Last April, U.S. Bus Corp. named John Manzi as its new president, replacing Irv Kushner, who retired about a month later.
Although a relative newcomer to the school bus industry, Manzi is no stranger to buses. For the previous 15 years, he was involved with the medium-duty commercial bus market. Previous to his assignment with U.S. Bus, he was general manager of Starcraft Bus and Mobility, a division of Forest River Inc. Prior to that, he was vice president of operations for Warrick Industries and Goshen Coach/McCoy Miller and general manager for Trailmobile Corp.
Manzi got his start in the transportation industry 20 years ago building postal vehicles for Grumman Corp. He later moved to walk-in trucks and over-the-road trailers.
With several months of experience now at U.S. Bus, Manzi has a well-formed perspective of the school bus industry and recently answered some questions posed by SBF Editor Steve Hirano.
SBF: How much of your experience in the commercial bus market has been useful in transitioning to the school bus industry?
JOHN MANZI: The distribution and dealer networks normally carry both yellow and commercial lines, so I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of dealers for a good many years.
With the legislation and subsequent market growth of the MFSAB [multifunction school activity bus], I have also been able to bring our product to commercial dealers who now need a compliant vehicle.
Specialty vehicle manufacturing, in general, is a very low-tech, people-driven business. To be successful, we have to recruit and train a customer-focused organization. U.S. Bus has been working at and will continue to work at becoming the very best customer service organization in the industry.
As far as the product is concerned, whether you are building a commercial bus, a school bus or an ambulance, they are all capital equipment that is being purchased to do a job. The end-user is looking for a vehicle that is going to be safe and reliable at the lowest achievable cost.
What is your impression of the school bus industry so far?
I really and truly am enjoying it. The industry is very well organized, there is great representation from all segments and the people themselves really seem to enjoy what they’re doing. I believe transporting the incredibly precious commodity we’re all responsible for brings the industry together and keeps us focused.
How does the school bus market compare to the medium-duty commercial bus market in terms of competition for business?
Sadly, this is one place where the industries are very similar. Competition is incredibly tough on the commercial side, and from my short experience in the yellow bus market, it doesn’t look like anyone is leaving a lot of room for margins over here either.