For more than 20 years, Oregon native Jacob Iverson has worked in the pupil transportation industry. He presided over the Idaho Association of Pupil Transportation for more than seven years and participated in the National Association of Pupil Transportation and National School Transportation Association.
Since 2014, he has worked at Harlow’s Bus Service in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he currently serves as senior vice president. The company operates a fleet of about 580 vehicles, mostly diesel and gasoline IC Buses and Blue Bird.
The job is more than just moving young passengers from Point A to Point B for Iverson. Every bus, he says, should be considered an extension of the classroom.
“The work we do matters,” he says. “It makes an impact on the community. It’s not just picking up kids and dropping them off. There is so, so much more! Parents are entrusting their children to us, to help complete the circle of getting them to school and back home, safe and on time.”
For his devotion to the industry and his servant leader philosophy, School Bus Fleet has named Jacob Iverson its 2022 Contractor of the Year.
Where It Began
Harlow’s got its start in 1975, founded by Harlow Hageness in Rolette, North Dakota. Nearly half a century later, the company now operates in five states, providing contracted school bus transportation services.
Iverson was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, where he attended public schools before graduating from Portland State University, eventually earning a master’s degree in business administration. He left Portland soon after to work in the transportation industry. He served for a while as transportation director at the Lake Pend Orielle School District in Idaho before joining Harlow’s.
Harlow’s stated mission: “Support our customers by providing safe, cost-effective student transportation services that exceed their expectations for reliability and responsiveness.”
The company also promotes several core values, including:
Forward Thinking, Solving Problems
During monthly meetings, the first order of business is recognition of drivers and hearing what’s happening in the field.
“They are a customer-facing company, which is why they are so rapidly growing,” says Bridget Moore, corporate events manager for Transfinder. “They don’t just offer solutions as add-ons to increase investment but work together with their school districts to meet their needs and help their communities, and safety is always a number one priority.”
For more than 30 years, Harlow’s has provided busing services to Bismarck Public Schools.
“Over the past several years, the leadership of Vice President Jacob Iverson has helped this strategic partnership to flourish and grow,” says Darin Scherr, business and operations manager for the school district. “Mr. Iverson is a forward-thinking problem solver, whose client-focused mentality has ensured that Harlow’s continues to meet and exceed our expectations.”
Beyond the job, Iverson enjoys spending time with family, staying active outdoors, and coaching his son’s sports and officiating football and basketball.
Meeting Challenges and Overcoming Obstacles
The work is rewarding, but Iverson acknowledges it isn’t without some challenges.
“More is being asked of the professional school bus driver than ever before,” he says. “The new professional school bus driver has to adapt to the changing environments, such as the introduction of technologies, large growth in both urban and rural areas, and an ever-increasing amount of student behavior issues.”
The company, like many others in the industry, has had to adapt to supply chain issues, with delayed asset deliveries and reduced availability of parts. Now Harlow’s is trying to forecast father out while working with key vendors.
Harlow’s hasn’t been immune to the nationwide driver shortage, either.
“It has impacted our organization, which challenged us to look at retention and recruiting differently,” Iverson says. “Our professional school bus drivers are vital to our organization. We ask our team to use a sense of urgency in resolving service issues in a professional manner and use resources in the best way to deliver required outcomes.”
In the past decade, he’s seen the industry evolve, especially technology around routing, GPS integration, cameras, and maintenance.
Iverson holds a firm belief in the spirit of continuous improvement, with a focus “on building a culture of excellence in safety, responsive service and customer relationships through accountable leadership and the active engagement of all employees, which benefits all stakeholders.”
His advice to others considering a career in the industry: “Embrace the opportunity as a servant leader.”