Phillip Paige, president of Paige Bus Enterprises in Riverdale, Ill., was named School Bus Fleet's Contractor of the Year for 2001. The award, which was presented to Paige at the National School Transportation Association's (NSTA) annual convention in July, recognizes Paige's long-time participation in NSTA and his fearless efforts to address both local and national issues affecting pupil transportation.
Building on his roots
In 1971, Paige got his feet wet in the transportation business when he and his wife, Rosetta, purchased several buses for his father's company, Paige Bus Enterprises. But simply investing in the company wasn't enough for Paige, and in 1973 he delved further into the family business by assuming responsibility for bids and coordination of the driver corps. In 1974, he finally took the plunge and left his job at a Fortune 500 company to drive a school bus and devote himself full time to the family business. Paige soon involved himself in every facet of the operation. "In the early days we did it all. I drove a school bus and even learned how to do preventive maintenance," he said. Paige's mother, his siblings and his wife each lent a hand in running the show. Paige attributes the company's success to hard work, determination, faith and the foundation upon which his father structured the company - "guts and God."
Reaching new levels
Paige has grown the business from a "mom and pop" operation to one of America's finest school bus fleets. Paige Bus Enterprises now operates 150 school buses, employs more than 200 people and transports 7,000 children daily. The company serves 40 public schools and runs special-needs transportation for six different school districts. In its 31 years of existence, the company has never experienced a passenger fatality or suffered a major tragedy. By working with other industry professionals, Paige contributes to the development of a close knit school transportation community. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Illinois School Transportation Association as well as the NSTA. He is instrumental in facilitating communication between the Chicago-area school bus contractors and NSTA and is effective in voicing and resolving problematic issues within the industry. But according to Paige, the company's biggest accomplishment is that it has "polished the image of a school bus company." By being professional and knowledgeable, says Paige, his employees are taking steps toward transforming the public's unflattering perception of the industry. To motivate and reward his employees, Paige offers monthly safety awards, back-to-school treats, Christmas bonuses and a monthly "lunch with the boss" for eight lucky drivers. Paige finds that the "lunch with the boss" program is particularly effective in helping him keep a finger on the pulse of his drivers. "Sometimes they [the drivers] take off the gloves and let me know how they feel about things," says Paige. Although his experience in corporate America has taught him "a certain coldness about business," Paige says the school transportation industry is unique in its friendly, family-oriented nature. "We have a closeness with the children that we transport," Paige says. "We are all just one big family."