The past year has brought some significant changes for FirstGroup America. Last fall, its First Student division merged with Laidlaw Education Services, which was the largest school bus contractor in North America. In May, FirstGroup moved into a new headquarters in Cincinnati.
In another key development, Carey Paster, previously the president of First Student, was promoted to CEO and president, sales, marketing and commercial development, for FirstGroup America. Paster recently discussed these changes with METRO Executive Editor Janna Starcic.
METRO: What led to your transition?
What are your key responsibilities in your new position? Will you be working with FirstGroup America’s non-school bus businesses?
CAREY PASTER: Since the acquisition of Laidlaw by FirstGroup America in October 2007, we have achieved a great deal in successfully integrating the two companies. Now we are focusing on delivering our strategy for the future, which includes continuous improvement in our delivery of a safe, customer-focused operation. Therefore, the company is now structured in two segments: Commercial Development and Operations. We are continually focused on increasing operating efficiencies and growing the business by identifying new business opportunities, while maintaining current business.
As CEO and president of sales, marketing and commercial development, I will focus on growing the business and delivering customer excellence to the existing customers of First Student, First Transit and First Services. As president of First Student for several years and with more than 27 years of experience in the school bus industry, I have an extensive knowledge of school bus transportation. However, I am eager and energized to learn the new terrain of First Transit and First Vehicle Services as I lead their commercial development structure as well.
What do you feel you bring to the table for your new position?
First Transit and First Student share many things in common. Chief among them are the important priorities of providing a safe ride for our passengers and pursuing excellence in customer service. First Student gave me the opportunity to lead a transportation organization where our focus on management, infrastructure and professionalism helped to grow the business. I look forward to applying many of the same strategies across the board at FirstGroup America with an eye on new ideas that will benefit our employees and current as well as future customers.
What is the most challenging issue your company faces right now, and how is it being dealt with?
As a leader in public transportation, we face a host of challenges. I look at them as opportunities as opposed to obstacles. For example, with the price of fuel on the rise, we are aggressively pursuing a variety of strategies with the ultimate goal of passing fuel efficiencies along to our customers. These strategies range from policies that align a vehicle’s optimal operating conditions with the ability to harness greater fuel efficiency to training our drivers on techniques that promote fuel savings.
Additionally, with both the environment and the cost of fuel in mind, we are also exploring a number of different fuel alternatives, including, hybrid technology, green diesel, propane and natural gas.
How long have you been with FirstGroup?
I joined FirstGroup America in 1999, with the acquisition of Ryder Student Transportation, and was appointed senior vice president of operations for First Student. In 2001, I was appointed chief operating officer for First Student and remained in that position until March 2004, when I was named president.