Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Victory Liner, Inc.: Staying on top through innovation

THE COUNTRY’S biggest bus company — also one of its oldest — is trying to stay on top of the game by finding new ways to satisfy its clients, while having to deal with global market forces never before experienced.

"We will never stop innovating and finding new ways to satisfy our customers. We can never be lax as far as bus maintenance and training is concerned," said Marivic H. del Pilar, treasury and marketing manager of Victory Liner.

She said the bus firm is capitalizing on strong tourism growth particularly in Northern Luzon, even as volatile fuel prices and government policies force them to adapt to the times.

The bus company formed by Jose I. Hernandez, Sr. in 1945 — a time when the country was still reeling from the wreckage of World War II and there was no transportation system to speak of — continues to expand and innovate.

"We differentiate ourselves in terms of service, in having the most number of buses, most number of routes and most number of dispatches in a day to any one route," Ms. del Pilar said in an interview. Today, she said, a number of other bus companies have cropped up, Victory Liner’s service sets it apart, she pointed out.

A prewar mechanic, Mr. Hernandez collected spare parts from abandoned US military vehicles to build a delivery truck for his family’s trading business of fish sauce, rice, corn, vegetables and homemade laundry soap.

He was surprised to discover that the delivery truck he had ordered from a Chinese acquaintance looked more like a bus with rows of benches, and with its right side open.

Reluctantly and prevailed upon by his wife, Mr. Hernandez accepted the vehicle and used it instead as a public utility vehicle.

Competing against 12 other bus companies, Victory Liner’s first bus started serving the Manila-Olongapo route on Oct. 15, 1945 with Mr. Hernandez as the driver and his brother-in-law Leonardo D. Trinidad as his conductor. The first terminal was located at the corner of Azcarraga St., which is now Claro M. Recto Ave., and Juan Luna St. in Divisoria, Manila.

Speaking of innovation, Mr. Hernandez brought the country’s first air-conditioned bus from Japan in the 1960s. He also initiated the conversion of front engine buses and the use of steel-bodied buses.

In the 1970s, Victory Liner also provided the riding public with air-conditioned provincial bus service, which was unique at that time.

In the 1980s, the company introduced automatic transmission buses from GM-Allison and started using TVs and video facilities. At that time, it embarked on a training program for its drivers, conductors and mechanics on road safety, customer service and bus maintenance. This is a practice it maintains up to this day.

Victory Liner has the biggest fleet of buses at 860. Recently, it launched its advanced seat reservation system, which allows one to reserve a seat via phone a month before the trip. Other innovations include the use of deluxe buses complete with a bus attendant and toilet.

Ms. del Pilar said Victory Liner considers its people its greatest asset. "What for are nice, brand new buses without competent drivers, without dedicated managers and employees? Take care of your employees. They can make or break the company," she said.

She said the bus business is a labor intensive business, and the management and its employees have to work together to attain their goals. "When we take care of our employees, they in turn want to take care of our customers. It’s a cycle of happy people wanting to give happiness to other people. Angry people cannot give love to other people," she said as a matter of fact.

Through the years, Ms. del Pilar said, Victory Liner has managed to come out of different type of crises, from natural calamities such as the Baguio earthquake and eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the early 1990s, the currency crisis in 1997, and recently, rising fuel prices.

She said the company had done so through sheer perseverance and focus. "We do not get disheartened. We do not decide to stop growing. We think beyond what is happening and focus on being the best," she added. — RAMR



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