by Karen Robbins, President

Last month, our team managed transportation for a high-profile, historical event. Eight months ago, this statement would have found its way into a pitch presentation outlining our 30 years of experience doing exactly this sort of thing.

But we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Covid-19 has hurt and changed millions of lives forever. This virus has leveled the meetings and events industry and decimated small businesses around the world. The motorcoach industry, our partners for the last 30 years, have been forgotten in the bailout programs to date and many will not make it through 2021 without urgent relief.

And our team, the one we so carefully nurtured over the years, is much smaller these days. A long-time employee put it so succinctly and sadly when she said early on, “It’s as if we were a dandelion and Covid-19 came along and with one quick breath, “poof, the company, the culture, the team we had yesterday was gone.”

While there are fewer of us now, we are still here, and our culture is alive and well. But a scattered dandelion is what these many months have felt like. We now understand that things will never be the same again.

So, this statement, “Last month our team successfully managed transportation for a high-profile event” means so much more now than it ever did. Here is that story.

Last month, our team managed the transportation for the final 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate held in Nashville, Tennessee at Belmont University. This was our second time to be included by Belmont University (the first in 2008) but to do so in the middle of a global pandemic was truly one for the record books.

Creating a Safe Experience

Safety was our number one priority. Our team, drivers, attendees, Belmont University, and the City of Nashville needed to be comfortable with the plan. We worked with the team at Belmont, HCA, and our partner for this event, Gray Line of Tennessee to ensure the following was strictly adhered to each day.

  • Masks were worn by STS staff & drivers always; no exceptions
  • CDC and Covid-19 safety information was provided to all working staff & drivers
  • Drivers were COVID-19 tested every 2-3 days depending on their work schedule
  • 6 ft of distance between all staff, drivers, & attendees had to be maintained.
  • We loaded the vehicles from back to front and unloaded from front to back.
  • Attendees were Covid-19 tested and provided with bracelets linked to their valid test results for each day.
  • Seats on the buses were blocked with “Keep your distance, please do not sit here”
  • We provided our client with seating charts and distance between headrests so they could decide how many people they wanted to have on each vehicle.
  • Gray Line is an International Motor Coach Group Partner, so the IMG clean care document was posted on each vehicle, visible to attendees boarding and on the vehicles.
  • Vehicles were wiped down by drivers and/or STS team between each trip.
  • Additional staff were added for large transfers to expedite the cleaning process in between trips.
  • Windows, when possible, were open to facilitate air flow.
  • Each night, vehicles underwent a deep clean before service the next day.
  • Air filtration on the Prevost H3-45 motorcoach was refreshed every 5 minutes.
Grateful Does Not Cut It

To say we are grateful for this opportunity is an understatement. Like so many others, our city has been turned upside down by Covid-19. To have an opportunity to be a part of an event that was going to be viewed the world over and to help our city shine was truly an honor. Nashville is beautiful and the people that live and work in this city are beyond amazing and so deserving of a moment like this. We are forever grateful to the wonderful, outstanding planning team at Belmont University for including us in this shining moment for our city.

Relationships are Everything

Gray Line of Tennessee and Gray Line Black Car were our partners on this event. We have managed many successful programs over the years with our friends at Gray Line but this one, was more important than ever. The Gray Line team worked all hours of the day and night to make sure that we were able to be consistent with our driver pool and reduce the number of tests that had to be taken. And, if you did not know, the motorcoach industry has done a great job of helping its members navigate the complexities of mass transportation during a pandemic. The American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association and here International Motorcoach Group have all taken impressive steps in response to Covid-19.

Remembering How Fun it is to Work Together, even in a Pandemic

Our team mascot is a Penguin, affectionately known as Stewie. The Penguin is a symbol of the principles of servant leadership and working together as a team. The Penguin represents the best of us, it is hard-working and fun, and never leaves another team member behind. The Penguin strives to delight and deliver service excellence. It is the glue that binds this team to do the impossible.

Our team proved managing transportation for a 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate during Covid-19 is not impossible. From the day we started, they showed up in their red STS shirts and happily got down to business like the professionals they are. It was incredibly overwhelming to see how much fun they had seeing each other and working again.

In these 30 years, and in a brutal 2020, we have been through a lot. But we built a leadership culture with extraordinary people that love their work and their mission. This has never been more evident than during this event.

And the best part, our dandelion, even if for just one week, came back together in 2020. It reminded us of why we do what we do and left us feeling optimistic for better days ahead.

By Karen Robbins, President

Last year I asked our team to hold “connection” as their inspiration for 2019. My hope was that they would look up from their tablets, computers and phones more often and put more emphasis on making meaningful connections with everyone they encounter. For 2020, our team will continue building connections through mindfulness.

Both concepts are centered around awareness. Without awareness there are no meaningful connections and without mindfulness we cannot achieve awareness. Awareness is also a principle of Servant Leadership, which is an integral part of the STS foundation. Only when we become aware of self are we able to be aware of the needs of others.

“[Mindfulness] Is the simple direct practice of moment to moment awareness, first by training our attention to focus on one single chosen object like the flow of the breath and then repeatedly letting go of distractions in order to return our attention to that object.” -Sharon Salzberg

In an effort to introduce the team to the theory of mindfulness through the practice of meditation, we asked Lori Kahn, a meditation coach and owner of Om Laguna Beach, to work with our team one morning during our business retreat. Lori led a “Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation” for our team and I think it’s safe to say we all walked away from the experience much more relaxed! (Maybe too relaxed…)

My hope is that our team continues to practice mindfulness meditation throughout the year and their lives. I want them to be more aware of their own presence and how they interact with one another. We are all human beings and we all want the same things – love acceptance, freedom, respect. I hope that in some of our most difficult moments, we can be more gentle in our approach to each other and ourselves. By practicing this intentional self-care, we will become better individuals and therefore a stronger team better equipped to serve our customers.

15 Lessons from CEO Eddie Stewart (Okay, 16 lessons)

  1. A person who is nice to me but not nice to a bus driver, is not a nice person.
  2. Character and cultural buy-in are far more important than raw talent.
  3. Leaders don’t panic in difficult situations. They must be calm in a sea of chaos.
  4. If you dread coming to work on a Monday, you probably need to look for another job.
  5. I’ve learned a lot of what to do by observing what not to do.
  6. When communicating, practice the KISS principal – Keep It Short and Simple. Brevity and accuracy with your message is all anyone wants to hear.
  7. A simple “thank you” goes further than insincere compliments.
  8. You don’t always have to wait for permission – just get it done and ask for forgiveness if necessary. If you ask a lot of people, someone will probably tell you no.
  9. A successful business leader must be a servant first.
  10. Never skip an opportunity to have lunch with your team.
  11. In business, hoping tends to be an excuse for not trying hard enough.
  12. Keep your office door open as much as you can. Be approachable to your team.
  13. Don’t step over a dollar to get to a nickel. In other words, the cheapest way is not always the best way.
  14. Don’t give people a job. Give them a career.
  15. Believe in yourself, even when no one else does.
  16. Get the right people on the bus

15 Lessons from President Karen Robbins

  1. Everyone loves to win but not everyone loves to compete in the same way in order to win.
  2. In business and in life, don’t take offense; play offense.
  3. It’s okay to cry when situations or people are more than you are able to cope with.
  4. Laugh at yourself with others but never laugh at others.
  5. Never, ever stop learning. Be curious and ask questions.
  6. Stop asking “why did this happen tome?” Instead ask, “Why did this happen? What do I need to learn?”
  7. Being the smartest person in the room sometimes requires you to be the quietest person in the room.
  8. Always keep a box of Kleenex on your desk. Human beings cry. It’s normal and okay!
  9. Earn respect in business by being accountable, knowing your stuff and not faking it.
  10. Surround yourself with people that see something in you that you don’t always see in yourself.
  11. Speak up and out more often but always know your audience.
  12. Never try to check in 250+ buses on 2 hours of sleep and not expect to make a few mistakes. Lesson learned!
  13. Let your mistakes make you better, not bitter.
  14. Sometimes people have trouble performing because they are in the wrong role. The people who work really hard in the wrong position are the ones you keep. It’s your job as a leader to help them find a role that amplifies their strengths and make changes.
  15. Pay attention to the things that bring you joy then figure out how to apply joy to create a more purposeful life.

Each year, we decide on a theme for our team to focus on throughout the year. This year’s theme is “connection.” We are committed to seeking out deeper conversations and connecting with the people in our lives. Whether they are people we have known for many years, people we have just met or people we are yet to meet, we strive to remember that connection is what keeps us together, growing and strong.

We want to connect to stay in touch, to impact the lives of others and to serve using the principles of Servant Leadership. Most importantly, we want to look into people’s eyes and faces instead of down at our screens.

Real connection is a process that can be hard in today’s world. However, our team is committed to reclaiming connection in its many forms.

Cheers to 2019!


Every company runs a little differently than the next. At STS, we run smoothly with over 25 years of transportation logistics experience under our shared belt. We are more than just metal and wheels, and this is how we do it…

PLANNING TRANSPORTATION

As an extension of your event planning team, we offer advice on ways to reduce the budget and streamline service. We can help eliminate out-of-the-way hotels and design a more cost-effective and convenient transportation plan. We work with local government agencies (parking, public works departments, CVBs, airport authorities and police departments) to cut through the red tape and get things done properly. 

KNOW YOUR SHOW

Because we work on many of the same programs yearly, we aim to develop a thorough understanding of each event’s unique culture and features. We learn the travel patterns of the attendees, predict when they come and go, how many to expect, and the type of service they require. This step also allows us to ensure continuity from one year to the next, while strengthening our relationships with our customers. 

THINKING LOGISTICALLY

We have worked in almost every major metropolitan city in North America, as well as many cities abroad. This experience means we know the streets, venues, and government agencies needed to work efficiently and effectively. Our team knows a successful transportation program takes more than just buses. We are trained to think logistically about every move we make. 

BEST VEHICLES AT THE BEST PRICE

Our experience in the motorcoach industry ensures that we know which questions to ask vendors, what’s reasonable and what’s not. You can count on us to negotiate on your behalf without sacrificing quality. Our team provides creative solutions to meet budget needs and deliver what’s best for each individual event.

PROVIDING CONVENIENCE

Working with STS eliminates the process of searching for a qualified transportation vendor in each city.  With us, you work with the same team each year – a team who understands your business and your event. It’s fast, real, and simple one-stop shopping. 

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Our emphasis on building strong relationships extends beyond our clients. We place the same value on our relationships with vehicle vendors and contract staff because we understand that these are strategic partnerships.

 

Now that you know the secrets behind how we do what we do at Stewart Transportation Solutions, check out our team or read through other blogs for more company and industry related information.

Anyone who knows anything about us knows we are not at all shy about singing the praises of our team. After all, our exceptional team is the not-so-secret ingredient to our thriving company culture. And that leads us to what this blog post is about – personal goals, professional growth, and our company culture.

We took a hard look at what company culture actually is and what it means to us. If you subscribe to any business publication, you’ve probably read an article or two about company culture. But have you ever stopped to wonder, “what the heck is company culture?” We did.

We did a lot of research and settled Matt Blumberg’s definition:

“Culture is the collection of business practices, processes, and interactions that make up the work environment.”

If you look at culture from this perspective, it is an inevitable aspect of any company, regardless of whether it’s intentionally nurtured or passively observed. One thing is for sure – our team does not sit on the sidelines. We make things happen! That’s why we decided to take an active role in cultivating and developing our people and foster personal and professional development.

Our goal is to build a culture founded on continuous learning. We asked each employee to set 3 personal and/or professional goals, and we helped fund a portion of those goals. We’re pretty proud of what they accomplished. Check it out.

2017 Team Goal Highlights:

Bethany Arthur (Sr. Logistics Manager) knew that she was most at peace when she was gardening but was unable to maintain one because of her travel schedule. So, she brought the garden to work. She and Liz DeJesus (Marketing Manager) combined their budgets and enlisted the help of Beau Carter (Logistics Coordinator) to make the first ever Stewart Transportation Solutions community garden.

Surprise outcome: Beau discovered he actually has an interest in gardening! And just last week, as we began preparing the 2018 garden, Beau could be found collecting worms in the parking lot.

Jessica Brinks (Program Manager) set out to get her Group Fitness Instructor Certification. And great success! She received her certification in November 2017.

Kym and Roman Thomas (Sr. Account Manager / Program Manager) pledged to live life more fully outside of work, and with their schedules it nearly seemed impossible! But they took a whirl at a cooking class as a more experiential date night and took two proper vacations together to Costa Rica and Cancun.

Jazz Godard (Sales & Marketing Coordinator) read over 55 books in 2017, just 5 books shy of her 60 book goal.  She also set the ambitious goal of buying a rental property and accomplished that goal in February of 2018.

Colleen Chase (Sr. Account Manager) felt a calling to become more of a culture beacon. In doing so, she decided to work on building her coaching and mentoring skills. She is responsible for mentoring several people on the team!

Liz DeJesus set out to get back into running by signing up for a 5K by April 30, 2017. She crossed the finish line on April 15, 2017 and hasn’t stopped running since.

Anke Bieler (Program Manager) is one of those people who wants to learn…and then learn some more. She decided to take MIT’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python” and received her certificate of completion in 2017.

Lacy Dainwood (Finance Manager) wanted to grow into her new role by enhancing her knowledge of Quickbooks. She passed her QB course with an A and is on to the next course!

Al Fernandez (Sr. Field Manager) took strides at being more organized at work and home. He even got a personalized planner to help him along the way. He is staying committed to this goal in 2018!

Brandon Terpstra (Director of Nat’l Accounts) had high hopes to read a book a month last year. Instead, he found a love for educational and informative podcasts! We say, FAIR TRADE! He’s now entertaining the idea of audiobooks in 2018.

While 2017 was focused primarily on personal goals and individual growth, we’re designating 2018 as the year of professional development and company growth. Although some individual missions and objectives have continued into this year, we are excited to transition into a new chapter of goal planning: setting SMART goals & KPIs.

Company perks like our garden, afternoon run club, and goal-setting assistance certainly contribute to a healthy company culture and that’s why we offer them to our employees. The evolution of our goals program and an emphasis on continuous learning helps us keep that culture spark alive. So… what does your company culture say about your organization? We want to know!

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By Eddie Stewart, CEO, Stewart Transportation Solutions, Inc.

For third-party companies in the meetings and events industry, a good relationship with a vendor can make all the difference. And we should know!

As meetings and conventions become larger and more complicated, third-party companies have become an integral part of how planners operate. With the ability to streamline the planning process, they take on the task of dealing with vendors or venues, contracts, details, logistics and the minutia associated with planning a meeting.

In order for third-party companies like ours to make it all happen, we must rely heavily on the relationships we have built in cities across the globe. A good relationship can make the impossible, possible. And in the event transportation industry, there are three types of relationships that stand out from the rest – our relationship with the vehicle company, the drivers and our on-site staff.

Some people are surprised to learn that we don’t own buses or vehicles of any kind. This means that we’re not limited by geography or the size of a fleet, which allows us to provide transportation services anywhere the client decides to hold an event or meeting. In order to do this, we depend on the fleets of transportation and bus companies throughout the United States and abroad.

Whether you talk to a CMP or one of our Program Managers, they will tell you that knowing the right person to call makes all the difference. And it’s a very symbiotic relationship. We depend on them to get the job done right and they look to us to bring them good business. We respect our vehicle vendors and understand their needs. Because of this, they will work with us to find solutions to most inventory or availability issues that can come up.

Of course, the power of a good relationship extends beyond knowing the right vehicle vendor.  The men and women who drive those vehicles can have a big impact on whether a transportation program is successful or not. We figured out pretty quickly that a happy driver can make all the difference. That’s why we provide a cash gratuity to all of our drivers (believe it or not, many event transportation companies don’t do this!), take the time to get to know their names and make sure they get their required breaks. They appreciate this and will often go above and beyond to provide our clients with the best possible service. We also have drivers who request to work on our shows just because they enjoy working with us. A happy driver also makes the job a lot easier for our staff.

The relationships we have built with our travel and local staff are essential to what we do. It’s more than just hiring a body to stand on the curb and herd people onto a bus. We depend on our network of 400+ contract staff to keep it all flowing smoothly on-site. At the start of every show, we make sure they are trained on more than just the show schedule. We make sure they know us as a company, our culture and that they are part of our team. They also get a crash course in Servant Leadership – our management philosophy.

Relationships are an important part of any industry, but particularly for companies like ours. We are able to do bigger and better things for our clients year after year because of the vendors and people we depend on. Respecting the relationships that keep the doors open and the clients happy is key to third-party success.