RENO, Nevada — As she stood in her bus yard with the snow-capped Carson Range in the background, Lisa Allen’s blue eyes sparkled under the bright winter sun. She was almost ebullient as she described the long hours required to run her family business in Reno.
“I like a lot going on,” said Allen, 33. “I like action. I like difficult problems. Give me a lot of projects. I like to juggle things.”
Born into a motorcoach dynasty, Allen seemed destined to succeed in this demanding industry. Amador Stage Lines is one of the oldest motorcoach companies in the country. As its name implies, it began in 1852 as a stagecoach line, carrying passengers from paddle-wheelers in Sacramento to communities in the “Gold Country” of the Northern California foothills.
Her paternal grandparents started a charter and school bus service in 1947, then purchased Amador in 1966. The family has grown the company into one of the largest and most stable operators in Northern California, expanding its operations into Northern Nevada.
Allen began career training as a young child around the dinner table when her dad would talk about his day at work.
“We did bus 101. My dad would say, ‘This is what happened at the office today.’ Give me a scenario, whatever it was, and I would give him an answer. And he’s like, ‘See, that’s better than what I heard today,’” recalls Allen.”I didn’t know at the time I was learning.”
Now, the tables have turned and it’s Allen who’s telling her dad, Bill Allen, about the inner workings of the family business.
“Now, I call him and say, ‘You won’t believe what happened today.’ There’s something new every day. That’s why I love it: because no two days are the same,” said Allen.
Her motorcoach DNA also comes from her mother, Sandy Allen, a second-generation operator and President of Royal Coach Tours in San Jose, California.
Both of her parents’ companies have operations in California and Nevada. Royal moved into Las Vegas five years ago, and the Sacramento-based Amador expanded to Reno in 1997.
Finding her career
In college, Allen didn’t see herself going into the family business. She studied communications at Sacramento State University with plans for a career in sports broadcasting. She was also president of her sorority, a demanding role that required nearly around-the-clock problem-solving that prepared her for running a motorcoach operation.
After graduation, her dad asked her to help him out with the Reno operation for six months because he was having management issues. That was eight years ago.
At first, she was making the more-than-two-hour drive back to Sacramento every weekend because she didn’t like the Nevada city known for its skiing and gambling destinations.
“I didn’t want to be in Reno, and now I love it. It’s a small town with so many events happening,” Allen said of the growing community, which still embraces its traditional nickname as “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
Because of California’s extra restrictive COVID-19 rules, Reno has become the company’s busier operation over the past couple of years.
Allen multi-tasks every morning, getting her steps in as she circles the bus yard, giving her dad an update on the Reno operation.
“I kind of give him the rundown as he’s driving to the office. He knows everything before anybody else knows just because we have our conversations every morning,” she said.
Just like Dad
Watching her daughter on the phone, handling company business, Sandy Allen observed how much Lisa Allen takes after her ex-husband, Bill.
“She’ll say, Oh, wow, you just look just like your dad. And it’s funny. I probably do because we’re in the zone for sure when we are solving problems,” Allen said.
Driver Vicki Hughes says her boss also has her dad’s gentle management style.
“He never shamed anybody, and everything was kind of a lesson,” said Hughes, who remembers when she took too tight of a turn, hitting a tree branch that broke a window. He asked her to spend time with the maintenance staff who had to make the costly repair.
The veteran driver says her colleagues often describe the younger Allen as probably the best boss ever.
“That’s a huge compliment because we’ve had a lot of bosses in our lives,” said Hughes. “She shows you a lot of respect and she listens.”
The admiration is mutual.
“Our employees are incredible. And they would do anything for us,” said Allen. “A lot of drivers stayed on through the pandemic, but we are still feeling the driver shortage. I almost never say no to a run, because they know I’ll figure it out, but now we have to say no because we don’t have drivers.”
Allen recently ran to serve on the board of the United Motorcoach Association, the industry trade association co-founded by her paternal grandfather. Her nearly 10-minute campaign video features employees describing her leadership strengths. She lost the Region 1 seat to family friend Tom Giddens, owner of Pacific Coachways in Garden Grove, California, in a close race.
Amador is also a longtime member of Trailways, a network of independent operators.
Some of the drivers can tell stories about the days when she was a baby carried around by her parents.
“They’ll say, ‘I remember you dancing on the pool table when you were 2,’” said Allen, who still likes dancing.
She’s made a few videos showing her moves on a bus when she made the trip to Washington, D.C., with her sister, Laura, for the Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness rally. The sisters met up with their mom at the industry rally to highlight the industry’s need for federal relief during the devastating pandemic.
When she returned to Reno, she did several TV interviews, taking advantage of the communications training she received in college. The California Bus Association asked her to speak on behalf of the group to a California Assembly committee about the plight of the industry.
If her business operations side was inherited from her dad, her friendly, outgoing personality reflects Sandy Allen’s nature.
“My mom is more comfortable organizing holiday parties and doing activities with the drivers. I do the same. So that camaraderie side of me comes from my mom,” said Allen, adding that Royal and Amador regularly help each other out.
Ability in her DNA
The company’s fleet of 70 coaches is split between the Reno and Sacramento bus yards. The Amador fleet of mostly Prevost coaches stands out, decked in emerald green with an American flag.
“Reno has been good,” said Allen, noting the company’s airport shuttle is constantly busy taking passengers to Reno and Lake Tahoe, North Shore and Squaw Valley. “We’ve also stayed open because of the casino, school trips and military runs.”
During the height of the pandemic, the workforce dropped from 110 employees to seven.
And then there are the challenges of Reno’s desert climate. Within a few days at the end of December, the city at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range was buried in 11 feet of snow.
“We had four people working, who responded to 1,800 calls a day from people wanting the airport service. It took one coach nine hours to get from the Reno airport to South Lake Tahoe,” said Allen, noting the trip usually takes a little over an hour. “We had to ground buses for safety. It was so bad, but our ski season was set.”
That ability to roll with the challenges, whatever they may be, is why the third-generation operator thrives in the business. It’s in her DNA.