Tom (left) and Jim Hey of Southwest Coaches won the National School Transportation Association's Golden Merit Award in 2005.
Brothers in Busing
Southwest Coaches Inc.
Unlike most brothers, Tom and Jim Hey never fought over Matchbox cars or who was their dad’s favorite while growing up; maybe that’s the secret to their successful business partnership. As president (Tom) and vice president (Jim) of Southwest Coaches Inc., the two brothers have been running the company expertly since gaining ownership in 2000.
Southwest Coaches has been operating for more than 40 years and has been a part of the Hey family for 32. Since the company was owned by Tom and Jim’s uncle Chuck Hey, then by their parents (Marvin and Janet), the Hey brothers grew up with the bus industry. The brothers started working for the company at an early age, and as Tom explains, “We’ve done all aspects of the business, from washing buses and sweeping floors to running the company.” Both have driven the buses as well.
The Hey brothers grew up in Marshall, Minn., attending school in one of the districts they now serve (Marshall Public Schools, along with Jackson County Central School District), and they take their community involvement to heart. They are both members of the local Chamber of Commerce and have established, along with their sisters, a scholarship in their parents’ names to help local students. “We invest in the communities, we buy real estate in the communities, we pay taxes in the communities, we become part of the communities. I live here, I can’t just pick up my toys and go home — I am home,” Tom says.
The Heys are also dedicated to their industry: Tom serves as president of the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association, and both Tom and Jim are members of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA). In 2005, they were given the NSTA’s Golden Merit Award.
Common to the industry, managing outside factors is always a challenge. In Minnesota, one of the largest factors is the weather. For Southwest Coaches, it’s important that their buses have heating systems that work properly, and they spec the buses with a lot of thermal glass to improve visibility in the winter. Strobe stop arms and reflective tape provide additional safety. To prepare for the unexpected, the company uses a rigorous preventative maintenance program that mimics a state inspection and is run every time a vehicle is serviced.
Southwest Coaches currently operates in four different areas: student transportation, motorcoach charters, motorcoach tours and a full-service travel agency (including airline and cruise packages). When the company opened its doors in 1965, it offered pupil transportation services to the Marshall area. By the time Marvin and Janet Hey bought the company in 1974, the motorcoaches were already in existence. One year later, they began providing motorcoach tours. The leap to a full-service travel agency happened in 1990.
Tom Hey credits the success of Southwest Coaches to this diversity of business and, like many other family-owned companies, to their employees.
“I’ve got 39 school buses; obviously, I can’t drive 39 school buses in a day,” Tom says. “I rely on other people to do their job, and they do it well. We have a fantastic staff; they make the success of the company.”
— MEAGHAN KERINS
School buses: 39
Students transported daily: 1,700
Districts served: 2
Schools served: 11
Total students in districts: 3,500
Total employees: 75