Tell us a little bit about Midwest Transit:
Midwest Transit Equipment, Inc (MTE) was founded in 1976, so we’re pushing up on 50 years in business. The current owner, John McKinney, purchased the company in 2017, and today we are the largest bus dealer in the United States. We’re based in the Chicago area, with 9 locations across 5 states, and over 400 employees.
Our business is probably 65-75% school bus sales and maintenance, but of course we also cater to the livery industry and a variety of other customers with commercial bus and van applications, such as public transit authorities, senior living facilities, churches, colleges, and childcare centers.
There are several different service offshoots that live under the Midwest Transit umbrella, but all of them are rooted in providing (and maintaining) the perfect vehicle for whatever our customer needs.
What do you wish more people knew about the business?
Our team really prides ourselves on being valuable resources for our customers. Our company culture is one of going above and beyond for the people we’re working with, and we’re a team of professionals operating at the top of our game with specialized skillsets and scopes of knowledge in each of our corresponding industries. Whether you’re seeking us out in a sales or a service capacity, we’ll never steer you wrong, and ideally we’ll be able to offer insights and advice that will leave you with even more than you were expecting.
Midwest Transit is also committed to supporting our industry and remaining an active participant through partnerships, sponsorships, local and national association relationships, etc.
How did you, personally, end up in the transportation industry?
I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial. My background is in automotive seating design, which then expanding into custom interior manufacturing for Sprinters and other luxury vehicles when I opened Battisti Customs with Carl Hazzard in 2009. We also started Anne Marie Limousine in 2010, which we eventually sold to Epic Limousine. I joined Midwest Transit in 2019 after we sold Battisti Customs to Forest River. Midwest was a Battisti client for a long time, and I’d always had a great relationship with them. The transition from ownership to a sales-focused role has been great; this was always my strength anyway. Plus we have a lot of autonomy and freedom to create our own experience — which feels pretty unique in this industry — and for being such a big company, it feels small. Our employee relationships are strong, and we have a wonderful core team in every department.
What has been your experience as an ILLBA member?
Midwest Transit has been an ILLBA member for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure much farther back than that. I’m currently on the Board of Directors, and my Midwest counterpart Chris Norlin served prior to me.
My opinion is that anyone who isn’t part of the association is missing out, especially if they’re an operator. The ILLBA Board is the hardest working in the industry — and I can say that because I see them behind the scenes. I’m constantly blown away by the extremely timely and relevant information and education they’re making available, not to mention the caliber of guest speakers they bring in for the various events. They also give operators and vendors the time and space to promote their products, showcase what they’re offering, and speak to the community. It isn’t always the case that a trade association makes the supporting vendor members feel they are getting the value they deserve, and the ILLBA does a notably great job.
The Coffee With The ILLBA series, the Great Lakes Transportation Show — all of their offerings are dynamic, and such incredible resources.
How are you spending your time outside of the business?
I’m close with my family here in Indiana — have 2 kids, and 2 grandkids, with one on the way. I live on a golf course, so you can imagine how much time I spend out there. And I’m also the lead singer in our family band, The Beattistis. My uncle, cousins, and I have had this music project going for a little while — I taught myself guitar about 3 years ago, and now we practice and record privately and together when we can, and then throw a big family party once a year for a concert and some celebration.
Any predictions, hopes, or ambitions for the future of our industry?
The ripple effects of the pandemic on the supply chain are still very present. My biggest advice to everyone as we head into the new year is to expect and plan for huge lead times. We used to be able to get a bus in 90 days, now it’s more like 6-8 months. A lot of builders for the more custom vehicles are working a year out, minimum. If you think you’ll need vehicles, parts, and equipment in the future, start working on that now. Use us, and all your other vendors, as a resource — start the conversation, talk about availability and timelines. Keep spare parts stocked on your own shelves ahead of when you actually need them. With some realistic awareness and planning, you can keep your fleet running even as we are still waiting for things to become more streamlined again.