self never wear cool shades when driving into bus depots on hot days ….