James Brown, 79
Owner-operator, Magic Carpet Tours and Bus Service and board member United Motorcoach Association
An industry pioneer
When he started with a company called Metropolitan in 1964, in Virginia, “I kind of broke the barrier,” says James Brown, as a black man driving the bus. He was the first person of any minority group the company had hired as driver. Before long, they had him in a management training program.
“It was a challenge; I like challenges,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll try it,’ and I didn’t have any problems.”
Brown moved on the Greyhound in 1971 and bought his own bus. Today, he has 12 or “too many.” He’s retired from four jobs, he says, and will just cut back a bit on this one, “right sizing” the number of buses to five or seven and letting his two sons increasingly take on more control and carry on his legacy. But you’ll still find him behind the wheel some three or four times a week.
“The most important thing in any bus operation is the people, the groups,” he said. “When you can drive for them and they feel comfortable and safe with you and they tell you that and when they want to go someplace they want you and your company, that’s the challenge and the reward.”
Miles clocked behind a motorcoach wheel: (more than) 3 million
Driving secret: I tell my employees: You stay three bus lengths off anybody, and you’ll never have an accident. Right there, you’re 85 percent safer.
Favorite windshield view: the old U.S. highways that take you through small towns.
Career high point: A regular trip from New York City to Los Angeles that I’d drive over 16 days, leading the tour along the way. I was driving with international passengers from all over, and I felt so honored to converse with them. By the 16th day, we were like a big family.
Low point: When someone dropped a cinderblock from an overpass and it shattered the windshield and put him out of work for a while.
What’s most exciting on the horizon? The new administration of UMA and new innovations at EXPO. “The whole concept changed, and to the better. What it did was take the convention from just the hustle and bustle to the point you had a chance to enjoy it. They’re getting younger people involved; it will really help our industry.”