If you ask Jim Jalbert, president of Portsmouth, N.H.-based C&J Bus Lines, what makes his operation successful, he’ll tell you it starts with the people he hires.
“Our success is predicated on a whole bunch of things, one of which being our staff, which is spectacular,” he says. “We are at 100 employees now, and I can tell you with great certainty they are the company, not me.”
Jalbert says he has made a point to hire talented people with open minds, offering them an open door and an opportunity to go as far as they want.
“When we hire somebody for any position, we say it won’t stop here, but it’s totally up to you,” he explains. “There hasn’t been a case when somebody comes in that really wants more didn’t get it.”
Jalbert’s partnership with his employees has been a win-win for everybody.
“Jim has always taught us to go in with an open mind, continue to learn, and be able to conform to the company and realize what’s best for the greater good,” explains Safety Operations Manager Joe Malerba, who has been with the company for 14 years.
“The mentoring situation Jim has offered us has allowed me to grow professionally and understand the industry from the bottom up,” adds Jamie Lesniak, VP/director, operations, at C&J, who has been with the company 18 years. “Educations are great, but the degree I have obtained here outweighs anything I could have ever achieved through any kind of schooling.”
With a great staff in place, Jalbert says C&J’s biggest challenge is keeping everybody on the same page at all times.
“You are asking someone to get in a motorcoach, drive a couple turns a day and deal with literally tens of thousands of people over the course of a year, while maintaining the same positive attitude every day,” he explains. “That is very difficult to achieve, especially when you have tenured people.”
To honor his unique and outstanding achievements in the industry, METRO Magazine selected Jim Jalbert as its inaugural Innovative Motorcoach Operator of the Year. METRO VP, bus and rail,/Publisher Frank Di Giacomo presented the award to Jalbert at the American Bus Association’s (ABA) Marketplace in Nashville, Tenn. in January.
C&J began in 1968 as a shuttle service that ran stretch checkered taxi cabs between the seacoast of New Hampshire and Boston’s Logan Airport, following that same model right up until 1981 when Jalbert’s father died.
By that time, Jalbert had been involved in the business for several years, even stepping in to take on a larger role when his father first became ill. Following his death, his mother offered to sell him the business.
“She gave me reasonably favorable terms, so I bought the company from her and started from there,” he explains. “I have made a lot of mistakes along the way, like anybody else, but I felt pretty good about [buying the company] at the time and felt we could make a difference in transportation.”
C&J began operating motorcoaches around the latter part of 1983 and became part of the Trailways system in 1988. Now, with 23 motorcoaches, the company continues to thrive as an “upscale line-haul system,” providing service between Logan Airport, Boston South Station and the Port Authority of New York City originating on the seacoast region of the area, which covers southern coastal Maine, the eastern side of New Hampshire and the north shore of Newburyport, Mass.
C&J also operates two bus terminals in New Hampshire and one in Newburyport. Seeing the terminals as an extension of the customer’s experience, C&J has concentrated on making them more aesthetically pleasing and customer friendly over the years.
“We subscribe to the theory that when you ride us you have to have an experience and it has to be a positive experience, which means it isn’t just a passengers’ ride on the bus, it starts when they drive into the terminal area,” Jalbert says. “The typical bus terminal for years and years wasn’t very inviting. We wanted to change that.”
C&J has made the terminals more appealing simply by making them friendlier. Every Thursday, the operation gives out free bagels at two of their passenger terminals, and throughout the year, offers passengers treats, such as free doughnuts, coffee and juice boxes.[PAGEBREAK]
Create a niche market
Jalbert says his company’s greatest success is being able to create a niche market for providing public transportation. He says he has done so by forging great partnerships, which he adds serves as a great model for other operators around the nation.
“We are in a unique situation here, because the state government only spent $40,000 last year to subsidize public transportation, but we have really developed a great partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation that has worked very well,” he explains. “There could be silos between the public and private sector, but you really have to take those walls down and craft relationships. You may have people at the government level that say no initially, but people come and go, and with those personnel changes, often comes a willingness to try something different.”
A veteran of the industry for more than 33 years, Jalbert has been heavily involved with the ABA, serving as a board member for the last 14 years, including a stint as chairman of the board for close to three years. He currently serves as the board’s past chair.
“If you look at ABA and the industry, we have come a long way, but there’s still much more to do,” Jalbert says. “I think we have been able to demonstrate we are a viable alternative to other modes and part of the transportation solution. We subscribe to the theory that you need to create a systems approach that encompasses all modes. If there’s one thing that excites me about the business, it is that we are finally starting to get there.”
Jalbert adds a key part of his company’s future will be continuing to encourage his team to do the best job they can and never stop growing professionally.
“We have a wonderful team here and bringing in young bright ideas is important, but it’s equally important to learn from your peers in the industry,” he says. “Nobody has all the answers. We always stress here that you don’t know it all. If you know it all you don’t want to work here. I learn something every day, because that is how it gets better.”