Focus on the future: Operators report on ways they’re leading their companies

“Be prepared for the impossible. And always have a plan B.” Marcia Milton shared her advice for how to focus on the future after lessons learned through the pandemic. She was part of a panel at Nov. 12 UMA Town Hall

From the practicalities of building transparent communications with staff and customers to envisioning where they could be in 2021, three UMA operators shared their experience during a Nov. 12 panel discussion on Leading through COVID and the Path Forward.

Three UMA Boardmembers, Bethany Schubert of Trobec’s Bus Service in St. Stephen, Minnesota; Marcia Milton of RMA in Landover, Maryland; and David Moody of Holiday Companies in Randleman, North Carolina, participated in a panel moderated by UMA President and CEO Larry Killingsworth.

All three agreed that business is just about at a standstill. Bethany said at least her school buses have been running, but after next week they’ll be parked again as schools close. Marcia has been in touch with numerous operators of small fleets of five or fewer vehicles and she said they don’t expect much change from this quarter to next.

Staying In Touch

Marcia said smaller operators have found as they stay in touch with customers, there is talk of business, but it doesn’t pan out for a variety of reasons. “Every time they get ready to travel something happens . . .but customers are saying ‘when this is all over, we’ll be back.’ But we just don’t know when it will be over.”

She encouraged operators to not only stay in touch with customers, but to connect with the community, too, at civic meetings and even through participating in charitable activities. “Volunteer with the food drives in your communities. Attend county meetings and city meetings . . . and let people know you’re still there. And you will be available when this is all over.”

David said his company has been focusing on contacting its top customers. “We took our top 100 customers from past two years and have been personally calling them and talking to them, just letting them know we’re here to do anything if they need help.”

In terms of keeping in touch with employees, both Bethany and David said they’ve been doing emails and town hall meetings and trying to be open, honest, and transparent. Marcia said, “For the small operators when you talk about staff it’s like a family. They are staying in contact with staff.”

Building the Company You Want

Looking ahead after this very challenging year all of them took a positive tack. “I am just kind of reinventing this company to what I want it to be,” Bethany said. “I want to come out of this with the right team in place. We have been putting a lot of focus on who we are; our culture. And in the end I think that’s going to be our best thing to let us come out on the other side.”

“If you can come out of this exactly who you want to be,” she said, “it’s going to be successful for you,” Bethany said.

David said Holiday is going through department by department and right-sizing. “We’ve restructured the organization chart.” And he is glad to see lots of request for price quotes for spring. “We hope to come out running in 2021.”

Marcia said there is a lot of upside for those restarting if they harness that potential. “Now is probably your first time to re-start your business; but now you’re starting from experience. When you first started you had no experience. You can reinvent,” she said.

Watch out for Curveballs

Bethany summed up what she’s learned this year, saying, “Take the time for the things that are important; professionally and personally. Life is short and curveballs can be thrown at you at any time.”


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