I just returned from London, where I toured with some of our outstanding worldwide partners. At People to People Ambassador Programs, we carefully select partner organizations around the world to arrange and deliver our specialty programs under the watchful eye of our own program manager for each location. We have an extensive history and work so closely with these organizations that we tend to view them more as an extension of our own organization than a separate entity. Mike Clark, the owner and operator of Educational Cultural Exchanges Int. Ltd. (ECE), is an excellent example.
Last week, Senior Director of Travel Services Nicola Balmain and Charity Hakes, our Europe manager, sat down with me and my team to review the past season and to plan for the years to come. One of the key topics covered in this meeting focused on an enhanced listing of Service Excellence Standards. This extensive document outlines in explicit detail every expectation of hotels, restaurants, and safety practices at all venues we visit during these amazing journeys. This document is not new, nor is the practice of clearly reviewing these expectations with our partners. In fact, after each season the five program managers always debrief with our worldwide partners, sometimes on site in their countries, and sometimes in our program office here in the United States. We believe this is time well spent ensuring there are no questions left unanswered and that everyone associated with any given program we deliver is on the exact same page in terms of expectations. The enhanced standards are just another example of our passion for continued improvement and constant enhancements in the methods we use to ensure your child’s safety and health while traveling on one of our life-changing programs.
During the week, I was also able to spend some quality time with Deborah and Terry Newman, the owners and operators of Clarkes of London, our motor coach provider. I was able to spend much of the day touring the property that is home to over 51 state of the art motor coaches.
The Clarkes of London Story
The company’s roots go back to Deborah’s grandfather, ‘Snowy’ Clarke, back in 1958. Mr. Clarke was a coal miner by trade but purchased his first motor coach to provide trips to the seaside for local children. The business soon developed into providing coaches for the local schools and clubs.
In 1972, the control of the company passed to Snowy’s eldest son, Bill Clarke, who together with his wife began to broaden the services. Bill has since retired and his eldest daughter, Deborah, now runs the day-to-day operations of the company with the help and support of her husband, Terry, and an excellent staff of professionals. You won’t see any elaborate presidential office for Deborah. She prefers a modest desk located on the floor in the operations center where she can hear all and keep a watchful eye on every facet of the operation.
During my visit and review of the equipment maintenance schedule and driver qualifications, I heard multiple times from Deborah and Terry that they do the things they do not because they are required, but because it is “the right thing to do.” That is why this organization continues to strive for excellence by providing additional training above what is required by law for their drivers. In fact, each driver on their staff has completed an advanced course, which is just one of the many extra steps they take that led to their organization being selected as the 2009 Large Coach Operator of the Year at the Route One Operator Excellence Awards. This is an award they have received many times, but this year, it seemed to mean even more to them, as the nomination came from someone in the industry who is not affiliated with the company. Among other things, the judges cited their use of technology to improve services. I had the opportunity to view a sample of this technology called the tachograph. This unit prints out on a tachodisc the speed in which a driver has gone and the duration for which he has operated the motor coach. Several people in the Clarkes office are dedicated to monitoring this information, which clearly helps ensure a driver never works outside of the legal standards of safety for drivers.
I was able to view each of the motor coaches on the lot and all of them were in pristine condition. It was almost impossible to tell the older models apart from the brand-new arrivals. The four older models (7 years old) were in such great shape that other operators are competing to buy up Clarkes’ used equipment. Deborah and Terry take such good care of the equipment that you could hardly blame the other companies! This year, they plan to purchase another six 2010 models, which will replace the last remaining 2002 models. This past year, they purchased some custom motor coaches. In fact, the week prior to my arrival, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a scheduled National Football League game in London, and guess who won the contract to transport the team? It was, of course, Clarkes of London!
Having managed many regional Ground Support equipment shops for several airlines, and knowing of the rigors involved with tracking each piece of equipment and ensuring that every unit is inspected on tight intervals to assure the safety of its operators, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the on-site maintenance shop the Clarkes have. You could literally eat off the floor in that shop, as its condition is maintained as well as the motor coaches themselves. They even have a body shop and a paint booth to remove the occasional scratch so that their motor coaches always remain in like-new condition. The shop is limited to touch-up paint and scratch removal, as the Clarkes report that they have yet to have been involved in any major accident with any of their vehicles. With the additional training their drivers get and the highly trained staff on site to watch out for their every move and to steer them away from any traffic issues, it’s not hard to see why.
This is truly a first-class operation, which is why Mike Clark of ECE (no relation to Clarkes of London) ultimately selected them to safety transport our students around the London area while on a People to People Ambassador program. And just one more reason why we value Mike Clark and his outstanding staff in the London office that look out for our every need and those of our valued Ambassadors.
With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.