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October 25, 2011  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

Young guns in the yellow bus industry

In this new feature, we turn the spotlight on the younger side of school transportation. Find out how these movers and shakers got involved in the industry, how they contribute to its success and what they see in its future.


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Gray Ellison is CEO of SMI, which supplies a variety of safety and interior products for school buses, including stop arms, crossing arms and roof hatches. In the background is a cutout of industry veteran Buck Pearce, who retired from SMI in 2007.
<p>Gray Ellison is CEO of SMI, which supplies a variety of safety and interior products for school buses, including stop arms, crossing arms and roof hatches. In the background is a cutout of industry veteran Buck Pearce, who retired from SMI in 2007.</p>
Gray Ellison

CEO, SMI, Pineville, N.C.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
 The items of significant importance for me are as follows: finding the right people to help lead our organization, striving for operational excellence and finding avenues for continued growth.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
Previous to 2006, SMI was privately owned by my family, and I was invited to join the company as a sales associate in 2000.

What did you do before that?
Before working at SMI, I was an adjunct professor at Temple University.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
At SMI, all of our products have a safety aspect to them. We take a lot of pride in our efforts to make components that help make the school bus the safest mode of transportation in the daily commute to and from school.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
There are many pieces of my job that are difficult, but trying to manage people I find the hardest. There is rarely one right way to manage the variety of personalities and situations that arise on a day-to-day basis.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

"You live and you learn" — my father.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
It will be interesting to see if the current model for funding changes. That area I believe is critical for the longevity of our industry.

We take a lot of pride in our efforts to make components that help make the school bus the safest mode of transportation in the daily commute to and from school.


Mary Aufdemberg

Mary Aufdemberg looks forward to working on engaging with pupil transportation professionals through social media tools in the future.
<p>Mary Aufdemberg looks forward to working on engaging with pupil  transportation professionals through social media tools in the future.</p>

Manager, Center for Education and Marketing, Thomas Built Buses, High Point, N.C.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I am in charge of marketing communications, advertising, events, sales and service training and technical publications at Thomas Built Buses.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
My seven-year Daimler-related career started at Daimler Truck Financial. Four years ago, I took a position as the municipal bus finance manager for the Southeast. I traveled the Southeast, working with Thomas Built dealers and customers. I really fell in love with the industry during that year, and when this position was listed at Thomas Built, I applied.

What did you do before that?
After earning my MBA in international marketing and finance, I worked at Walgreens as a senior market analyst.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry groups.
I am on the board for Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference as a supplier representative and help facilitate its vendor show with Craig Leonard, event specialist for Thomas Built Buses. I am also thrilled to help champion our industry as a member of the ASBC's marketing team and its Yellow School Bus Champions team.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
I love the family-like feel of the industry and the passion for keeping kids safe.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

Treat everyone as if they could be your boss someday. It's about respect and building strong relationships.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
Marketing in the school bus industry has changed tremendously in the last five years. I'm excited to be on the forefront of changing how we engage and dialogue with drivers, technicians and directors through the use of social media and other digital tools.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people? If so, how can it be done?
I think there's a need for balance because of the learning that can take place between different generations. It's amazing what can be accomplished with a mix of dynamic ideas, new technology, storied tradition and lessons learned, all of which can come from any generation! To attract more young people, give them respect, responsibility, challenges and mentoring, and keep an open mind.

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Sorry to differ with ms. Walton,but I fail to see the vast knowledge involved in the school bus industry. It's not exactly as challenging as per say a brain surgeon's or rocket scientist's education.

george lowinnger    |    Oct 25, 2011 11:37 PM

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