[IMAGE]Operator-1.jpg[/IMAGE]In the mid-1980s, as Oklahoma's oil bubble burst and the local economy tanked, Jeff Polzien, president and owner of Oklahoma City-based Red Carpet Charters, spotted a different type of prospect in a defunct travel agency and tour company.
Then a CPA, he started his own bus business with three old Prevost Champions and grew the operation into two companies — Red Carpet and Student Transportation Services LLC—now totaling more than 320 vehicles. This summer, Red Carpet will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Polzien and his wife were running their own accounting practice in the mid-1980s while a nearby travel agency and tour company was suffering from Oklahoma's declining economy. "They were going broke and they owned three old buses. We worked out a deal, and I was in the bus business," Polzien recalls.
Red Carpet's fleet is almost exclusively comprised of Van Hools. The carrier mainly takes on charter work, with some contract jobs, including parking lot shuttles. Red Carpet serves the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the West and North Central Texas areas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Polzien has been dedicated to the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), serving on the board since 2001; on the Executive and Legislative Regulatory Committees, as treasurer; and currently as the secretary as well as on the Finance Committee. The operator is also a member of the International Motorcoach Group.
To recognize his outstanding achievements in the industry, METRO Magazine selected Polzien as its 2010 Motorcoach Operator of the Year. METRO publisher Frank DiGiacomo presented the award to Polzien at the UMA's 2010 Motorcoach Expo in Las Vegas, in February.
Initially a coach operator himself, Max Paty, corp. director of sales and marketing, started chartering from Red Carpet in 1992, before he was invited by Polzien to join the operation's staff. "I remember he grew a lot during the 10 years I was a customer of his, and he really assembled a set of outstanding drivers over the years. I still think that's a big point for us," Paty explains. "Jeff recognizes the importance [of that] and does a lot to recruit and retain great drivers."
Polzien's biggest strength and, what has been critical to the company's success, Paty says, is his ability to surround himself with good people and believe in them. "That gives you a lot of confidence. He supports everybody really well."
While his CPA background may place Polzien's primary strength in finance, he believes he has been able to attract good people to his organization because of his commitment to treating them fairly and with respect. "Once you get people there they help you recruit other good people. I think it comes down to core values that you live by and run your company by that really aid in your success," he says.
Strong core values
When Red Carpet hires a new staff member, they tend to become a long-term employee. Polzien attributes that to Red Carpet's focus on people and the company's strong core values of integrity and quality. "We have been very fortunate to experience the growth and success we have had in the past and most of that is a result of having good people here," says Polzien. He adds that many on staff have been with Red Carpet since the late 1980s.
Polzien considers his biggest achievement to be taking the many steps to grow his operation to the size it is today. "I would think the accomplishment to grow a company from that degree in 25 years is the thing that I sometimes wonder how I ever did it," he says. "It wasn't me, I should say, because I've had the fortune of good employees and managers through the years. That's a lot of the success of Red Carpet and the sister company."
Polzien adds he enjoys dealing with the industry; from the employees, to other bus company operators to the customers. "The people side of the business is what I really get a lot of enjoyment from," he says.
In addition to running a successful charter bus company, Polzien is an avid golfer and a pilot. For the past 10 years, he has been a volunteer pilot for Tulsa, Okla.-based Angel Flight, a non-profit charitable organization of pilots and volunteers who arrange free air transportation for any medical need.
The challenges of the H1N1 virus and the economy were difficult to overcome in 2009 and early 2010, says Polzien. "For the first time in my career I'm finding it a little difficult to finance some growth opportunities," he explains. Unlike previous economic downturns, many banks are shut down. "Normally in an economic downturn there have been opportunities I've taken advantage of. [In] this particular downturn I'm unable to do some of those things [such as] going into new markets or getting good deals on new or used equipment."
However, once the swine flu scare was over, Polzien adds, business was only off by less than five percent, and he is optimistic about the upcoming year. "We are still experiencing a downturn, [but] because of being in business so long we've got so many customers that are recurring and we've been able to pick up some new business along the way. I really think this year we're going to see a fairly good increase over last year, because I don't think we'll have the downturn caused by the swine flu."
Preparing for better business in the rest of 2010, Red Carpet is equipping its buses with Wi-Fi and using accident event recorders (AER)s. "I think any company not using AERs is missing the boat. They pay for themselves in little or no time." AERs can be a valuable driver training tool, if managed properly, he says. "The use of AERs should almost be mandated by the Department of Transportation, I think."