Female Chauffeurs Succeeding in ‘Good Old Boy’ Vocation
It was a routine trip performed by almost every limousine company in the world on a daily basis. Roberta Centanni of Park Lane Limousines in Westville, NJ, was to pick up a regular corporate client and take him to a series of meetings in New York City. The veteran chauffeur had carefully checked and prepared her limousine. The locations of each of the meeting sites were mapped out and she arrived 10 minutes early at the pickup spot.
Company owners Bill Buff received a phone call from the angry client at the outset of the run. “He wanted to know why 1 sent a female chauffeur on the trip,” says Buff. “This client was a macho guy who owned a few health clubs and he felt like I dumped this woman on him. I told him to relax and at the end of the day to let me know how our chauffeur handled the trip. The next day he called to apologize and told me that Roberta was the best driver he had in the 10 years he had been renting limousines. He sounded amazed, but I told him that I sent him my best chauffeur and she always did a great job. Male chauffeurs who start working for us are also leery, but they immediately see she is an outstanding chauffeur.”
Centanni believes it is important to let the male clients know she is quite capable of handling the job physically. “I wave them off when they want to carry their own luggage,” she says. “I am very strong and capable of handling each aspect of my job. The clients are paying for a service and they should receive no less with a female chauffeur.”
Centanni became a chauffeur after 17 years in the real estate business. Her strong “people” skills were an asset in her new career. “Life experience is probably the most important thing I bring to my work,” says Centanni. “I have traveled all over the world so I can talk with my clients intelligently about a variety of topics. I like meeting new people and I think I know when to talk and when to be quiet. I do a lot of wedding charters. I make sure everyone’s clothes look perfect and make every effort to help the bridal party and the photographer.”
On a couple of occasions Centanni has repaired the bride’s dress right before she walked down the aisle. “I feel like I am naturally more detail oriented and this is appreciated by my clients,” she says.
Buff says this appreciation translates into money. “Roberta earns the largest gratuities of any chauffeur who has ever worked for my company,” he says. “It’s not even close.”
Female Chauffeurs Have to Be More Meticulous
Patrice Coley of San Diego is a tall, African-American chauffeur who has had to battle multiple prejudices. She first began driving six years ago for Presidential Limousines in San Diego, CA, as one of four female chauffeurs (out of 100) and the only African-American.
“I got it from all sides when I first started driving,” says Coley. “My fellow drivers were a little leery of me and many times I could tell that a client was a little surprised and may be a little uncomfortable when I arrived to pick him up.”
Coley, who is now a partner in her own company, believes that a female chauffeur has to be much more thorough than a male chauffeur.
“First, I feel that the margin of error for a female chauffeur is smaller than for a male chauffeur,” she says. “Some clients will look closer at me and my driving I must be dressed appropriately which means a dark chauffeur’s uniform. I wear very little makeup and jewelry and I keep the conversation to a minimum. I think it is important to establish eye contact with the passenger. Look at them confidently and let them know that you are a strong, competent person.”
Some company owners, as well as clients, say a female chauffeur can take the attention off the bride or the woman out on a special occasion, Coley says it’s all a matter of being professional.
“When I’m doing a wedding or a night out, it’s important that my female clients have a comfort zone,” says Coley. “I want them to know that this is their special night and that I will support them. I have seen female chauffeurs in short skirts and a lot of makeup and that is inappropriate and unprofessional. The focus is always on the client. This may be her only night out in a limousine and I want to make it special for her.”
Coley is obsessive about maintaining a clean vehicle and thoroughly knows each location on the trip. “I want the client to see how well I handle the vehicle,” she says, “I want to earn their respect and, if necessary, change any pre-conceived notions about female chauffeurs. It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it when a client tells me they had a great experience.”
On occasion Coley has had to deal with male clients who have not acted appropriately. “The young guys at the bachelor parties think it’s okay to flirt with the chauffeur,” she says. “I want everyone in my car to have a great evening, but I would never allow myself to be treated disrespectfully. That is why I really work hard to keep it professional and manage my passengers. I do this by telling these clients that I am in charge of the vehicle and that I will be treated with respect at all times.”
According to Coley, being a female is a major advantage. “The parents of the prom kids are really comfortable with me,” she says. “They feel like they are turning their children over to another mother.”
People Skills a True Asset
Cindy Mokry was living in Chicago and working as a home health care aide. The pay was inadequate and she was developing back problems.
“I am a very spiritual person and I prayed very hard for direction,” she says. “Believe it or not, a limousine came flying past me and I just realized that this was a profession where I could be successful. I was hired by American Limousine in Burr Ridge, IL. They started me out in this huge white ‘people mover.’ I came home in tears every night. But I finally got used to it and discovered that I loved to drive and I loved the clients. It has been nine years and I’m still here. I love my job and American Limousine.”
John Caparelli, director of operations for American Limousine, is Mokry’s biggest fan. “She is one of the most genuine, caring people I know,” says Caparelli. “Cindy is not only great with the clients, she is great with everyone. We frequently do trips for the Maker-A-Wish Foundation. Cindy covers her limousine with candy and balloons and makes the kids feel more important than any VIP we have ever transported. This business can be very tough, but Cindy brings a special attitude to her clients and the people who work here.”
American Limousine, the nation’s fifth largest livery company, has more than 300 chauffeurs. Over 50 are female. Caparelli believes that employing female chauffeurs has many advantages.
“They are much more careful about everything,” says Caparelli. “The safety and cleanliness of the vehicles and the details of the trip are items women know are very important. However, I think the biggest thing is that they are more service oriented. Women chauffeurs seem to know that operating the vehicle is not entire job.”
Mokry was recognized by American Limousine with the “Life Chauffeur” Award in 1996. This honor is given by American Limousine to a chauffeur with a minimum of five years experience and an impeccable safety and service record. “Life Chauffeur is an award given by a driver’s peers and it shows real respect and admiration,” says Caparelli.
Morky’s advice to her fellow female chauffeurs is simple: “Don’t try to be a part of any ‘old boys’ network. It is not productive. Focus your energy and attention on your clients and you will be rewarded.”
Proper Dress for Female Chauffeurs
Most industry veterans will agree that a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and polished dress shoes is the standard by which all professional male chauffeurs are measured. However, there is often disagreement and downright confusion as to appropriate female chauffeur attire.
The Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation video training program recommends the following uniform and grooming tips for female chauffeurs:
- Black flat or low-heeled dress shoes.
- Dark or natural color hosiery.
- Jewelry limited to watch, wedding band, or class ring.
- Nails manicured with a dear or neutral polish.