SPRINGFIELD – You say that you always knew the direction your life was going and that the course you took was your own.
“I worked for an accounting firm for a year, but that was mainly to bring some experience and expertise here. I always knew I wanted to be here,” said Lauryn Picknelly-DuBois, the new Controller of Peter Pan Bus Lines and part of the fourth generation of the family at the senior level.
Her brother agrees.
“Even as a child I knew that this was my calling. It was never forced on me,” said Peter B. Picknelly IV, who will serve as director of security. “I wanted to do it.”
Founded in 1933, Peter Pan is now based at Union Station. Peter Pan is an institution in western Massachusetts. The third generation of leadership passed to Peter A. Picknelly III in 2004 after the death of his father, Peter L. Picknelly.
The company’s CEO is understandably excited to see members of a new generation stepping into leadership roles – and even more excited because they want to do it.
“We never coerced or pressured them, but we’re thrilled they made that decision,” said Peter A. Picknelly III. “There can’t be many Springfield companies that last four generations, if there are any at all.”
The easiest way to keep track of the Picknellys is to use middle initials. There was Peter C. Picknelly, founder and first generation.
Then came his son, Peter L. Picknelly, and grandson, Peter A., CEO for 18 years. Now come Peter B., his son, as well as the important women in the Picknelly family and other relatives and connections.
The business is immensely challenging and changing as the dynamics of the country’s transportation industry evolve, and it’s not Picknelly’s first choice. Peter and Melissa Picknelly have four children and it is doubtful all four will join the company.
There’s Lauryn’s twin sister, Alyssa, who has realized her dream of becoming a preschool teacher. There’s Olivia, who’s still in college and has a passion for fashion.
But for Lauryn and Peter IV it was destiny.
“We’ve always referred to the company as a family business,” said Melissa Picknelly. “Peter and Lauryn have worked here from an early age.”
That goes back to their teenage years for now 26-year-old Lauryn and 22-year-old Peter IV. You will assume prominent positions in a company that plans 1,000 daily departures to more than 100 destinations.
Peter Pan coaches cover more than 40 million kilometers every year. That’s equivalent to circumnavigating the world three times a day, or 100 trips to the moon.
Welcoming the next generation to Peter Pan Bus Lines speaks not only to the heart of the Picknellys, but also to the practical side of their business.
“They’re not only great kids, they’re smarter than us,” Peter A said, citing the technological acumen of the younger generation in general and his children – all magna cum laude college graduates – in particular.
“I don’t think that’s true,” interjected Peter IV. But his father was persistent.
“Our business has changed a lot in recent years. Everything is technology driven, like everywhere else. It’s all about reservation-based capacity, how many buses, how to assign drivers, passenger trends, weather,” he said.
“Peter (IV) and Lauryn bring a breath of fresh air to the company,” continued Peter A. Picknelly. His wife agreed, saying the new generation is “contributing to an orderly transition” in a company that is constantly reinventing itself.
According to Lauryn Picknelly-DuBois, the success of any great company rests on retaining proven techniques and principles while keeping pace with innovation and the inevitable generational renewal.
“We are here to fill that gap,” she said.
Family businesses often disintegrate when members of a new generation decide to try something different. Often it is natural and not wrong.
“In my generation, a lot of us knew what we wanted to do, and that’s how I felt. But I know that many others wanted to go in other directions,” said Peter IV.
The connections extend beyond the children. Peter IV’s girlfriend, Estefania Peralta, works in customer service.
Lauryn’s husband, Jacob, is the general manager of the company’s Connecticut operations in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. Peter A. Picknelly’s nephew, Joe Picknally, oversees the maintenance departments of Peter Pan Bus Lines and Coachbuilders.
In many ways, the history of Peter Pan Bus Lines and the Picknelly family reflects the history of 20th and 21st century America. The first generation began with Peter C. Picknelly, who arrived from Italy at the age of 7, settled in New Jersey in the early 1900’s and began his career in transportation as a private chauffeur.
In 1920 he opened a small transit company in East Orange, New Jersey. Five years later he moved to New England and opened a larger company in Hartford.
In 1932 Peter sold his stake to his partners and a year later opened his Springfield bus line. The name “Peter Pan” was chosen from his children’s favorite bedtime story.
It was a prophetic decision.
“It’s in our family DNA. When I was young, some kids wanted to be baseball players or firefighters, but I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather,” said Peter A. Picknelly, who celebrated his 63rd birthday on Friday.
It was a humble beginning, as are most successful family businesses. The first fleet consisted of four 1933 Buick-Jitney vehicles.
Peter Pan’s burgeoning operation offered service between Northampton and Boston via Stafford Springs, Connecticut. A ride cost $1.75 and lasted nearly four hours until the state authorized Peter Pan to operate on Route 20 in 1940, cutting travel time by an hour.
With the opening of the Massachusetts Turnpike in 1957, travel time was cut in half. Other family members joined the company, including Peter C. Picknelly’s brother Bill and Bill’s son Carmen, who joined after World War II.
Carmen’s son Tom Picknelly managed Peter Pan Maintenance until his death in 2020. By 1963 a fleet of 28 buses was in operation.
With the death of Peter C. Picknelly in 1964, the second generation took over. The founder’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, developed travel packages for the World’s Fair during the 1964 and 1965 New York City fair presentations – an innovation that led to the Peter Pan World Travel Service.
This was a cornerstone for the diversification of the business, which continues to this day. Corporate offices have been located at Union Station since 2018, when Way Finders took over the former bus station location for its housing agency headquarters.
Upon the death of Peter L. Picknelly in 2004, Peter A. Picknelly III assumed the position of CEO that he holds today.
“All of us in the family remember my father as such a hard working person who set an example – he instilled a strong work ethic in us all,” said Peter III.
“He was someone who worked seven days a week, including holidays, to build our business. We vividly remember surprising him on Father’s Days by bringing bagels to his office and having breakfast together at the table in the conference room.”
The son did his best to continue the father’s tradition. Like his father, he has championed the development of the downtown riverfront.
When family reunions happen these days, the company is never far from their thoughts.
“I never pull the plug. I don’t feel comfortable pulling the plug,” said Peter A., who isn’t talking about retirement but welcomes the support.
That business talks can often mix with free time is a tribute to family. Some family businesses crumble as new generations choose different careers, others collapse as parents and children clash over future directions and strategies.
There are many stories about famous automaker Henry Ford and his son Edsel (yes, after whom the infamous model was named) bitterly disagreed over the direction of the company. That’s not the case with Team Picknelly, family members say.
“We need their expertise. Younger people understand technology and electronics,” said Melissa.
The fourth generation has this experience. Lauryn Picknelly-DuBois has worked in customer relations, security, marketing and ticketing.
Peter B. Picknelly IV has experience in operations, maintenance and customer service. Her parents say her skills are needed for a business that is growing again in the post-pandemic era.
Before COVID-19, Peter Pan Bus Lines employed approximately 1,000 people. It’s now between 500 and 700 and counting, with just over 200 buses on the road.
According to Peter IV, the goal is not to return to a “magic number”.
“Everyone thinks bigger is better and COVID-19 certainly meant downsizing. But our goal is to become more efficient,” he said.
“It’s about managed growth. We’re working a lot smarter,” said Lauryn, who will have multiple responsibilities as controller.
“I make sure the finances are correct and handle annual budgets and year-end postings,” she said.
“I will also work with the auditors. Accounting has always interested me.”
Peter A. Picknelly said his son’s role is more important and complex than ever.
“People depend on our (compliance) safety and everything is completely regulated. Peter is learning and following the regulations of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Massachusetts (Department of Transportation) and other agencies,” he said.
The new generation brings with it references that go beyond a well-known name. Lauryn graduated with honors from Providence College and Peter IV from Western New England University.
Your company has many claims of “firsts” within the industry. Peter Pan was the first bus company to install seat belts and in 2008 was the first company in the nation to offer Print at Home tickets sold online.
For Peter A. Picknelly, the start of a new generation in family management is exciting, but not surprising.
“They own more of the company than we do,” he said. “They want to be the boss so they can fire us.”
“That’s definitely not true,” said Peter IV, while the third and fourth generations laughed. “But I always knew I wanted to be in Peter Pan.”