Over the past year, Blue Bird Corp. has continued its push to re-energize its school bus division. At the helm, President/CEO Jeff Bust has weathered the loss of key dealers and believes that the turnover has created a stronger and more committed sales force. The changes have also helped him to better appreciate the dealers who’ve remained in the fold.
Bust is never satisfied with the status quo. He pushes for continuous improvement in all areas — manufacturing, sales, financing, service, support and, especially, quality. The key reason for the emphasis on improvement is expectation, specifically, the customer’s. “School bus customers have greater expectations every year,” he says.
One of Blue Bird’s top strategic projects is the development of a conventional school bus that will be better positioned for the contractor market as well as for state bids. This initiative, dubbed Project Victory, has entered the prototype testing phase and shows great promise.
Bust recently spoke about these and other Blue Bird initiatives with SCHOOL BUS FLEET Editor Steve Hirano.
SBF: How is Blue Bird doing today versus a year ago, when we last spoke?
Jeff Bust: When we spoke last year, Blue Bird was in the midst of launching the 2005 Strategic Initiatives. These were strategic sourcing, Project Victory, service parts growth, Coachworks growth and process improvement.
Strategic sourcing has had far-reaching effects on Blue Bird. Our supplier base has decreased from more than 2,000 to about 1,000 suppliers in the past 12 Novembers, and we have made significant modifications, including the changes with Cummins just announced in September.
In other areas, Project Victory has progressed smoothly to prototype testing. Service parts fill and availability have made large improvements over the past year. Coachworks (non-school bus segment) has ramped up production and made substantial improvements year over year.
In addition, process improvements have been made in all functions: manufacturing, engineering, purchasing and finance.
We have had an unprecedented number of customer visits at our facilities over the past year, and the consistent comment is, “Blue Bird is energized, active and making huge improvements.” We love to hear our customers say those things, but the Blue Bird organization knows that the only way to escape arrogance and complacency is to keep making improvements every day.
Tell me about the changes you’ve made to the manufacturing processes over the past year.
We are making changes and improvements every day. Most of them are small, common sense improvements that come straight off the shop floor. We are blessed with a talented, experienced and engaged workforce. Other improvements are larger in scale. We combined our rear-engine and forward-engine chassis lines into one line early this year. We moved all of our non-school bus production to the Coachworks facility during 2005. And, we reconfigured our Canadian facility in Brantford, Ontario, into a dedicated small bus (Type A) production location.
Two of your plants — in Lafayette, Ga., and Brantford — were recognized recently in Industry Week’s best plants competition. To what do you attribute their success?
Both locations have great leadership. Kevin Wood in Lafayette and Tony Kerwin in Brantford are dynamic, high energy and extremely committed individuals. Both locations also have great management teams and outstanding workforces. Beyond that, it is mainly a focus on process improvement, including 5S, throughput reduction, delivery performance and, most importantly, quality. Behind everything that is happening at Blue Bird, there is a relentless drive to improve quality.