Change is in the air at IC Bus.
The school and commercial bus manufacturer — along with parent company Navistar — recently moved its corporate headquarters from Warrenville, Ill., to a state-of-the-art building in nearby Lisle.
In late April, Navistar announced that it will develop and distribute school buses in China under a new agreement with Chinese truck maker JAC.
The companies will collaborate on a number of school bus opportunities, including potentially importing IC Bus™ brand school buses into China (see story on pg. 14).
Changes have also come at the executive level. Over the past year, the company has assembled a new leadership team that is bringing fresh ideas and strategies to the school bus business.
SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon spoke with the new team — Dennis Huffmon, Kathy Seegebrecht, Dan Cutter and Greg Hutchison — who discussed such topics as leadership, school bus marketing, sales strategies and manufacturing improvements.
Last year, Dennis Huffmon was named vice president and general manager for IC Bus U.S. and Canada, a role in which he leads the company’s school bus and commercial bus businesses for these countries.
Huffmon is accountable for the financial performance of the businesses and has responsibility for strategic planning, business development, sales, distribution and manufacturing. He has more than 10 years of experience with Navistar, including an earlier stint in the IC Bus group.
According to Huffmon, bringing in talented new leaders has put “fresh eyes on the business.”
“First and foremost, it’s about people,” he says. “And I look for people who understand it’s a team game. It’s a relatively small organization, and I realize that we’re going to be filling in for each other in a lot of different aspects and weighing in on each other’s ideas.”
Huffmon says that when he thinks of the business at a very high level, if there is one plan, it is “to be market share leaders for another 10 years in a row. When you achieve that, a lot of other things fall into place.”
But, he notes, “nothing starts without an order.” And that’s where Dan Cutter comes in.
Cutter joined IC Bus in January as vice president of school bus sales. He came to the bus division from Navistar’s Workhorse® chassis brand.
In his new role, Cutter is responsible for yellow bus sales in the U.S. and Canada. He oversees a staff of regional sales managers, and he says it’s important that they have decision-making power out in the field.
“Each market is different,” Cutter notes. “Each member on the team is able to make the right decisions. We have to trust in the people on our teams and our dealers. They’ll always have my support and backing.”
A key focus for Cutter is accountability.
“Everybody talks about it; nobody lives it,” he says. “As a sales team, we’re going to live it out.”
Cutter points out that he equates accountability to customer satisfaction.
“The customer has a list of requirements,” he says. “It’s up to us to hold everyone accountable who touches the customer.”
For Kathy Seegebrecht, a key part of her mission is bringing the voice of the customer to the sales and product teams.
In January, Seegebrecht was named vice president of marketing for Navistar’s global bus division. She previously served as vice president of marketing for Navistar’s parts group.
Seegebrecht says that it’s vital to talk to the customers and find out “what’s working, what should be different.”
“It’s different from the auto industry in that people in the bus industry care a whole lot less about what it looks like,” she says. “They’re more interested in functionality. We have to know what features are important to them.”
An important component of that effort is IC Bus’ dealer and customer advisory board, which the company turns to for valuable insight.
One recent significant outcome from the advisory board was an upgrade to the electrical systems on the company’s school buses.
“We used to assemble the electrical harnesses ourselves at the Tulsa [Okla.] plant — they looked like a spaghetti ball,” Seegebrecht explains. Based on customer input, “now we have the harnesses made externally. They’re braided, and they provide easier accessibility.”
That change went into full production in April.
Another new change to the school buses ties in with the company’s desire to strengthen the public’s association of Navistar with IC Bus and its other brands.
“We want to make sure that they are correlated,” Seegebrecht says. “Then IC Bus gets credit for being part of a bigger manufacturing company, and Navistar gets credit for building buses.”
On the side of the bus, the bottom line of the IC Bus wing badge will now say “Navistar.” And on the bumper, the IC Bus badge will be replaced with a Navistar badge.
The new signage is slated to go into production at the end of June.
Other production changes are afoot at the IC Bus plant in Tulsa.
Plant Manager Greg Hutchison, an auto industry veteran who came to the facility in September, has launched initiatives to increase quality and volume.
“What we’ve tried to do is stabilize and simplify the manufacturing process,” Hutchison says. “We’re making sure that we have a consistent focus on quality and safety — that we’re making a high-quality product without injuring any of our employees.”
This fall, the Tulsa plant will begin building IC Bus’ new AE series, the fully integrated Type A school bus that was previewed at the 2010 conference of the National Association for Pupil Transportation.
Another landmark was expected in early June: production of the 100,000th school bus at the Tulsa facility. IC Bus began manufacturing at the plant — which was built in 1941 to manufacture B-24 bombers for World War II — in 2001.
Hutchison notes that to make sure the Tulsa facility is as successful as possible, he needs to maintain regular communication with the other members of the IC Bus leadership team. For example, he works closely with Cutter to adjust the production schedule to influxes of orders.
“He knows what my timing is to change the schedule at the plant,” Hutchison says. “As soon as he knows what that trigger point is on the forecasting of sales, he gets on the phone and gives me a heads up. It’s allowed us to react much faster to customer demand.”
For all of their fresh insights and energy in their new roles, Huffmon, Seegebrecht, Cutter and Hutchison also draw inspiration from their leader, IC Bus President John McKinney.
“John exudes positive reinforcement,” Hutchison says. “This group is feeding off of that.”