Upbeat, inspiring account of the surprising makeover of an upstate New York bus company.
“Change can really happen,” writes Aesch, CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority. “People can learn to do things differently.” In 2004, at age 37 and with little business training, the author took charge of an inefficient public bus company with a $27 million deficit and transformed it within two years into a performance-based public-private organization with a nearly $20 million surplus. It was all part of “something magical” that happened when Aesch successfully persuaded everyone to help reinvent the ailing Rochester organization. His leadership of the turnaround is all the more remarkable considering that the author relied only on commonsense wisdom learned from his farmer parents. Suggesting that any dysfunctional enterprise can remake itself following his managerial principles, he offers a feel-good chronicle of his actions, beginning with an overhaul of the company’s paternalistic and ego-driven culture. Managers began listening to front-line workers and engaged them in a customer-service campaign that viewed passengers as customers who deserved a product worth buying. Despite misgivings, employees helped create and gradually became invested in a new strategic vision, which argued that the company provided a product, not services, and that drivers operated not “buses” but “stores.” The author details the introduction of such key changes as purposeful spending, accountability, performance incentives and decision-making based on real information about the company’s actual performance rather than gut impulse. At each turn, the author made sure the underlying logic of new methods (revamped bus schedules, etc.) was understood by everyone. Keeping data constantly in mind, the company grew “just a little bit better each week, each quarter, each year.”
Aesch’s deft handling of angry customers, union thugs and other critics illustrates how this CEO’s winning attitude played a critical role in the making of a transformed and still-growing organization.