This year’s LCT Leadership Summit provided attendees with plenty of take-away principles and points to talk about. In this first-ever conference follow-up section, LCT asked a sampling of attendees what ideas gained at the Summit they can best apply to their businesses. We also wanted to know about leaders they admire, and how they lead their operations.
Some of the speaker messages are reported in detail in this issue. Attendees offer insights below, in their own words, and in photos from the Summit:
Barry Gross, director of business relations, Reston Limousine, Sterling, Va. (Washington, D.C. metro region):
“I felt validation more than anything else. There are times when I wonder if my leadership style can be too fanatical for others; however, when listening to Scott Moore, I realized I have the right approach for me. I need to follow my instincts as a leader to be credible with my team. Like Moore, I like to get into the field with my team, so they know I understand their world. More importantly, it sends a clear message I am willing to do the things I teach, so there is no reason or excuse for them not to. Like Moore, I believe successful teams are built through shared experiences and common goals.
I also identified with Jeanne Bliss and her approach to customer service above all. We work extremely hard to anticipate customer needs, or more importantly, potential issues before they occur. With that philosophy, we’ve started several key quality-control processes to minimize our exposure. By troubleshooting our service, we are able to reduce errors and better control the service. All the preparation in the world, however, cannot eliminate the human or random factors that contribute to service issues, but I agree with Bliss on how a company responds to those issues distinguishes the best companies. My team has learned empathy, and the willingness to acknowledge issues and address them openly. We are then highly determined to show the client we truly DO care about their experience, and are prepared to make them as whole as possible, beginning with sincere regrets their experience was not what they had hoped it would be, or what we had hoped to deliver for them. The key to superior customer service is humility.”
Robert Alexander, CEO, RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, Rockville, Md. (Washington, D.C. metro region):
“Scott Moore helped me look at ways to lead and the importance of having convictions in leading. You have to get all your data points. You make better decisions with more data. You stick with it and go with it. Let your people have a voice. Let them know you are a fair leader. People want to feel they are a part of something that’s bigger than themselves, and where they can make a difference. For our operations, that comes down to letting anyone in the company, whether details guy, car washer, or trusted advisor, talk and really listen to them. Ponder what they say and give it real weight. If they make sound arguments and can support them, you should agree and do it.
My ultimate goal is to have as much revenue and profit as possible with the fewest vehicles. Being more efficient makes you profitable. If everyone understands that goal, then it makes any decision much easier. We will lose any battle to win the war, and to win the war is to make sure the client keeps coming back. Do whatever it takes. Everyone is empowered to do that. You train, prepare, and watch out for each other.”
Rick Versace, President & CEO, A1A Airport & Limousine Service, Boca Raton, Fla.:
“To me, the Summit is one of the most anticipated events of the year. The high level of the agenda and the think tank like atmosphere of the program made this Summit very memorable. I especially enjoyed Rear Admiral Scott Moore’s presentation on leadership and building “No Fail” teams. The Navy Seals’ ideals coupled with their extreme training and unwavering dedication make them undeniably the best at what they do. I believe if you empower your team to make decisions and solve problems, they know you trust them with that kind of responsibility and then they will feel more like they are an important part of the operation instead of just another piece of the machine.
I am definitely a hands-off leader. I will set the objective and measure my team’s effectiveness in getting there, but I never micromanage. I would never ask anyone to do anything I would not do myself, whether that be cleaning toilets, sweeping the garage, or washing a car. I try to be the first to offer praise and the first to point out mistakes in order to use them as a learning opportunity. I am brutally honest and expect my team to be the same.
The two leaders I admire the most are Jeff Bezos, the chairman of Amazon, and Pope Francis. Bezos is an extraordinary combination of visionary and master builder. He saw something no one else could see and turned it into one of the most admired companies in the world. Although he is highly demanding, thousands of people aspire to work for him. That’s how you know a great leader when you see one.
Pope Francis leads with humility. He refused to live in the palatial papal apartments and washed the feet of a female Muslim prisoner. He gets driven around Rome in a Ford Focus and is famous for asking the question, “Who am I to judge?” The greatest leaders among us are very often the most humble and endearing.”
Brett Barenholtz, CEO, Boston Car Service, Canton, Mass.:
“I really enjoyed Ben Parr’s session because he is one of the top tech journalists with a lot of insight into Silicon Valley. He was actually able to back up everything he was saying with real numbers. Technology needs to be a core part of your business, not just a small piece.
Regarding leadership, I want to lead by example. I want our company to be a cohesive unit that can depend on all departments working well together and build trust with clients based on having high levels of service.
I think what Elon Musk has done is revolutionary with Tesla and SpaceX. Even after he hit it very big with PayPal, his drive for success is inspirational.”
Nick Kokas, Vice President, Brentwood Limousine, Detroit, Mich.:
“The largest takeaway for me at the Summit came from Ben Parr. During his presentation, he discussed the habits of the evolving consumer and specifically the Millennial. As an industry that started off during the horse and carriage days, we sometimes forget we need to follow our customers. As our customers evolve, so do our companies. From the way we communicate with them to the way they acquire our services, we must evolve and adapt to their habits.
Regarding leading my company, first off, I am a fan of Silicon Valley. I try to take some cues from them. They have been able to achieve a level of success few have been able to reproduce anywhere in the world. While our industry focuses on service, service and more service, we don’t include the word “innovation” when it comes to being an integral part of the services we provide. I try to be as open as possible to the cultural changes happening all around us. Sometimes, leaders have to have their eyes and ears open and keep their mouths shut to get a clear perspective of what’s going on around them. I DON’T want to be surrounded by yes men who are afraid to talk and offer insight.
I would say Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, is a leader I admire. He was brought in during the financial crisis after leaving Boeing in order to run Ford. Ford was the ONLY American car company that didn’t beg for a bailout and yet they still turned the company around. When he was first appointed to the position, Wall Street doubted his ability to lead an auto manufacturing company. One of my favorite lines from him came when a reporter asked him if he was ready to tackle something as complex as a global car company. He responded, “A car has about 10,000 moving parts. An airplane has TWO million parts AND you have to keep it up in the air.” He proved Wall Street wrong. With good leadership principles, we can succeed no matter how complex our industry. Even with two million parts!”
Robert A. Xavier, CEO, Legend Limousines, Smithtown, N.Y.:
“I picked up some key points from Scott Moore, especially about establishing a corporate culture that makes people happy to come to work, trust one another, and work as a cohesive team. From the “How to Monetize the Millennial Business Travel Sector” session, a key component I learned is it’s important to create metrics for everything to understand every aspect of your business. I though Ben Parr was good, especially when he showed photographs of St. Peter’s Square during the 2005 inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI and then the 2013 inauguration of Pope Francis. There were only a handful of camera phones held up to take pictures in the 2005 photo, but in the 2013 photo, the whole square was lit up like a rock concert from the thousands taking pictures. That tells you how fast technology is impacting all of us.
When it comes to management, I try to let everybody make decisions. When someone makes a mistake, I try to correct the situation with kindness and education. What you don’t want is to have people make repetitive mistakes, but learn from their mistakes.”
Tom Holden, Director of Operations, Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Charlotte, N.C.:
“The biggest takeaway for me was the business travel session (“How to Monetize the Millennial Business Travel Sector”), specifically when panelist Lenore D’Anzieri advised operators that instead of continuing to complain to the travel procurement people about TNCs, focus on telling them the benefits of using our industry. Rather than focus on why travel executives shouldn’t use TNCs, let’s get back to focusing on all the reasons they should be using our services. She also suggested we come up with some certificate of compliance that differentiates us from the TNCs. That made the most sense to me.
I can relate to that because if I want to do business with the Department of Defense, I have to be approved and rated by a company called CSS (Consolidated Safety Services). I cannot do work for an agency if we’re not inspected, approved and have a good level rating. It’s the exact same thing D’Anzieri said. We have to have certificates to do business with the NCAA, the government and schools. So I can relate to the point she made about differentiating ourselves to corporate travel executives.
The way our company looks at the industry and our management, it’s about ‘disruption.’ Our founder, H.A. Thompson, recently attended a meeting of entrepreneurs and shared some of the key points with employees. Not just about the disruption in our industry, but about change in general. He said businesses large and small have to create their own disruption; do something different today than they did last year to stay competitive. What worked five years ago won’t work today. He cited an example from eight years ago when we bought our first motorcoach and the bus people laughed at us. Today, we have a fleet of motorcoaches. Disruption is all around us. Blockbuster had a monstrous retail strategy. Red Box and Netflix came along and killed them. Eastman Kodak went from 60,000 employees to 10,000 because they were slow to get on board with digital cameras. It’s all about changing before it’s too late. And most small companies wait too long. We have to think outside the box and look at how buyers are buying and change because disruption is all around us.
When I think about leaders I admire, I look at Mark Cuban, especially his videos. He may seem like an arrogant kind of guy, but he’s a leader, not a follower, and I’d like to see our industry leading change to get our leadership position back again.”
Kristina Bouweiri, President & CEO, Reston Limousine:
Reston CEO Kristina Bouweiri and Doug Kennedy.
“My leadership approach has evolved over the 26 years I’ve been in business. I started out as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ with minimal experience in the corporate world, and eventually learned the best way to foster the growth I envisioned was to hire exceptionally talented and hard-working people who are passionate about their jobs. While I have adapted my leadership style to fit particular situations or periods as needed, my overall philosophy has been to empower my staff by providing them with the autonomy, resources and guidance needed to excel in their positions. In turn, my core management team exercises the same approach with their subordinates, and I feel this has been a huge factor in our company’s success.
I have always been inspired by Sheila Johnson, who co-founded BET network with her former husband and sold it for $2.3 billion. She could have easily retired on that, but instead continued to work as a female entrepreneur and role model. Today, she is founder and CEO of a national resort line, Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and is the first African-American woman to own or be a partner in three professional sports teams: the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Her philanthropy is also inspiring, from her $5 million gift to Harvard Kennedy School, which develops leaders who support underserved communities, to her work as an international ambassador for CARE, which provides disaster relief and programs to fight global poverty.”