Driving Disruption: How Highland Electric Fleets is Transforming School Transportation

Driving Disruption: How Highland Electric Fleets is Transforming School Transportation

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In this episode, we meet Duncan McIntyre, the CEO of Highland Electric Fleets, Inc., the electric school bus company. He saw an opportunity to provide a managed solution for large fleets lacking the expertise to adopt this new technology. He envisioned electric buses as a way to improve air quality, reduce pediatric asthma, integrate renewable energy into the grid, and serve multiple purposes. Duncan's disruptive approach includes a subscription model based on total acquisition cost, offering a comprehensive and affordable solution for schools and local authorities to transition to electric buses.

Creating a cohesive culture at Highland involves aligning diverse perspectives and values toward a shared mission. Duncan acknowledges that people from different industries bring their own cultural norms, but he emphasizes the importance of customer-centricity as a core value across all teams. Innovation is another key aspect of the culture, encouraging employees to think outside the box, challenge the status quo, and continuously iterate and improve. Highland operates with agility, adapting to the rapidly changing market by setting shorter-term plans and remaining open to new ideas. 

Join us in this episode as Duncan explains how a supportive-coaching leadership style, and resilience resonates with him among the 21 traits of authentic leadership. His advice for leaders in the auto industry today is twofold. First, he suggests carving out a larger R&D budget and encouraging teams to spend time tinkering and iterating. This fosters a culture of innovation and creativity throughout the organization. Second, he emphasizes the importance of senior leadership adopting an entrepreneurial mindset and seeking training to foster innovation. While process and metrics are crucial for delivering reliable vehicles, leaders should also prioritize coaching and training that allows for the introduction of new ideas.

Themes discussed in this episode:

  • A Mission-vision driven leadership
  • Building a culture of innovation
  • Learning the value of electric vehicle
  • Cultivating a high-performance team
  • Applying different leadership styles
  • Leadership and organizational culture

Featured Guest: Duncan McIntyre

What he does: Duncan is the CEO of Highland Electric Fleets, Inc. Highland stands at the forefront of revolutionizing student transportation by embracing electric vehicles. They possess the necessary resources to assist communities in transitioning to a modern fleet without straining their current budgets.

On leadership: “You have to focus on key milestones, you can't do everything. You have to get to sort of a minimally viable proof point, in order to go, you know, candidly raise money, so that you can then further invest in people, systems, processes, customers, projects, all the pieces that any business needs to focus on.”

Episode Highlights:

[03:09] The big fleets: As Duncan became obsessed with EV, he realized that big fleets face challenges in adopting new technology due to lack of expertise and high costs. A managed solution provider can stitch together financing, monetize tax credits, and deliver services to ensure reliable and affordable fleet operation.

[4:54] Disrupting the Auto Industry: Duncan, with a background in renewable energy and a mission-driven mindset, approached the transportation industry from a different angle, recognizing electric vehicles as a solution for pediatric asthma and the need to improve air quality, integrate renewable energy, and provide multiple functionalities such as transporting students, supporting the grid, and aiding in disaster relief, driven by his personal experience of wanting cleaner air for his own children and observing the harmful effects of diesel buses on children's health and the environment.

[15:07] Customer-centric culture at Highland: Duncan praised their outstanding team. Their company fosters a customer-centric culture where every team, from finance to operations, is focused on providing a fantastic customer experience. They prioritize innovation and encourage out-of-the-box thinking, supported by a healthy R&D budget. Adapting quickly to market changes, they operate on a six-month plan. Their team is passionate, mission-driven, and dedicated to the customers and product.

[17:17] Permission for innovation: Creating a shared vision and mission is essential for a united workforce. By spending time with each new employee, aligning them with the goal of providing affordable, clean transportation to underserved communities, and fostering a culture of innovation, they empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to embrace entrepreneurship and think differently within the organization.

[22:09] 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership: Among the 21 traits, Duncan resonates the most with supportive-coaching leadership style and resilience.

[38:04] Advice for auto industry leaders: Duncan gave two suggestions for fostering innovation and staying relevant as a leader in the automotive industry. First is to prioritize R&D and encourage a culture of continuous tinkering and iteration across the organization, while also promoting entrepreneurial thinking and providing training for senior leadership to embrace innovation alongside reliable processes and metrics.

Top Quotes:

[18:11] Duncan: “We've really brought a lot of different perspectives and backgrounds. But universally, on average, people are coming from bigger organizations. And so they need to be encouraged and inspired to be really entrepreneurial. We screen for it, and we hire for it. So, it's not like they aren't willing, they have to be inspired and know that they have permission to do things a little differently.”

[26:44] Jan: “Authentic Leadership is about really nurturing that relationship, connecting with a human being. And every human being is different, can't use the same approach with everybody to inspire them from within. And that is a coaching role. It's very, very different to this idea of command and control, being the boss and just telling everybody what to do.”

[30:01] Duncan: “That's one of the biggest reasons why businesses fail, it may not be the product or the idea, it's just getting from zero to one is really, really hard. And so I just think, being willing to not give up, staying with it, and insisting on succeeding, it's a mentality more than anything. And then you have to be able to set up the rest of your life in a way that you can just grind through it. Because if you can't do that, it becomes really hard.”

[39:49] Duncan: “I'd offer one more thought, which is senior leadership, because it always comes down to leadership needs to spend more time thinking like the way you do about the traits for success, and they need to think more about entrepreneur entrepreneurial spirit. And they need to think more about getting some training to sort of be brought into this world of innovation.”