#thisisdaimler: Thomas Built Buses, High Point, North Carolina

Thomas Built Buses is the leading school bus manufacturer in North America. Back in 2013, I joined TBB as the manager of the center of education and marketing, a role in which I still serve today.

Thomas Built Buses has a great reputation in the area (and across the country), so I was excited to get to work with such an iconic brand and within a company that was so highly respected. But more than that, I wanted my work to matter. I wanted to find work that gave me a true purpose, one that made a difference in the lives of many.

Every school day, more than 25 million children ride the big yellow bus to school. Our school buses are the first thing they see in the morning and the last part of their school day. For some, the yellow school bus is the ONLY way for them to get to school; without the yellow school bus, their educational process does not begin.

In addition, the school bus is the safest form of transportation for children riding to and from school -nearly 70 times safer than taking a car. As the leading manufacturer in our market, it is our mission to safely transport students, and extending that mission makes for a noble profession. For me, purpose found.

High Point: Full seasons and the furniture capital of the world

Let me give you a glimpse of what it’s like here at Thomas Built Buses. Thomas Built is nestled in the small town of High Point, N.C., which is just shy of 115,000 people, but a really great place to live.  We are in between the beach and the mountains, with about a 2-3 hour drive to either. We have four full seasons, with somewhat mild winters with a few snowfalls, but the summers can be hot!

Besides that, High Point is not your average small town. In fact, it is known as the furniture capital of the world. Twice a year, nearly 100,000 people from around the world (practically doubling the size of the city) come to High Point to select new furniture styles from manufacturers for retail distribution.

High Point’s rich history as the furniture capital is actually one of the reasons Thomas Built Buses was founded here. Back in the early 1900s, Thomas Built’s founder and fellow furniture craftsman, Perley A. Thomas came to High Point to work for the Southern Car Company, a streetcar manufacturer, as an engineer.  That business existed here because of the plentiful wood available in the area that was used for building furniture. However, sometime around 1916, the Southern Car Company went bankrupt, and Perley A. Thomas had the foresight to purchase the company’s assets to set up shop of his own, and voila-our history begins!

Over it’s rich history, Thomas Built Buses has evolved in many ways, however none more important than in 1936.  Seeking growth opportunities after the Great Depression and as the rise of the personal automobile had significantly reduced the market for streetcars, Thomas Car Works as it was known then, bid on the opportunity to build 500 “all wooden bodied” school buses for the state of North Carolina.  Thomas Car works secured an order for 250 of the 500 and suddenly, the Thomas Car Works company was in the school bus business!

Thomas Built Buses still has one plant at the original manufacturing location from 1916. But our manufacturing processes look much different these days. Today, we have three main manufacturing plants. Our Saf-T-Liner® C2 plant, which is highly automated, produces our most popular school bus while our second location produces the Saf-T-Liner® EFX, Saf-T-Liner® HDX and Minotour® school buses. Our third location is where we build chassis’ for the EFX and HDX products.  While the buses and manufacturing processes of each plant differ, the products are always the same: quality, safe, durable and reliable school buses.

Many buses, but no trash

Plus, Thomas Built Buses was the first, and remains the only, large school bus manufacturer to go to Zero Waste to Landfill, which means that no waste is ever sent to the landfill during the production of our buses. The Zero Waste-to-Landfill initiative requires that we follow the reuse, reduce, recycle principles.  We found that we could reuse some of our wastes, for example we have used a vendor to bring a distillation system on-site to clean our used solvent.

We contacted our vendors about using recyclable packaging on specific materials, in some cases buying sturdy containers for the parts so that we can ship the containers back to reused again.  The remaining waste streams are separated by type of material, and vendors were found to recycle most of these materials. Where vendors couldn’t be found, the materials have been sent to a Waste-to-Energy facility where the wastes are used to generate electricity/heat or the wastes are processed into fuel.  As a result, no wastes from our facility are landfilled. It’s an achievement that we are very proud of!

Long history, same values

Within the walls of Thomas Built Buses, you’ll find that the employees still maintain the values that were instilled in the company more than 100 years ago. The Thomas Built Buses team is very much a family. This isn’t just a place to work, it’s like a home where everyone treats each other respectfully while knowing their own goals and objectives.

We understand the importance of all swimming in the same direction to produce one result:  to build safe and reliable school buses that we would want our children and grandchildren to ride on. It’s about being a part of something bigger, being a part of the community, being a part of a child’s future.  Without that singular mission, we would never be the market leader we are today!

Along with other team members at Thomas Built Buses, I volunteer at a local elementary school sponsored by Thomas Built, named Oak Hill Elementary, as a reading buddy and I participate in volunteer days through the DaimlerCares program.

Volunteering as a reading buddy is especially important to me. Every Thursday during lunch, several employees head over to Oak Hill elementary to read with a group of underperforming third grade students.  Anyone at Thomas Built Buses can participate if they are able to do so. It’s important to connect with the kids, to see those bright eyes, their innocence and eagerness to learn. Volunteering to help children excel and grow is a gentle reminder of the magnitude of the job we do.  It allows me to take a step back and look at the big picture of our work, and see that these children have the whole world ahead of them….and, we are part of helping them get there. Truly an exceptionally gratifying experience.

Many people choose their jobs by following their passion, and that is true here at Thomas Built Buses too. But for me, working at Thomas Built Buses meant finding, and now following, my purpose. Working here just makes me feel good. I truly do have the best job at Thomas Built Buses; I get to tell others about our great people and our exceptional products. Ultimately, not only am I helping children get to and from school safely, I am helping to build and market something that makes a difference in the lives of so many people.


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Mario DiFoggio works as the manager for the center of education and marketing for Thomas Built Buses. He is responsible for strategic marketing, events, and sales and service training for personnel, dealers and customers.