Ask Mike Martin who has influenced his leadership style and career and he is sure to share a story about the director of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), where Martin began his professional career.
“Ed Crawford was a classic, old-school politician — there wasn’t a place we went where people didn’t know him,” Martin said. “And he introduced me to everybody — US Presidents, state Governors, members of Congress, business leaders. You name it.”
“I mean, I was a kid, like 23 or 24 years old, and he would walk me right up to the Governor and say, ‘Mario, this is Mike.’ Talk to him for a few minutes”. Then he’d walk away, go talk to someone else, and leave me there. Can you imagine that? It was an education like no other. I have never forgotten how generous he was with me.”
Some folks grow up around the transportation industry, are shaped by it, and find their place in the field. Others, like Martin, take a different path.
“After working with NYSAC and a couple of other municipal and K-12 nonprofits, a friend and I started our own consulting and lobbying firm. One of our clients was the New York Association of Pupil Transportation,” Martin said. “The issues were interesting, and the people were even more interesting — some really unique personalities. Because of my work with them, I met a couple of the leaders at NAPT® and when they decided to hire an executive director, they called me and asked if I’d consider the job.”
Martin initially thought he would work with NAPT® for a year, help them with some organizational issues and then go back to lobbying. But then something happened — he became enamored with the work.
“I just became endlessly curious about what was possible and ways we could make an impact,” Martin said.
From the start, Martin helped the NAPT® push the envelope, developing and publishing a website in the mid-90s — before most of the industry even began to see the value of establishing a digital presence. Beyond this, a revitalized approach to the annual conference and trade show surprised and delighted the membership, creating anticipation and a sense of belonging.
“Conferences were all the same, really staid, traditional,” Martin said. “So we started offering options and changing up the environment, going outdoors for live events or adding unique elements like a calliope and a circus theme. We wanted it to not just be informative, but also uplifting and fun.”
As the years wore on, Martin continued to lead change with boards who valued innovation and progress. Of the many projects he’s been a part of, he thinks one in particular stands out.
“We created a professional development program with more than 40 different classes that are offered both in-person and online and can be used to acquire a certification in five different categories,” Martin said. “It helps people create a better version of themselves; to grow, learn and collaborate.”
Another project involved partnering with a national business media publisher to create the first-ever monthly magazine. As the official “voice” of NAPT®, School BUSRide provides up-to-the-minute industry news; regulatory and compliance coverage; exclusive columns by respected industry experts; trends; custom research; and editorial content by trusted senior industry thought leaders in North America.
Martin also regards NAPT®’s mission statement as a notable accomplishment: Our mission is CLEAR. It points to an acronym that stands for Communication, Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Resources.
“We come to work every day as advocates for student safety,” Martin said. “Plus, we offer professional development that is helpful and relevant, to provide as many different resources as possible and to keep our members informed on what’s happening in the market space and the world at large.”
Over Martin’s 26 years working with volunteer board members, he calculated that he is worked with over 160 different team members.
“The number is one thing but it’s the people themselves that are most impressive”, Martin said, listing icons like Ed Donn, Don Carnahan, and Linda Bluth. “We’ve had so many great leaders.”
Martin says the Board’s consistent willingness to embrace forward-thinking, market-disrupting ideas has elevated the industry.
“If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting, oftentimes less. Not everything we did worked, but these different attempts and initiatives made us stronger, and helped others become stronger too. We have found some great success.”Mike Martin
He noted the entrepreneurial spirit that has been nurtured for years has been on full display during the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“We offered our first pandemic-related webinar March 17 of last year,” Martin said. “Since then we have completed more than 100.”
Big next step
While Martin will continue to provide leadership for NAPT®, there is a new opportunity on the horizon — a partnership called NAPT® Collaborative in tandem with the Minneapolis-based Center for Effective School Operations [CESO].
“The CESO tagline is ‘Rethink Possible’ and they really do approach everything that way. Is this the best way to do this? Can we do it better?” Martin said. “The ethos of this organization is so intrinsic to me, it’s exciting to think about what we might be able to do together.’”
One of the things Martin is excited about is the chance to take on critical, big-picture issues by collaborating with nontraditional partners, and then try to operationalize them through the CESO engine.
“It’s like, let’s see if we can get to the bottom of things that have been challenges for people forever, like the shortage of school bus drivers, for example,” Martin said. “Rethink it entirely. Collect data, do research, brainstorm, throw new ideas at a group of super smart people with a completely different frame of reference and listen to what they think. Then do it again and again until we create something new, something different, something helpful, maybe even something revolutionary.”