The agreement to scrap unification efforts between the American Bus Association (ABA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) brought to a rocky end the most promising attempt yet to merge the two organizations.
The dissolution was announced in early August, about three months after members of both associations had overwhelmingly agreed to the unification.
In the historic vote, more than 87% of UMA members supported the merger, while 94% of ABA members backed it. In a joint announcement, the associations hailed the vote’s outcome as the start of a new era of cooperation between the organizations and a victory for the private bus industry in North America.
In particular, the joining of the two associations was expected to provide a stronger, more unified voice on Capitol Hill and to end redundancies of lobbying efforts.
The deal-breaker was the inability of the six-person executive search committee, made up of three ABA and three UMA members, to agree on a CEO to lead the unified organization.
Why the committee could not reach a decision on this key issue has become a point of contention between the ABA and UMA. Each side blames the other.
Doug Anderson, vice chair of the ABA board and president of Anderson Coach & Travel in Greenville, Pa., said the expectation was that current leaders — Pete Pantuso (ABA) and Victor Parra (UMA) — would be considered for the new post.
“We got notice in early July that [the UMA] had dismissed Pete as being in consideration,” Anderson said. “We tried diligently to get them to change their position. They wanted to basically dismiss both CEOs by default. It was like throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
David Brown, the UMA’s board chairman and president of Holiday Tours in Randleman, N.C., characterized the CEO search process as “the most frustrating thing I’ve ever been involved with. It was mind boggling.”
Brown said the ABA members on the search committee were reluctant to look beyond Pantuso and Parra for candidates. In particular, he said the ABA immediately lobbied for Pantuso as the new CEO and Parra as the No. 2 executive. “They were insistent that we interview Pete and Victor,” he said. “They said that we would see the light.”
Brown said the UMA would have preferred to have hired a third-party, executive search firm to find candidates outside the two associations. “We never considered that we weren’t going through the whole process [of finding a CEO],” he said.
The falling out was a disappointment to both sides. “The transition team was doing great work,” Brown said. “They were moving forward.”
In the wake of the break-up, both associations are trying to get back to regular business. Thoughts of another attempt at unification have been placed on the backburner, but have not been dismissed entirely.
“I think we can never say never,” Anderson said. “I believe that we’re going to work closely together on our policy committee. Maybe through working closely together, without any adversarial relationships, we can bring down some of the fences that separate us.”
Anderson said the unification process wasn’t a total failure. “Both boards gained respect for what the other association is doing well,” he said. “We need to keep working together on things that we agree will help to move the industry forward.”