Receiving the 2023 UMA Vision Award was a bittersweet moment for Michael and Ben Canine, who credit their dad’s vision and passion for growing Lorenz Bus Service over the past three decades.
The brothers dedicated the award to Jim Canine, who died in December 2021 at age 70 from organ failure.
“Lorenz was very dear to him. Without my father, we wouldn’t be in business, and we would not be here on this stage, either,” said Michael.
While the Minneapolis company dates back to 1925, the Canine family didn’t take the reins until 1994, when Jim and a partner, Alan Gingold, bought it.
Buying a bus business
Jim was 41 and a certified public accountant who had shifted from doing audit work to a chief financial officer role before transitioning to mergers and acquisitions. He was looking for a buyer for one of the oldest bus companies in the state when the deal fell apart.
Jim decided to buy the business with his partner, Alan Gingold. Jim explained his motivation as a desire to stop having to wear a suit every day to work.
“My dad said, ‘It’s a bus business; it can’t be that hard,’” Michael recalled during his acceptance speech, drawing hearty laughs from the audience of mostly bus company owners. “He was in for a treat. It wasn’t too much longer when he was playing in the garage that I heard my dad say, ‘This business has a lot of moving parts.’”
It didn’t take long for Jim to fall in love with the bus business, though. He loved the people and the autonomy. Eventually, his two sons followed suit.
“Ben and I didn’t think we would be in the business, but we learned that it’s in our blood, too,” Michael said.
A ‘magical’ gathering
Jim spent his last day talking about the company, enjoying a small impromptu gathering of friends and family, who shared stories of meaningful moments with Jim and vice versa. He said afterward, “This is the stuff that people probably say at wakes, and you don’t get to hear it. I got to be present for it now. It was magical.”
The brothers say their dad’s last day encapsulated his passion for the business and the people who keep it rolling. He spent it at work, talking to employees and reminiscing about their time together. Michael fondly recalls his dad’s last advice to his sons, delivered in colorful language: “Now, don’t f— it up.”
Lorenz Bus began as a transit operation, before the government took over the sector, and expanded to motorcoach in 1977. Today, the fleet has grown to 240 vehicles, from school buses to motorcoaches. Its client base has grown to include sports teams in the NFL, MLB and NHL.
The company’s core values are safety, service and sincerity.
“They care about what they do, how they get it done and for whom they do it. That’s deliberate sincerity,” said Jeff Greteman, President of Windstar Lines. As the previous winner of the Vision Award, he asked to present the award to the Canine family during the awards dinner at the UMA EXPO in Orlando earlier this month.
He praised Lorenz Bus for embracing technology by rolling out new online software that provided instant pricing 24/7 last year.
“It’s this type of technology that keeps them at the forefront of our industry and makes booking a motorcoach as easy as ordering an Uber or booking an Airbnb. This type of foresight raises the bar for all of us,” Greteman said.
Initially, Ben and Michael envisioned a different future than the family business. Ben went to law school, clerked for a federal judge and was a prosecutor for the city of Minneapolis when he decided to join his father and brother in the family business. Michael went to business school and got a degree in marketing, though he initially had no plans for joining his dad.
Ben says leaving behind a successful legal career wasn’t hard because he saw that in working with his dad and brother, he could have a bigger impact. He pivoted into information systems, which he likens to being a process engineer — a role his wife holds at retail giant Target.
“A lot of what I do is working on our business processes or workflows, and just trying to leverage technology to do things easier and to work smarter so we can do more with less,” Ben explains. “I’m at the center of it all in terms of our processes and operations. Mike handles sales and more of the external stuff. In the way that we deliver the service, it’s been rewarding.”
One introvert, one extrovert
The brothers are a good fit. Ben, Chief Operating Officer, is an introvert, and Michael, Chief Executive Officer of Lorenz Bus Service, is an extrovert.
“He has made a lot of friends in the industry. I usually go to those events and introduce myself as Mike’s brother,” Ben says with a laugh. “It’s easier for me to make more of an impact immediately because I’m now an owner. If I see a problem, I can fix it. Whereas when you’re working in a larger institution, particularly in government, change doesn’t happen right away.”
In the past decade, Lorenz has grown to a medium-sized motorcoach and school bus company.
“We’ve diversified the business, and we’ve expanded into professional and collegiate athletics,” Michael said.
Since 2008, Lorenz has been the principal provider of the Minnesota State Fair Park & Ride service, a free transportation service provided by the state fair. Over the course of 12 days in late summer, the Lorenz system ferries 2.1 million people to and from the fairgrounds. The state fair is one of the largest in the country when it comes to attendance.
Outside of the business, Michael has grown as an industry advocate. He credits Roman Cornell, President of ABC Companies, for encouraging him to engage in advocacy during the pandemic, and connecting him with Greteman. The two began working together and hired a lobbyist. Soon, their efforts expanded to include a group of operators which eventually became known as the Gang of 11.
“He was instrumental in encouraging me to be an advocate,” said Michael, explaining the Gang of 11 spent their days calling every Chief of Staff and legislative liaison to share the stories of small family-owned companies that were often in the shadows of the airline and transit industries. “In many ways, this grassroots effort was the purest expression of democracy. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got $2 billion.”
Although the six months of long days of advocating were exhausting, the experience didn’t extinguish Michael’s passion for advocating for the industry. He has since been appointed to serve on the American Bus Association board of directors.
On behalf of Lorenz Bus and the industry, Michael spent “hundreds, if not thousands, of hours writing letters to lobby Congress to shed light on the industry’s plight,” Greteman said.