Know Thyself, and you’re more likely to create the right fleet mix

By Dave Millhouser

Shadow. I had always wanted a manly nickname, and it seems like this one is within reach.

My buddy Titanic (there’s a nickname) was doing some mechanical work in the bright sun and asked me to move a bit to the left. He adjusted my position until it was just right—shading him from both the heat and glare.

“We finally found something you can do well,” he said. Apparently, properly oriented, my cherubic body casts an excellent (and large) shadow.

It’s important to know what you’re good at, and also to know what skills are beyond your reach. Since nobody can do everything well, it’s worthwhile, both in life and business, to take stock of where we excel as well as the tasks we should delegate.

One example is the way operators build their fleets. Companies that have a great deal of talent in their maintenance department often profitably operate older coaches. They successfully substitute ability for capital. If your expertise isn’t in the mechanical arena, you may favor new equipment… and turn over coaches before they begin to require significant maintenance. Both business models have been successful (and each has failed when poorly executed). What matters is knowing what your staff does well.

A great mechanic might not be a good sales person (or vice versa), and every company needs both skills.

Business is both a science and an art. If it were pure science, everyone with a business degree would be successful. Do what you learned in school and rake in the money. The art seems to be in identifying what your market wants/needs, and figuring out how to make your unique abilities serve it. If art were as easy as keeping within the lines of a coloring book page… we’d all be Picasso.

Folks who depend on talents they don’t have are destined for disaster. Years ago, a married couple built a tour company that thrived on his marketing flair and her organizational and business savvy. When the marriage failed, the bus line was not far behind, because all of those skills were necessary.

One key to success seems to be internal honesty. It’s nice to be honest with everyone, but it is critical to be honest with yourself. In my case that might be giving up the dream of being an NFL wide receiver and settling on sumo wrestling… in senior tournaments.

If you’re not good at something important, hire someone who is. Faking, ignoring or forcing it can be a business killer.

When times get tough, many operators consider jumping into other facets of the business. The perceived steady cash flow of line service makes charter companies giddy. Meanwhile, the folks running scheduled service are jealous of the fact that every charter coach that sallies forth is full of paying customers.

Charter coaches sit a lot, and line buses often guzzle diesel while carrying handful of revenue passengers. Each type of service has its unique requirements, charms and pitfalls.

Know Thyself. Someone famous said that, but since I can’t remember who, it’s not plagiarism. What are you good at? What additional skills are required for improving the business or adding new services?

Who can you hire to fill the gaps?

“Jack of all trades, master of none” doesn’t work in our business.

When I was a kid, they called me the “mechanical genius.” There wasn’t a bicycle, lawn mower or toy that I couldn’t take apart. Years later it dawned on me that this nickname was sarcasm, recognition that my gifts extended only to disassembly. I was unaware of my limitations, but the rest of the neighborhood had taken notice and hidden their lawn mowers.

If you don’t mind, I’m going with Shadow.

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