By: Sally Trout, For Assets
Dean Transportation Inc. is all about family. It's a family-owned business No. 1, but more importantly it serves Michigan families by providing safe and dependable transportation to and from school for children and young adults with physical and cognitive disabilities. Employees who help provide this service are also part of Dean's extended family.
"Employees who work for Dean Transportation are special and caring folks with big hearts because they are responsible for so many special passengers," says Kellie Dean, company owner. "These are very challenging positions. People who work for us do everything they can to help kids get an education to the point they become part of the students' daily lives."
There are 1,200 workers on the Dean roster with 450 of them working in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties. Dean Transportation enjoys a long-standing tradition of growth because of what Dean says is its quality service, emphasis on community involvement and a concern for the environment.
Established in the early 1950s, the company was then known as Special Transportation and bused children affected by polio to Lansing-area schools for about 10 years. Lyle Stephens, a friend and mentor of Kellie Dean, incorporated the business in 1969 and by 1989 recruited Dean to come on board.
Dean had come to the Lansing area as a recruit for Michigan State University football coach Duffy Daugherty. He graduated from MSU with bachelor's degrees in education and special education and a master's degree in school administration. After 14 years with the Lansing School District as a teacher and later a principal, he left to work with Stevens.
In 1991, Dean took over ownership and changed the name to Dean Transportation. Today the company works with nearly 100 school districts and has 1,000 vehicles on the road throughout the state and Midwest on a daily basis. It is one of the largest privately owned transportation companies in the United States.
"Dean Transportation has partnered with Ingham County schools for over 20 years," says Stanley Kogut, Ingham Intermediate School District superintendent. "During that time, they have transported our special education students, some of the most fragile in the county, with professionalism, a focus on safety and in a cost-efficient manner."
Kogut said he also values all the things Kellie Dean does for education in the community.
Dean says a major key to his company's success is his emphasis on staff training.
"We decided long ago that specialized training was important and it has become our trademark," Dean says. "All our drivers and attendants must deal with medically fragile students on a daily basis, making specialized training imperative."
To that end, Dean Transportation, the Michigan Department of Education and Lansing Community College partnered in the mid-1990s to develop a training curriculum to teach drivers how to meet schoolchildren's needs.
Drivers must love the work and the children because Dean says there are many 25-year and some 35-year veteran drivers on his staff.
"These are good jobs with an opportunity to work year-round, competitive wages and a good benefit package," Dean says.
Community involvement is part of Dean Transportation's goal. Through volunteerism, sponsorships and community outreach, the company and its employees strive to be good neighbors. The business supports some 25 local organizations that provide educational opportunities to families.
Dean also is growing a charter bus service and most recently added an executive car service using black sedans. The Lansing company also manages some school transportation systems. All three subsidiaries are based here in the city.
"We felt the need to diversify after being in the yellow bus business for 50 years," he said.
The Trailway buses are a common sight on MSU's campus. They transport a majority of the football and basketball teams plus the marching band to sporting events. But Dean says he also assists the non-revenue sports at MSU. Buses also work various other university events.
All school buses are equipped with global positioning systems to help promote safety, efficient operation of the bus and driver accountability while also saving fuel. All vehicles also have child reminder systems that require drivers to check for sleeping children at the end of each run.
The company is going green by instituting a company-wide effort to reduce engine exhaust emissions. It operates four hybrid electric school buses primarily in Lansing and Grand Rapids. These buses are the first of their kind manufactured in the country and are the first to run in Michigan.
The Lansing home office on Aurelius Road is continually changing and expanding. Most recently Dean bought the former Erb Lumber site adjacent to his headquarters. The location will provide more parking and a renovated building for use as a driver training facility.