KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Terry Van Der Aa, former owner of school bus contracting company Vancom Inc., is joining TransPar Group as a consultant to lend his expertise in the area of labor relations.
Before he sold Vancom to Laidlaw in the late 1990s, Van Der Aa built the company up to 3,500 school buses, becoming the largest family-owned school bus company in the U.S. He was also named SCHOOL BUS FLEET's Contractor of the Year in 1985.
Van Der Aa got his start in the transportation industry at a young age, washing buses for his father's company while growing up. His father owned about 30 school buses and a service station in the suburbs of Chicago.
After a stint in the military and some time at college, Van Der Aa stepped in to help for a year while his father was dealing with a health issue. "During that year, I started bidding other contracts, and by the end of the year, we had 50 buses," he said. At that point, he decided to stay on.
In 1973, Van Der Aa and his brother bought the company from their father and an uncle who was also a part-owner. They continued to acquire other bus companies, achieving significant growth over the next two decades.
Van Der Aa also was involved with the public transit industry, developing a company that managed and operated transit systems at about 60 locations in the U.S. and Europe.
At TransPar, Van Der Aa will help the company expand consulting services on labor relations for school bus contractors and school districts. Maintaining positive employee relations centers on communication, he said. "[At Vancom] we had a structured mechanism for communications, and we told them a lot more about the company and why we were doing what we were doing than most bus operators would ever tell the people who drive the bus," Van Der Aa said. "Because of those techniques, we had an extraordinarily good relationship with our drivers, who really are your product."
In his view, today's economy will make it difficult for contractors to increase their prices in contracts with school districts. "It's probably going to compel them to not pass on increases and figure out ways to reduce costs. That's going to have a profound impact on their labor force," Van Der Aa said. "To do that and keep your employees happy is going to require more communication than most companies are typically providing today to their employees."
Van Der Aa has used similar techniques in his position on the board of the University of Chicago Medical Center and at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. "I teach there about every other month, working with prisoners whose attitudes can be completely changed through information," he said.