Buses are in the blood for the Pearson family.
What is now Pearsons Coachlines Ltd had humble beginnings with one school bus run in Kurow in the 1960s.
Now the Oamaru-based company has just been awarded the Ministry of Education contract for Oamaru school bus runs next year, a development that meant a lot to managing director Murray Pearson.
‘‘It’s huge for our family.’’
There would be 29 runs from next year — 25 new, and four existing. The school runs were mostly around the Oamaru area, but also included Palmerston and the high school run to Kurow.
The bus driving gene stretches back toMr Pearson’s grandfather, James Nimmo, who had driven a school bus, covering the Airedale area run, as far back as 1938. For a time he was driving his own daughter — Murray’s mother — to school.
Les Pearson, Murray’s father, had been a truck driver in Kurow. A butcher by trade, he bought a butcher shop and one school bus run around the same time in 1965, and after retiring reasonably early from butchery, he continued the bus run.
‘‘He had that until he died suddenly in 1986,’’ Mr Pearson said.
‘‘I guess it was in my blood anyway, because Dad would always be doing stuff at the weekends, working on the buses and stuff, and I’d be helping, ever since I was a wee fella.’’
At the time Mr Pearson took over the bus run, he was a building contractor in Kurow, with about five men working for him. He employed a local woman to drive the bus.
‘‘Then in 1988, the Ministry of Education decided they weren’t going to be in the school bus industry anymore, so everything was put up for tender.’’
Pearsons won four runs in Kurow, and continued to employ the existing drivers. The company also ran some charters at the weekends.
That was in 1988, and in 1994, the company successfully tendered for the school runs in Oamaru.
It was a ‘‘natural progression’’ to move the company base from Kurow to Oamaru.
Losing the school contract in 2001 prompted Pearsons to open in Ashburton the following year, and the branch is managed by Mr Pearson’s brother-in-law, Mark Cook.
‘‘We went in for some contracts in Ashburton, we got nine of them . . . then in 2008 we tendered and got all of the school runs in Ashburton.’’
Mr Pearson was thrilled to get the Oamaru contract, currently held by Ritchies, back.
By the start of 2022, Pearsons will have 80 operational buses between the Oamaru and Ashburton branches, and a staff of 50 would increase to 70 or 80.
They had been ‘‘flat out’’ building new buses since April this year, and all the new buses were fitted with seatbelts, which Mr Pearson acknowledged was ‘‘quite an expense’’.
‘‘The schools seem to be pretty happy.’’
Flashing LED lights on the backs of the buses were an extra safety feature Pearsons had added, to help remind drivers of the 20kmh speed limit while passing a school bus.
‘‘There’s a lot of hard work going on at the moment. It’s getting closer.’’
Getting the new buses built presented a challenge, with the pandemic creating a shortage of parts, but Mr Pearson was confident they would be ready to go for the start of school next year.
‘‘There’s quite a bit involved in getting ready. We’re going to have to do some advertising for some new drivers. There is a real shortage for drivers nationwide.’’
Although at the helm of the business, Mr Pearson still spent time behind the wheel, as did son Matt, who was the company’s mechanical operations manager.
Another son, Lachie, was trying to return home from Australia to join the business, while a third son, Greg, had worked as fleet maintenance manager for Pearsons, before leaving to work as a building contractor in Timaru earlier in the year.
One of Mr Pearson’s daughters, Karly, an accountant with Findex, helped with balancing the books.
Being a locally-operated company focused on safety, quality and service seemed to be working in the company’s favour.
‘‘I think it’s good to have a local business, not to just have a corporate business,’’ Mr Pearson said.
‘‘When you pick the phone up, you’re dealing with someone who lives in the town, not someone who’s just employed by a big corporate, because that seems to be the way they’re going.’’
Pearsons was also happy to give back to the community it belonged to, through sponsorships, time and projects. Mr Pearson was known for his long-term involvement in
North Otago Heartland rugby, and was 1994 world jet-boat sprinting champion.
Executive assistant Trelise Gibson said despite his success, Mr Pearson remained ‘‘a humble and private’’ man.
And, although he did not know it as a child, Mr Pearson had maybe always been destined to grow the family business.
‘‘I do remember, when I was a little guy, at the end of Mum and Dad’s car garage, I put a sign up on the wall, where the tools were, and I had written it when I was 7 or 8, and it had Pearsons Coachlines Ltd Workshop. It’ll still be there, probably.’’