Driven To Serve; Rising Stars in the School Bus Industry

Ariel Rodriguez, fleet manager for Humble ISD near Houston, leads 2019's list of rising student transportation stars.
Ariel Rodriguez, fleet manager for Humble ISD near Houston, leads 2019's list of rising student transportation stars.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson supposedly said that some 150 years ago. Or was it Leo Rosten? (Look it up, fellow internet sleuths.) Regardless of its origin, the quote got me thinking.

As the STN staff prepared this month’s issue, it dawned on me that service is not nearly as celebrated of a trait when discussing leadership. Peruse the various lists of leadership traits found on the internet, and the word service rarely makes the list. Yet to a man and woman, the great leaders of our time and prior all seem to have in common an innate calling to help other people.

Beyond the managerial aspiration of providing mentorship, a type of directed service to give more of yourself in terms of actively sharing insights and experience as tools for potential protégés or to develop organization succession planning, the best leaders are often humanitarians at their core.

In this industry, the most obvious example of service is that which is given to student passengers and their parents. Certainly, to be a successful student transporter, one must have the desire to serve practically encoded in their DNA. Students aside, be it for family, country or their team at work, the 10 people highlighted in our annual “Rising Stars” profiles that start on page 46 all freely give of themselves at consistent and deep levels.

They are hands-on-people, people. But that only scratches the surface. From serving in the armed forces to mentoring at-risk children in an after-school boxing program to teaching English as a second language after a day of overseeing transportation operations, the individuals profiled this month demonstrate via their actions, not just their words, what it means and takes to be a true leader.

It takes passion, not simply managerial chops, to be a leader. The best leaders often don’t think of themselves as a manager. They may be particularly accomplished at managing projects, or they may not.

Where they truly excel is not simply managing but inspiring people, and they identify and surround themselves with others who have the expertise necessary to take the organization to another level. I can’t count the number of leaders over the years who have told me that they hire people who are smarter than they are.

One of the concerns I’ve heard voiced by older student transporters during my tenure is, who among the next generation will step up to the plate and take the industry reins? Judging by the over 100 nominations received for this month’s profiles, and the hundreds submitted over the previous three years, the cream is indeed rising to the top.

However, generational differences remain a challenge. This conflict is nothing new and not an issue of Millennials versus Baby Boomers, Gen X versus Gen Y. Every couple of decades, no doubt dating back to when humans began walking upright, different generations have clashed.

Leadership styles, too, differ from person to person, age to age. But the value that supersedes the preferred modes in which people communicate, and all that other “stuff,” is the drive to serve others.

That’s what leadership boils down to, in my opinion. As such—and sorry Ralph or Leo—but I also think that the desire to be happy, especially when it originates from a place that puts other people first, is one of the most meaningful and happy ways we can choose to live.


Related: 2019 Rising Superstars in School Transportation
Related: 2018 Rising SuperStars in School Transportation

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the October 2019 Issue.