Bill Beck doesn’t mind a challenge. He actually enjoys facing problems and is even happier when he finds solutions. As the departing president of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), he has dealt with his share of obstacles and has worked to find answers that are agreeable to all involved.
Beck is characterized as a strong-willed and demanding leader with a deep commitment to the industry. Jeff Kulick, executive director of the NSTA, has worked closely with Beck and has seen many changes in the organization during his two-year term. "Bill sets the goals and appoints a leader to take charge," Kulick says. "After that, he makes it his job to keep tabs on activities, coordinate efforts and keep things moving in the right direction."
The dedication Beck has shown to the school bus industry was recognized at the NSTA's 39th annual meeting in New York City last month. Selected as the 2003 Contractor of the Year by SCHOOL BUS FLEET, Beck received the award on July 22 at the convention.
Long-running family affair
After more than 30 years in the industry, Beck can’t help but have the school bus business running through his veins. The close-knit family business began with Beck’s grandfather, George Lee Beck, and a single charter bus that carried semi-professional baseball teams to games near Mount Vernon, Ill. In 1946, the local high school decided to start a bus route for students, prompting his grandfather to operate the first school bus for the district. Beck Bus Transportation Corp. was born with the addition of Beck’s father, George Robert Beck, and a second bus.
The decision to enter the bus business was easy for Beck after earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1970. Although his father required that he work outside the family company after graduation, the big accounting firms were laying off many workers and job prospects were slim. Beck worked for a manufacturing company for one year before deciding he was ready to leap into the family business. "I thought it would be better [for me]," Beck says. "I enjoy the people and the kids and putting the operation together."
Beck says he finds the preparation for day-to-day activities the most rewarding aspect of his job. "After the bid's been awarded, getting everything to come together for the first time — the buses, the terminal, the drivers — that's my challenge. Making it all work — that's what I get excited about." Beck's company has grown to include more than 200 school buses, 18 charter coaches and 12 transit buses, all operating within a 100-mile radius of Mt. Vernon.
Led NSTA with vigor
As the NSTA president, Beck’s leadership and problem-solving abilities were tested regularly. Balancing the needs of both large and small companies is always a consideration when decisions are being made, and Beck’s approach was to encourage all involved to work together toward a common goal. Just as he encouraged everyone to use his or her voice to promote positive change, he also credited members with the accomplishments that resulted from their effort and dedication.
"I'm honored to have been the president, but it's because of everyone's hard work that we have been successful," Beck says. "We're now representing more buses, have more manufacturers and have more associate members than we've ever had." Beck's governing rule in everything he does is to try to make any situation better than it was at the start.
One of Beck’s primary goals as president of the NSTA was to expand the association’s involvement with the federal government. Historically, the NSTA has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Transportation and its agencies, but it recently broadened its participation to include the Transportation Security Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Education.
Funny moments, too
Despite his many pressing responsibilities, Beck has not forgotten the reason for this industry — the students. One of his most memorable school bus experiences occurred while he was substituting for a regular driver. A boy on the bus tried to talk him into dropping him off closer to his house than usual and when Beck refused, the boy informed him of how well his dad knew "Mr. Beck" and would be giving him a call about the situation. Beck asked him to wait about 45 minutes so he could get back to the office. "I don't think he ever told his dad about what happened," Beck says with a laugh. "Stories like that are what make my job fun."