There is a song we all learned in preschool that goes: “The wheels on the bus go round and round…” No doubt this was a Riteway bus we were singing about.
The company was started by Rollie and Pearl Bast in 1957 to service the Germantown School District. Currently, Riteway operates under the “GO Riteway Transportation Group” umbrella, providing bus service to 25 school districts in southeastern and central Wisconsin.
The company also operates the GO Riteway shared ride shuttle service that transports travelers to and from the Milwaukee and Chicago airports. It also provides a black car service for businesses and individuals. In addition, modern tour motor and shuttle coaches are operated under the GO Riteway name.
Go Riteway is living its mission statement, which states that it is “committed to providing superior transportation services to our customers.”
The company currently employs 900. The current president, Ron Bast, started at Riteway at age 14 in 1963 washing and cleaning buses. Several years later, his sister Rochelle Bast started answering phones and helping out in the office. Over the years, their roles evolved. Once Ron was 18, he started to drive. Rochelle went to college and then obtained an advanced degree. She worked in a different field for several years and then returned to Wisconsin to work in the family business. Over the years, Rochelle took on the operations role and Ron cultivated business relationships and managed the business.
As the business grew, Ron’s two children, Wendy and R.J. Bast, became involved in its daily operations. R.J., like his father, washed buses and shoveled snow. Working at Riteway wasn’t part of either child’s career plans. Once they each graduated college and went to work in their chosen fields, they both started feeling they could make a greater contribution working in the family business.
In the ’90s, Rollie and Pearl gave their children the “go for it” attitude that allowed the succession to take place. Each of Ron’s children started at the bottom, learning every aspect of the business as they worked their way up through the ranks. Armed with executive MBAs from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and fresh perspectives, Wendy and R.J. are now in key management positions at GO Riteway.
Initially, there was no succession plan from the first generation to second generation. Rochelle and Ron Bast have, with the assistance of their law firm and CPA firm, prepared a succession plan for second to third generation succession. They felt that it is better to prepare it now than in response to an emergency or tragic situation.
National statistics indicate that 70 percent of new businesses fail after 10 years and never make it to the second generation. Also, most privately owned businesses fail at a very high rate during the second generation. So what do we learn from the GO Riteway success in transferring the business through three generations? There are a number of steps they have taken that insured their chances for success are higher than normal.
- First, father Rollie involved the children in the business at an early age.
- Second, they were given entry level jobs which permitted them to learn the business from the bottom up.
- Third, Rochelle, her niece and nephew worked in other fields prior to returning to Riteway. This provided them with “real world” experiences, without the protection of their family. This permitted them to make mistakes and learn the ropes in an unprotected environment. I had a business associate that sent his son to work for five years at one of his suppliers and he took the supplier’s son to work for him for the same period. This provided both sons with experiences they could use when they took on the reins of their fathers’ enterprises.
- Fourth, all achieved advanced business experience or degrees, which provided them with additional tools and insights into the conduct of business. Ron learned business principles firsthand and by serving on various corporate boards. Rochelle received a management degree and R.J. and Wendy received MBAs at UW-Milwaukee.
- Fifth, the responsibilities are divided up between Rochelle and Ron. In this manner, they work as a team in growing their business segments. This division of responsibilities provides continued opportunities for their personal growth. The combined skill sets complement each other and now with the growth, Wendy and R.J. have taken on leadership roles.
- Sixth, the company has worked with its attorneys and its CPA and established a succession plan for the third generation of owners.
All these steps have provided a sound foundation for the business’ continued growth and success. Sometimes sibling rivalry destroys the ability of an enterprise to grow and thrive. I have dealt with a number of clients where brothers have not been able to put aside their childhood differences and carried them into the workplace, negatively impacting the working environment.
In some cases, the founder has no choice but to sell the business in order to guarantee his retirement and protect his investment. In some cases, the second generation did not acquire the necessary skillsets and the business eventually ceased to exist. Planning for a smooth transition and making certain that the next generation has the proper education and skillsets is critical.
Ron and Rochelle have a strong dedication to the family legacy and believe strongly in maintaining the highest standards and creating a family atmosphere for their employees. All of these steps and the company’s business philosophy are critical to doing it the Riteway.
Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group that provides services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiation training and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point and Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at (414) 403-2942 or at Csilve1013@aol.com.