More Than a Job
What Bob Rutkoski thought was going to be just a job grew into a profession and a passion. Our Area General Manager (AGM) for Northern Illinois has now served the student transportation industry for more than 20 years. “I feel incredibly fortunate,” says Bob. “When you love what you do, it’s not considered work.”
Bob joined FirstGroup America in 1990 as a customer service manager for Greyhound. Three years later, he transferred to our student transportation division. Bob served as a location manager before being promoted to AGM in 2007. “I think it’s important to project passion,” shares Bob. “It’s infectious, and when you are fully engaged as a team, you create an environment for success.” Bob currently manages 12 First Student locations in the Chicago area and more than 1,700 school buses.
Understand the Needs
Bob previously served on the school board of one of the largest districts in Illinois, including a term as president. This experience really helped him understand the needs of our school district partners. “School districts are educators, that’s their primary function in life,” says Bob. “They educate children. Our function is to take away their transportation problems so they can focus on their students. If we deliver, we become transparent and a true extension of their team.” Building close, trusted partnerships with the districts he serves has always been a cornerstone for Bob and his location teams.
Runs in the Family
Supporting education runs in Bob’s family. He has a daughter who is a school teacher and another daughter who is a college professor and a best-selling author. Bob also has a son who is a shop manager for First Student in Illinois. “Being surrounded by education growing up, it only seems natural that they would gravitate toward it,” says Bob. He often tells drivers that his grandson rides on their bus, only they don’t know which student he is. Bob believes it reiterates an important message that every student we transport should be treated like family.
Bob has been recognized for his valuable contributions to the student transportation industry. He led efforts to change the law in Illinois to allow student transportation contracts to be awarded based upon criteria other than lowest bid price. This tremendous achievement not only opened new opportunities, but also empowered school districts to consider safety records, service, technology and other key factors when awarding transportation contracts. The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) presented Bob with a Golden Merit Award in 2014. “For me, it really is about the children, my team and our school district partners,” says Bob. “They are what motivate me day in and day out.” He has also received several First Student awards for excellence in safety, customer service and leadership.
Bob’s dedication to student transportation has helped make First Student a leader in Illinois. His commitment to the company and the industry is unparalleled. “Quite simply, I fell in love with the people and the mission,” shares Bob. Because of his passion, generations of students and families have benefited from having safe and reliable transportation to and from school.