Jodi Merritt is the third generation of presidents to take over family-owned H & L Charter Co. Inc. The Southern California-based motorcoach company was named after Merritt’s grandparents, Herb and Laura, in 1985. Her father served as one of the original founders.
Merritt had about 30 years of experience within the company before becoming president. She cleaned buses, audited logs, worked as a dispatcher, worked in the sales department, became an office manager, and then was promoted to director of operations. In 2014, when her mother, former H & L president retired, the company had its eyes on Merritt.
Being a smaller agency, with 26 full-time employees, Merritt has a unique relationship with her staff. She often steps in to fill roles herself if someone is sick or on vacation. “Not only have I done almost every job that exists in our agency, but I’ve helped develop the process for those jobs as well,” says Merritt. “That has helped me lead with confidence too.”
ROLE FOCUS. Managing employees and overseeing sales and marketing are Merritt’s primary focuses as president. Between reading team-building books and organizing seminars, Merritt is always looking to find what motivates her employees.
“I always try to be proactive, persistent, and innovative when it comes to managing people,” says Merritt. “Getting to know a personality is the biggest thing. What works for one person might not work for the other.”
INVOLVEMENT. Merritt also attributes managerial success at H & L Charter to its involvement with Spader Business Management groups since 2006. “If it was not for that fantastic group, I personally would have never been able to be as successful as I have been,” says Merritt. “As well as other industry peers in the associations we are members of and attending their events including, California Bus Association, American Bus Association, and United Motorcoach Association.”
In terms of sales and marketing, Merritt is navigating the changes of the current economical and political climate and how it has been affecting tourism trends. Merritt decided to restructure the company’s goals to pursue more local markets after noticing decreased international traffic over the past year.
“California tourism is off 17% this year alone, and the American Bus Association reported that one billion dollars was lost nationwide,” says Merritt. “This is a much bigger conversation than people are willing to have, so we are really concentrating on new strategies in sales and marketing, and our domestic market.”
TOP INITIATIVE. H & L Charter’s newest project was becoming a certified “green” transportation carrier through the University of Vermont. Merritt was the driving force behind environmental initiatives that earned H & L Charter the Certification for Sustainable Transportation.
In three months, the company’s total idling time went from 39% down to 21%. Merritt put the money saved on fuel directly back into her driver’s paychecks in the form of bonuses.
While Merritt collected company data, her driving staff was taking online courses to learn eco- and idle-friendly driving tips. She organized one-on-one trainings between members of her driving, cleaning, maintenance, and office crew and a representative from the University of Vermont.
In both 2014 and 2016, H & L Charter was awarded the MCI Green Highway award for their efforts.
Merritt has four children that keep her amply busy outside of work. As a woman who runs a company and a family, she advises other women to take time each week to decompress.
“You must find that time,” says Merritt. “Whether it’s getting your nails done, watching Saturday morning cartoons with the kids, or getting coffee with a friend, you have to maintain the balance and you can’t lose yourself in everything.”