September 27, 2022

The Picknelly family of Peter Pan Bus Lines. Fom left, Peter Picknelly IV, Peter A. Picknelly, Lauryn Picknelly-Dubois and Michelle Picknelly. (Don Treeger | The Republican)
SPRINGFIELD — They say they always knew what direction their lives would take and that the course they charted was their own.
“I did a year at an accounting firm, 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 family’s fourth generation in its management tier.
Her brother agrees.
“From a young age, I always knew this was my calling. It was never forced on me,” said Peter B. Picknelly IV, who is taking over as director of safety and security. “I wanted to do it.”
Founded in 1933 and now based at Union Station, Peter Pan is an institution in Western Massachusetts. The third generation of leadership was passed on to Peter A. Picknelly III in 2004 upon the death of his father, Peter L. Picknelly.
The company CEO is understandably delighted that members of a new generation are moving into leadership roles — and more thrilled because they want to do it.
“We never forced or pressured them, but we are thrilled they have made this choice,” said Peter A. Picknelly III. “There can’t be a ton of Springfield businesses that go four generations, if there are any.”
Keeping track of the Picknellys is most easily done through middle initials. There was Peter C. Picknelly, founder and first generation.
Then came his son, Peter L. Picknelly, and his grandson, Peter A., the CEO for the past 18 years. Now comes Peter B., his son, as well as the important women in the Picknelly family and other relatives and connections, too.
The business is immensely challenging and changing as the dynamics of the nation’s transportation industry evolve, and it’s not every Picknelly’s first choice. Peter and Melissa Picknelly have four children, and it’s doubtful all four will join the company.
There’s Lauryn’s twin sister, Alyssa, who followed her dream to become a preschool teacher. There’s Olivia, who is still in college and has a passion for fashion.
But for Lauryn and Peter IV, it was destiny.
“We’ve always talked about the company as a family business,” Melissa Picknelly said. “Peter and Lauryn have been working here from the earliest times they could.”
That goes back to the teen years for Lauryn, now 26, and Peter IV, who is 22. They are assuming prominent positions in a company that schedules 1,000 daily departures to more than 100 destinations.
Peter Pan coaches travel more than 25 million miles every year. That’s the equivalent of traveling around the world three times every day, or 100 trips to the moon.
Welcoming the next generation to Peter Pan Bus Lines doesn’t speak just to the Picknellys’ heart, but to the practical aspect of their business.
“They’re not only great kids, they’re smarter than we are,” said Peter A, pointing to the technology acumen on the younger generation in general, and his children — each a magna cum laude college graduate — in particular.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Peter IV interjected. But his father was insistent.
“Our business has changed so much in the last few years. Everything is driven by technology, as it is everywhere else. Everything is on on reservation based capacity, how many buses, how to assign drivers, passenger trends, weather,” he said.
“Peter (IV) and Lauryn are bringing fresh air to the company,” Peter A. Picknelly continued. His wife agreed, saying the new generation is “helping to make for an orderly transition” in a business that is constantly reinventing itself.
Lauryn Picknelly-DuBois says the success of any large company rests with keeping proven techniques and principles, while keeping up with innovation and inevitable generational change.
“We’re here to bridge that gap,” she said.
Family businesses often break up when members of a new generation decide they want to try something else. Often, it’s natural, and not wrong.
“From my generation, a lot of us knew what we wanted to do, and that’s how I felt. But I know a lot of others have wanted to go in other directions,” Peter IV said.
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 operation in Rocky Hill, Conn. Peter A. Picknelly’s nephew, Joe Picknally, oversees of the maintenance departments for Peter Pan Bus Lines and Coachbuilders.
In many ways, the story of Peter Pan Bus Lines and the Picknelly family reflects the story of 20th and 21st century America. The first generation began with Peter C. Picknelly, who came from Italy at age 7, settled in New Jersey in the early 1900s 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 interest to his partners and, a year later, opened his bus line in Springfield. The name “Peter Pan” was chosen from his children’s favorite bedtime story.
It was a prophetic choice.
“It’s in our family DNA. When I was young, some kids wanted to be baseball players or firemen, but I wanted to follow in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps,” said Peter A. Picknelly, whose 63rd birthday was Friday.
It was a modest beginning, as most successful family companies are. The first fleet was made up of four 1933 Buick jitney vehicles.
Peter Pan’s nascent operation offered service between Northampton and Boston through Stafford Springs, Connecticut. It cost $1.75 to make a trip took nearly four hours until 1940, when the state approved Peter Pan to operate on Route 20, cutting an hour off travel time.
With the 1957 opening of the Massachusetts Turnpike, 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 came on 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 operating.
With the death of Peter C. Picknelly in 1964, the second generation took over. The founder’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, developed World’s Fair tour packages during the fair’s 1964 and 1965 presentation in New York City – an innovation that led to Peter Pan World Travel Service.
That was a cornerstone of the diversification of the business, which continues today. The corporate offices have been at Union Station since 2018, when Way Finders took over the former bus terminal location for headquarters of its housing agency.
With the passing of Peter L. Picknelly in 2004, Peter A. Picknelly III assumed the CEO position he holds today.
The late Peter L. Picknelly, left, then chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines, and his son, Peter A. Picknelly, stand outside one of their buses parked at the Springfield bus terminal on Dec. 5, 2002. (Mark M. Murray | The Republican file photo)
“All of us in the family remember my dad as such a hard working person who led by example – he taught us all a strong work ethic,” Peter III said.
“He was someone who worked seven days a week, including holidays, building our company. We vividly remember always surprising him on Father Days by bring bagels to his office, and enjoying breakfast together at the conference room table.”
The son has done his best to carry on the father’s tradition. As his father did, he has been advocating downtown riverfront development.
When family gatherings occur these days, the company is never far from their thoughts.
“I never unplug. I’m not comfortable being unplugged,” said Peter A., who is not talking retirement but welcomes the assistance.
That business conversation can mix frequently with off-duty time is a tribute to the family. Some family enterprises crumble when new generations choose other occupations, but others collapse when parents and children quarrel over the future direction and strategies.
Stories abound that famed automaker Henry Ford and his son, Edsel (yes, for whom the infamous model was named) disagreed bitterly about the direction of the company. That is not the case at Team Picknelly, family members say.
“We need their expertise. Younger people understand technology and electronics,” Melissa said.
The fourth generation has that experience. Lauryn Picknelly-DuBois has worked in customer relations, safety, marketing and ticketing.
Peter B. Picknelly IV has experience in operations, maintenance and customer service. Their parents say their skills are needed for a company that is growing again in the post-pandemic era.
Prior to COVID-19, Peter Pan Bus Lines employed about 1,000 persons. It’s now between 500 and 700 and climbing, with just over 200 buses on the road.
According to Peter IV, the goal is not to return to a “magic number.”
“Everybody thinks bigger is better, and certainly, COVID-19 meant downsizing. But our goal is to be more efficient,” he said.
“It’s about managed growth. We’re working a lot smarter,” said Lauryn, who will have multiple duties as controller.
“I make sure the financial are accurate, and handle annual budgets and year-end entries,” she said.
“I’ll work with the auditors as well. I was always interested in accounting.”
Peter A. Picknelly said his son’s task is more important and complex than ever.
“People depend on our (adherence to) safety, and everything is completed regulated. Peter is learning and following regulations from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the Massachusetts (Department of Transportation) and other agencies,” he said.
The new generation brings credentials that go beyond a familiar name. Lauryn graduated with high honors from Providence College, and Peter IV did likewise at Western New England University.
Their company has many claims of “firsts” within the industry. Peter Pan was the first bus company to install seat belts, and in 2008, became the nation’s first to offer “print at home” tickets sold online.
For Peter A. Picknelly, the onset of a new generation of 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,” Peter IV said as the third and fourth generations shared a laugh. “But I always knew I wanted to be at Peter Pan.”
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