Kim Hevia, the sales director for school bus dealer Schetky Northwest Bus and Van Sales, understands how hard transportation directors work to transport students safely.
Hevia started in the industry 28 years ago, while looking for a change from the banking industry. She just had her first daughter, Justine, and recalled that she was tired of the constant regulatory changes in the banking world.
She explained that ever since she was hired on by the late John Schetky, she has grown to love the small family business, which is a dealer and service provider for Thomas Built Buses and Collins Bus school buses in Oregon and Washington state.
“Working for a dealership, and a small family-owned company, really appealed to me, rather than a big baking intuition,” Hevia explained.
Hevia added that the small business gave her an opportunity to learn and develop new skill sets. She worked as a receptionist for a month but quickly found herself climbing the company ladder. First the first year, she worked half her day in accounts payable and the other half in the sales department.
Randy Schetky, John’s son, was leading the sales department at the time, and Hevia became a fulltime sales coordinator. She added that Randy, who passed away on April 3, was a huge influence on her entire career.
“Randy was a great boss. He was a great person to work for and he really was a good friend and my mentor,” Hevia said. “He really supported me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for his support, encouragement and belief in me.”
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Hevia noted that she has worked in every aspect of sales for Schetky, from inside sales to outside sales. The experience made her a well-rounded supervisor of her staff, she added.
“It makes it great in my position now because I have their perspective and I know what my staff is going through. I can pretty much answer any question as it comes up,” Hevia explained.
Hevia’s accomplishments include helping to grow the office, from its headquarters in Portland, Oregon, to now operating five total offices, including three in Washington state and one in Arizona.
She was also elected to the Thomas Built Buses Dealer Advisory Council, which she said was an honor because she was the first woman to ever be elected and nominated by her peers.
“It opens up other opportunities, even though you are a woman in a man’s industry, we can still do this, and we are very much a part of the school bus industry, and there are so many more women directors now,” Hevia explained.
Also, it was while working at Schetky that she met husband Frank and the couple had their two children: Hanna, 17 and Josh, 15. Over 20 years ago, Frank was working as a regional sales manager for the commercial bus division at Thomas built Buses. Now she said, he has switched to the trucking industry, where he also works in sales.
Biggest Changes Throughout her Career
Coming from the dealer side of the school bus industry, Hevia said she appreciates all the hard work that transportation directors do daily, adding that they rarely get the recognition they deserve.
“I just want to thank each and every transportation director out there, for what they do every day,” Hevia said. “And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Because I know what they do, I see them, and I talk to them about their challenges. From not having enough drivers, to dealing with parents, to dealing with administrators, to dealing with everything that they have to do and get those kids to schools’ safety. I really appreciate each and every one of them, because I think they have the hardest jobs ever.”
She noted that technologically speaking, transportation directors have had to evolve to and learn the inside and out of many different fuel types. She added that the emergence of electric school buses is the biggest technological change she’s tracked throughout her career.
She noted that electric school buses require transportation staff to calculate kilowatts per hour to determine miles per gallon equivalents. As the dealer, she said it’s her job to understand the fuel or power type, so that she is able to make sure school districts better understand it as well.
She added that keeping up with the evolving technology is a challenge, and she commends many transportation directors for doing it, instead of being complacent in their roles.
“Not staying stale and evolving with the changes, and the demands of what school districts need in getting kids to and from school,” Hevia said, when discussing accomplishments of the industry. She added that transportation directors are keen on being able to balance all aspects of the job and are able to meet students’ individualized needs.
The biggest operational change she discussed was the evolving state specifications of school buses. She said not only do school bus manufacturers have codes to follow. But as a dealer, they must be cognitive of the different requirements in each state.
For example, she said neither Oregon or Washington state allow two-point lap belts anymore. If districts in those states want safety restraints, they must be lap/shoulder belts. But she said that some states still do allow the lap belts, so it’s challenging for OEMs to balance the different regulations.
The various state specifications remain one of Hevia’s greatest challenges. While probably not possible, she commented that a huge goal for the industry would be able to have similar or the same specs for each state.
Another challenge is meeting deadlines of customers, which is even more challenging during a pandemic, she noted. Citing the temporary closure of the Thomas Built Buses Saf-T-Liner C2 plant last month after an employee contracted COVID-19, she said some manufacturing facilities are not able to produce the necessary number of buses to meet orders, and the dealers have no control over that.
“That can be challenging, and just making sure that you are keeping that communication open and taking care of customers and giving them that information well in advance, so that they can plan accordingly,” Hevia explained.
She said that’s it’s important to be upfront with customers and let them know that you might not offer something that they are used to.
She noted the pandemic could also affect the already dire situation of the school bus driver shortage. She said the shortage is one of the largest challenges that transportation directors face, and with the coronavirus outbreak many school bus drivers could be without a job.
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Going forward, Hevia said her goal continues to be to take care of customers. When asked what has kept her in the industry for all these years, Hevia said it was the family bond formed at Schetky and with her peers in the industry.
“The school bus industry and the folks that are in it are down-to-earth, humble, hard-working, unappreciated — I feel they don’t get appreciated for what they do — I see what they do,” Hevia said. “I think what keeps me in it is, if I can do my little part to help them be successful than it makes me happy, that we can work together to get kids to school.”
She concluded that with Randy’s passing, his sons David and Chase are taking over the family business together. She said she is excited to be a part of continuing on Randy’s legacy with two men, who she said are like sons to her.