Nurturing Part Timers to Be Entrepreneurs

Motivating part-time workers has become something of an art at Rachel's Bus Co., in Chicago. From the time E. Rachel Hubka, the company's president, stalled the business in 1989, she has looked for ways to hire good workers and help them develop. Now, the company's 120 mostly part-time drivers enjoy a benefits package that includes holiday and vacation pay and bonuses for perfect attendance. In addition, they get a chance to develop their own entrepreneurial skills in a way that not only enriches them but also helps the company. The firm contracts with the Chicago Board of Education to transport children to and from school. Hubka is also building revenue by offering trips for private groups.

She recognized a few years ago that helping her drivers become more professional would enhance the company's image. (Lack of respect from children and their parents was a regular source of employee complaints and morale problems.) Hubka also believed that increasing drivers' professionalism would help Rachel's stand out among its 35 area competitors and would improve the firm's chances of cultivating repeat private-trip business. To foster a professional attitude, Hubka provides all drivers with business cards.

She helps them with their personal appearance and manner, and she teaches them how to talk effectively with customers and ask for their business. She also throws in a powerful incentive for the drivers: a chance to earn more. Private jobs are rotated among drivers, who get one-third of the revenue from their trips. Drivers who bring in business or are requested by name get an additional 10 percent of the job's invoice. For her most aggressive driver-entrepreneurs, the revenue from those jobs represents as much as two-thirds of their paychecks. For some, it has turned a $7,500-a-year job into one that generates more than $20,000 in income.

The company's revenues from private jobs have risen to about 15 percent of total revenues. Hubka wants it to be 25 percent in a few years and 40 percent eventually. "If I can teach drivers to become more professional in their dealings with the public, that makes their job easier," Hubka says. "And if they have any interest in becoming entrepreneurs—as I did—this shows them how to do it."

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