Brothers John Benjamin and Larry Benjamin, owners of Northfield, Minn.-based Northfield Lines
, have always been close, so naturally, when Larry had the opportunity to switch careers and take over a local school bus operation, he asked John to hop aboard.
"We had 11 children in our family. Larry and I had always been pretty tight," John says. "We had one older brother who had been killed in a car accident, so it was just Larry and I and the rest were all girls." John, an electrical engineer at the time, agreed to go into business with Larry, and on Jan. 1, 1989, the brothers got started with seven motorcoaches and 30 school buses.
"We really didn't have prior bus experience before that," John recalls. "He was looking for a different type of business to get into."
Larry, who passed away last November, had forged a career in the restaurant business, was successful in car sales and drove a school bus every day for supplemental income for family vacations.
Meanwhile, the owner of an area school bus company decided to buy a local motorcoach business and hired Larry to run it. "After about two or three years he was going to retire, and [offered] Larry the opportunity to experience what the bus business was like," John explains.
Larry operated the motorcoach side of the business, Northfield Lines, for three years, while John managed the school bus end of operations, Benjamin Bus. Larry bought the business when the original operator retired. Over the years, Northfield Lines grew to 37 motorcoach vehicles, and Benjamin Bus expanded to 80 school buses.
What John remembers most about the early days of the business is the first time he and Larry bought several new Van Hool motorcoaches from ABC Companies in 1991.
"We were expanding. We had some over-the-road, long-haul type business that we could move these into. And, I think it was just like buying your first new car. It's kind of an exciting time," John says.
Eventually, the brothers grew the operation, providing premium motorcoach, charter, shuttle and daily route service to a varied customer base throughout Minnesota. In February, 2011, they were named
"Business People of the Year" by the Northfield Chamber of Commerce.
"Larry made a wise choice when he had John join him in the business," Pam Williams, sales manager and Northfield Lines' first full-time employee, says. "John is a very level-headed person and is not afraid to ask for input [from others]. He didn't come from a transportation background, yet has exceeded many others that have."
Williams adds that John always makes time to listen to all his employees. "He takes the time and really cares, always asking how it's going, checking in with us about our families, what our kids are up to," she says. "All employees, — [from] school bus, motorcoach [and] van drivers to the mechanics and detailing staff — we all matter."
Like John, Larry was also closely connected with and encouraging of staff members. "He would say, 'If you believe in it, go with it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, don't be afraid to take a chance...one never knows if you don't try.'" Williams recalls.
Deeply involved in the industry, Larry served on the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) since 2005, and on the International Motorcoach Group board of directors. John has served on the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association since 2004 and won the National School Transportation Association Golden Merit Award in 2002.
To honor their exceptional achievements in the industry, METRO Magazine chose John and Larry Benjamin as its 2012 Motorcoach Operator of the Year. METRO Publisher Frank DiGiacomo presented the award to John Benjamin and Larry Benjamin's family at the UMA's 2012 Motorcoach Expo in Long Beach, Calif., in February.