Arrow Stage Lines’ new CEO: We got a lot done during pandemic shutdown

Luke Busskohl grew up in his family’s motorcoach business, washing buses as a child and then driving them when he was a 19-year-old college student.

And now, he has taken over as president and CEO of Arrow Stage Lines, making him the fourth-generation leader of the family-owned company he has worked at for 20 years.

Luke Busskohl

Busskohl, 39, succeeds his father, Steve, who is now chairman of the Omaha, Nebraska-based Arrow.

His ascension to the CEO job comes at a time when the company — and the entire motorcoach industry — is basically shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled tourism and halted most group travel since March. But he does see a bright side to the shutdown.

“The timing is actually good,” Busskohl said. “One real positive about the pandemic is that it has allowed us to get a lot of things done that we wanted to get done. It gave us the opportunity to lock ourselves in a room and come up with solutions.”

Focusing on technology

He said company executives have been focusing on technology issues, such as transitioning to a totally paperless operation by Sept. 1, and developing a new marketing and branding strategy he said would “resonate with customers.”

“We’ve been hitting a lot of resets on the business,” Busskohl said. “As we come up from the ashes, we will have a new structure.”

Before shutting down in March because of the pandemic, Arrow was operating 250 motorcoaches and had 650 employees at its locations in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

Founded in 1928

Carl Busskohl, Luke’s great-grandfather, founded the company in 1928 to transport mail and bread from Norfolk, Nebraska, to Sioux City, Iowa, according to Arrow’s website. Shortly after he started the new route, people began asking for rides, so Busskohl began filling the empty seats with passengers. After realizing the popularity of providing transportation service, he started requesting a small fee from his passengers.

Carl’s son, Doyle, joined the business in 1950 and would eventually take over running the company, which continued growing by adding tours and ticketed bus service throughout the Midwest.

Doyle’s son, Steve, Luke’s father, joined the company in 1980 as it began expanding into other areas of the country. 

Buses ‘in my blood’

Luke Busskohl, who grew up around buses and admits they are “kind of in my blood,” helped wash the vehicles when he was young. He received his commercial driver’s license when he was 18 and began driving school bus routes and an occasional motorcoach tour for Arrow a year later, while he was a student at the University of Nebraska majoring in communications.

A very young Luke Busskohl behind the wheel.

“I wanted to go into marketing,” he said. “I didn’t want to go into the family business because there wasn’t an open position I was excited about, and I told my dad that I didn’t want him to create a job for me.”

Then, two months before his college graduation in 2003, Arrow called to tell him the marketing person was leaving the company.

“I committed to doing it for two years to see if I liked it,” Busskohl said. “I got lucky. When I started, there were no family members in the office I was working in. The people there really invested in me and showed me the ins and outs, and they didn’t treat me any different than anyone else in the office.”

‘An unentitled attitude’

Over the years, Busskohl has worked in several different departments at Arrow to learn everything he could. He even interned for the maintenance director at the company’s Denver location.

“I always had an unentitled attitude, which has led to my success,” he said. “People know I want to work with them and help make them successful. That kind of keeps me going.”

Busskohl was named chief operating officer at Arrow in 2013, a position he held until taking over as president and CEO in early June.

“I like the business aspects of the company, the finances, but what really keeps me going is that I like buses,” he said. “I like buying new buses. Well, I don’t know if I like buying new buses because they are expensive, but I like equipment.”

Cleaning and sanitizing

Right now, most of Arrow’s buses are idled, except for a small number running shuttles and military transportation. Once business starts up again, the No. 1 priority will be keeping motorcoaches clean and sanitized, Busskohl said.

“We’ve always had cleaning crews, but this is a big shift,” he said. “If companies don’t do it right, they will be in a world of hurt. It’s a whole new element of safety.”

Busskohl said there are a number of products and services popping up in the industry, such as foggers, UV lights, and driver and passenger partitions. But he said he is not sure all of them are necessary. “Are partitions crash tested? The people we’ve asked say no. Is fogging safe for the drivers and passengers?”

He said Arrow is evaluating the products and will hold off on adopting them for the time being, unless customers request them. 

Busskohl said a university recently approached Arrow about offering student transportation and requested that partitions be installed behind every passenger on the bus. The school said it was willing to pay for them.

“Some customers want extras,” he said. “If they want partitions and social distancing, we’ll work with them. We’ll adjust to what our customers want to do.”

Focus on current locations

As he takes over the family business during an unsettled time in the industry, Busskohl said he plans to continue on the same trajectory, focusing on perfecting and growing the business in Arrow’s current locations as opposed to expanding into new markets.

“The future is elastic because there are so many unknowns,” he said. “But I’m convinced the motorcoach industry will come back. It’s just a matter of when.”

As for Arrow Stage Lines, could there be a fifth-generation leader in the company’s future? Busskohl has two children, a 13-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. 

“Both of them like buses, so we will see what the future brings for them,” he said.

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