Jim Elliott, a veteran in sales with Collins Bus Corp. who has served 26 years building strong relationships in the pupil transportation industry, has retired.
Elliott started as a sales manager at Collins, working on its wheelchair and step lift product lines. Soon after, when the OEM took on school bus and ambulance manufacturing, he was appointed sales manager of the school bus division, he told School Bus Fleet. He began securing additional distributors and developed a growing relationship with Laidlaw, Collins’s largest contractor customer at the time, and eventually worked his way up to vice president of sales and marketing.
Outside of his employment at Collins, Elliott also briefly spent time as a field sales manager for Masters Transportation in Kansas, where he particularly enjoyed trekking across the state, before returning to Collins as a sales consultant.“I loved the grassroots experience of traveling to each city and selling buses,” he said.
Elliott, however, had not been involved in the student transportation industry his entire career: he found his way there after establishing himself in sales for Rubbermaid Industrial Products in the 1980s.
Then, on a chance visit to Hutchinson, Kansas, to check on his parents, he met Collins Bus Corp.’s founder, Don Collins, at his facility and learned that he was working on the first special-needs Type A school bus, an endeavor that resonated with him personally.
“My first child had special needs, so I had a personal reason to be interested,” Elliott said. “[Also], my parents and wife are longtime teachers, and I found the education field inviting.”
The achievement he is proudest of over the course of his two-and-a-half decades in pupil transportation, was being the point person for Collins’s introduction of its Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB) in 1999.
“We designed it, developed the markets, and helped establish the product as a major portion of Type A sales today,” Elliott said. “We even named the product with the collaboration of KinderCare [Learning Centers] and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I am equally proud that all Type A school bus manufacturers collectively have made possible the safest bus for the childcare and school activity bus markets.”
Elliott has enjoyed his longtime career in pupil transportation primarily, he said, because it is “clean and honorable,” and historically predictable in growth.
As with many others in the pupil transportation industry, what he has found to be the most challenging hurdle is the COVID-19 pandemic. “Never has anything compared to this challenge,” Elliott said. “So much is out of the industry’s control.”
Over his 26 years serving pupil transporters, the biggest change that Elliott has noticed is in distributor ownership, as original owners retire and turn over the reins to family members or sell to new owners.
“Old, solid relationships give way to development of new relationships — a change that we all must face,” he said.
As some Collins dealers shared, building solid relationships has always been one of Elliott’s top strengths.
"Throughout the years, Jim Elliott was always a trusted partner of Midwest Transit Equipment,” said Dan Cutter, the chief operating officer of the bus dealership. “His knowledge of the bus business, the customers, and certainly our dealership, will never be matched.”
"In the decades we have been a Collins dealer, the one constant, more so even than the Collins family itself, has been Jim Elliott,” said Richard Wolfington, Jr., president of Wolfington Body Co. “His energy and love of our business is infectious. We have always appreciated his partnership and his understanding of dealers’ challenges while always delivering for Collins.”
Elliott emphasizes his gratitude for having been a part of the Collins team over the years.
“Everyone whom I have worked with and for, including Collins partners, represent the best in our industry,” he added. “I have received more than I have given. I leave fulfilled.”
Elliott’s last day with Collins was Aug. 28.
In retirement, he plans to get his golf handicap down with more time to practice, he said.