Blue Bird Bus is on the Move

| September 29, 2014

2008_blue_bird_vision_tintedFORT VALLEY — Georgia-based Blue Bird Corporation is making great strides since facing a low point in 2011. They account for a third of all buses manufactured and used in the US. They were recently purchased by Hennessy Capital Acquisition of Houston.

Blue Bird has been on a roll since the school bus industry hit its low point in 2011 as a result of the economic downturn, which led to reduced tax revenues, subsequent school budget cuts and reduced purchases. CEO Bill Horlock’s appointment as CEO that same year has coincided with a sales revenue increase of 50% since then, highlighted by a 13% increase in sales volume this fiscal year versus the average annual industry rate of 4-6%.

“Our goal is to outpace the industry,” states Horlock.

Blue Bird Corporation CEO Phil Horlock

Blue Bird Corporation CEO Phil Horlock

A native of Manchester, England and an ardent supporter of Manchester United’s soccer team, Horlock originally came to the States to spend only three years, which is “now going on 24,” he says. Most of his career, both here and in his home country, Horlock has held executive positions at Ford Motor Company, most recently seeing the leadership of Alan Mulally firsthand, where he learned that “you can’t manage a secret.”

Hence, Horlock has emulated Mulally’s Thursday morning meeting philosophy at Blue Bird, when all functional department heads meet in order to communicate better with one another, since each group interacts and is interdependent with one another. The meetings, now a fixture of the company culture, cover the entire global business, serving to put the critical issues on the table and letting managers attack them in the open.

The results of these management sessions not only show in the sales figures, but have also led to product innovation. The average lifespan for which a district keeps a school bus is about 15 years, closer to 20 in California. While fleets are durable, wear and tear affects some parts more than others, such as the windows, which are notorious for sagging and leaking after years of use. At a recent industry trade exhibit, Blue Bird introduced an industry-leading and kid-friendly window with triple seals for superior leak resistance, ergonomic dual-grip latches to withstand over 50,000 up-and-down cycles over the life of the bus and greater weather stripping to reduce noise, wind, dust and water intrusion. Customer visits are a routine activity at the Fort Valley plant and on seeing the new windows on such a visit recently, one potential new customer remarked to Horlock, “I might just buy your buses for these new windows!”

Adapted from story by John Tabelione in Valdosta CEO

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