Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

A seemingly run-down building can house a supercharged organization.


When you visit a dozen or more fleet maintenance shops in the course of the year as I do, you see all kinds of facilities. Some are bright, shiny and new, and some are dark, dingy and old. The same goes for the offices where the fleet maintenance managers hang their hats; some are neat, organized and expansive, and some are cramped and crowded and you can hardly find a place to sit down. But I have learned not to judge a book by its cover, because sometimes the most unimpressive-looking maintenance programs have the most impressive maintenance practices. Case in point: last week I visited a very affluent community to meet the supervisor of transportation for the local school district. The transportation facility was in one of the older sections of town, and when I pulled into the lot I was confused--I couldn't find the offices. Off in the distance was a ramshackle maintenance garage where a number of yellow school buses were being worked on, but the office was hidden from view. I parked in front of a lopsided shack and decided to start my search by looking inside the shack. To my surprise, the "shack" turned out to be the nerve center of the transportation program. The building, which seemed so small from outside, actually stretched back quite a ways, and housed several offices and a dispatch station. It was a beehive of activity, and when several friendly staffers directed me to the supervisor's office, I found a comfortable work den and a couple of managers who are doing pretty amazing work with their fleet. My qualms about the exterior of the building faded away as we got into our conversation, but at one point the supervisor looked around the offices and jokingly explained that, obviously, his department was low on the list of funding priorities for the school district. But at that point it didn't matter, because even though they may have been low on the totem pole, the people in that office building believed in the importance of what they were doing, and were resoved to get the job done, no matter what limitations they faced. And that's a good message to send in this day and age.