Buffalo busing business a family affair
A year into her role at the wheel of W.L. Roenigk bus company, Sue Roenigk is settling in as president of the business her father founded 68 years ago.
“Keeping up sometimes has been a challenge, but, all in all, it's coming together really nicely,” she said.
Jeanne Roenigk, 81, wife of late founder William Roenigk Sr., asked her daughter to take on the role of president after the death of her son, William “Billy” Roenigk Jr., last March. He was vice president for about 20 years and president for a year.
“ ‘Scary' would be the first word I could come up with,” Sue Roenigk, 54, said of leading the company. “It's a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of people who are counting on us to get it right.
“I have a newfound respect for my older brother and the role he played. He lived for it, and I'm just hoping to keep up.”
Roenigk said she's been fortunate that employees, school personnel, vendors and people from other bus companies have helped her along the way.
“I could not be more blessed to have all their support while I'm trying to do this,” she said.
And, of course, she has plenty of family to lean on in the office.
Three generations of Roenigk women run the company, which employs 850 people at nine locations, including its headquarters on Ekastown Road in Buffalo Township.
Sue Roenigk's daughter, Jamie Hays, is an administrative assistant, her sister, Nancy Stewart, coordinates Freeport Area School District's transportation needs, her sister-in-law, Shelly Roenigk, handles human resources and her mother is still hands-on in the office.
This year, the Pittsburgh Business Times ranked Roenigk bus company as southwestern Pennsylvania's largest women-owned business, based on the number of employees.
The company is part of a national trend in the growing number of women-owned businesses.
In the United States, the number of women-owned businesses has grown by nearly 60 percent since 1997, according to the 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
The report ranked Pennsylvania seventh in the nation in the number of women-owned businesses.
Hays, 29, said she has excellent role models. She spent time in the office as a child, was hired at 16 and represents the third generation of Roenigk women running the company.
“I'm definitely learning from the best women, and I hope (my daughter) Alex learns from that, too, so she can eventually become a part of it,” she said. Three-year-old Alex Hays spends time in the office when she's not in preschool.
“I like to help,” Alex said on a recent Thursday afternoon as she retrieved papers from the printer and handed them to her grandma Sue.
All indications are that Roenigk will still be going strong when she's old enough to join the ranks.
One of nation's largest
Roenigk busing company has grown from initially serving five districts with about 100 employees to the 10th largest privately owned bus company in the nation in 2012, as ranked by School Bus Fleet magazine, a trade publication.
Roenigk provides busing for 25 school districts in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties. The company is the main transportation provider for Pittsburgh Public Schools.
The growth is largely down to the vision her father and brother had for the company, according to Sue Roenigk.
“Billy was one of the greatest starters there ever was,” she said. “He loved to go out and expand and find new districts.”
But their employees help keep the business strong, she said.
“We have a lot of really good people who work for us,” she said. “It just seems everyone has come together, and we're definitely working toward the same goal. It's really nice to see.”
And like her other siblings, Roenigk knows what it takes to do just about every job there is at the bus company.
She started out washing buses, what she calls “one of the world's worst jobs.” Her mom was a stickler, so if she didn't do it to her specifications, then it got done again.
As a senior in high school, she started doing filing and helping with bus schedules. Later, she drove the shorter school buses and vans.
But Roenigk didn't always see herself joining the family business. She went to Penn State New Kensington for art with intentions of becoming “a famous artist,” she said.
“Then one day I realized ‘This is just not for me.' It didn't fit my personality,” Roenigk said. She switched majors and earned an associate degree in accounting and business.
Once she joined the company, for 30 years she handled Freeport Area's dispatching and schedules.
All in the family
Behind the scenes, the company has maintained its small, family-owned business feel with a main office on the first floor of the Buffalo Township home where the Roenigks raised their eight children.
The main office's employees still handle payroll, rather than sending it to an outside company.
“That's the goal of the whole office every Monday: to get payroll done,” Sue Roenigk said. “Everybody loves that we do the payroll; that's the best job that we could do around this place.”
Jeanne Roenigk, who still lives above the office, will occasionally cook lunch for the half-dozen or so people in the office.
She's been a part of the business since she married William Roenigk Sr. in 1954. This June will mark her 60th year with the company.
“I've always said that my dad and brother, Billy, were the nerves and guts of the company, but my mom was definitely the backbone,” a sentiment that Sue Roenigk said she shared when introducing her mom at the company's first all-garage holiday party last year. “Neither one of those two could have handled it if my mom wasn't here as the one holding it together.”
Although working with family has its advantages, it's not always easy.
“After an argument at work, you still have to sit down at Christmas with these people,” said Nancy Stewart, Sue Roenigk's sister. “There are times when there are accidents or other unfortunate things.
“But I can honestly say that I don't think there has ever been a moment that any of us weren't proud to be Roenigks and of what we try to do here.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.