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July 26, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Q&A: New CEO of National Express Corp.

David Duke brings a wealth of industry experience to his new role as CEO of National Express Corp. Here, he discusses his objectives in the position, along with such timely topics as fuel prices and school district budget constraints.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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David Duke joined National Express Corp. as CEO in June. He has 25 years of experience in the student transportation industry.

David Duke joined National Express Corp. as CEO in June. He has 25 years of experience in the student transportation industry.

Early last year, National Express Corp. announced that David Duke would join the company as CEO in June 2011. Duke is a veteran of the school bus contracting industry. He previously served as senior vice president of sales at FirstGroup America.

Before joining FirstGroup, Duke was senior vice president of Durham School Services — which, along with Canadian contractor Stock Transportation, is part of National Express Corp. In that position, he was responsible for overseeing regional operations and business development.

Duke has also served on the board of directors of the National School Transportation Association.

Before Duke returned to National Express Corp. to assume the CEO position in June, John Elliott held the interim role. Elliott had served as president and CEO of Durham before he retired in 2008.

In an interview with SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon, Duke discussed his priorities in the new position, business conditions for contracting and other topics.

SBF: Tell us about your background in the school bus industry.
DAVID DUKE: I have 25 years' experience in the student transportation industry, holding various leadership positions and serving in most regions of the country. I have a strong background in operations and business development, and I understand the importance of safety, customer service and cost-effective solutions in student transportation.

As school bus operators, our customers — students and communities — trust us to provide safe, reliable services. We expect each and every employee to commit to putting safety first and going the extra mile for our customers to make the ride to and from school the best experience it can be.

What are your top priorities as you begin the role of CEO of National Express Corp.?
My first priority always is safety. We are rolling out new safety initiatives and training that advance standardized safety processes and further promote a dominant culture of safety throughout the organization.

We also are concentrating on building our bench strength — getting the right people in the right positions. To achieve this, we have taken some creative approaches to recruiting, including recruiting on college campuses. In addition, I will be focusing on ensuring we are as cost efficient as possible and growing the school bus business and charter operation as well.

Has the company been seeing more opportunities for new contracts and acquisitions recently?
Yes. We recently acquired Vogel Bus Co. Inc., which increased our presence in the New Jersey market. And we have seen a significant number of districts across the U.S. and Canada looking into outsourcing their student transportation operations. Many school districts currently are experiencing budget constraints and are challenged to do more with less. This offers us an opportunity to show how outsourcing can provide safe, cost-effective student transportation solutions.

Are fuel prices a big concern for National Express Corp. right now?
We are continually looking to manage all of our costs. We have not been immune to the increase in fuel prices and have hedged a large portion of our fuel to help mitigate the uncertainty of fuel costs for our customers.

In addition, reinforcing fuel conservation practices, such as reducing idling times and maintaining optimum tire pressure to increase fuel efficiency, are other ways to help contain costs.

In general, are conditions much different in Canada for Stock Transportation than they are for Durham in the U.S.?
The feedback I am receiving from our Canadian customers is that they are experiencing some budget constraints, but not to the degree U.S. school districts are facing. We presently operate in the Ontario and Nova Scotia provinces and will be expanding into Alberta. Schools in these areas increasingly are looking for information on outsourcing.

Last year, National Express Corp. instituted an updated certification and standards system for maintenance operations, called Preventive Maintenance Excellence (PMx). What have been the results of that so far?
Our PMx program is one more way we show our commitment to safe, reliable student transportation. PMx takes a comprehensive approach to maintenance, incorporating standardized procedures for repair, parts and detailed inspections. It includes advanced internal and external training with OEMs and certification for technicians.

At this time, the PMx program is up and running in all of our maintenance facilities across North America. Currently, the maintenance team is employing Lean methods to ensure we provide the safest fl eets for our customers at the best value.

Tell us about the involvement you've had with industry associations.
I fully support the efforts of industry associations and various state associations. Through our participation, we align ourselves with other organizations and suppliers to provide a unified voice that will further the safety and efficiency standards of school buses, as well as promote the numerous benefits of riding a school bus to the public and legislative audiences.

Is there anything I haven't asked about that you'd like to discuss?
We recently completed visioning and values planning, which updated our company vision and identified the values that will provide clear guidance for all employees to follow to make that vision a reality. Our values, which support safety, our customers, our people and our communities, drive our actions in achieving our vision of earning the lifetime loyalty of our customers.

This means more than anything else, we value the safety of our passengers, employees and community. We place customers at the heart of our business. We enable all our people to reach their full potential. And our policies and practices will advance the social, environmental and economic conditions in the communities in which we operate.

Because we know our employees are our greatest asset, we recently debuted a new employee recognition and development program we call "Enjoy the Ride." This exciting program recognizes and rewards employees who live our company values both in and outside of work.


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