How do young limousine operators handle owning their own company and managing employees who are sometimes 20 to 30 years older than they are? Here are three young operators —one still in his teens—sharing how they got to be the boss at such early ages, how they build solid relationships with their employees, and how they maintain a successful company.
Craig Smith, owner of Beaches Limousine and Transportation in Jacksonville, FL.
Craig Smith has owned Beaches Limousine and Transportation since August of 1997, when he bought the company from a friend. He started a beeper business in 1989 from scratch, building it into the second largest paging service in Jacksonville. At first, he was not interested in running a limousine service, but his wife convinced him it would be a good business move. Now he runs a company with 19 vehicles and 27 employees, and has taken Beaches Limousine from $100,000 a year to $1 million a year in two and a half years. Smith says that although he is only 31, his young age gives him certain strengths for running a successful business. “I think tolerance is the one word that sums it up best,” he says.
“Tolerance to change, tolerance for technology, tolerance of the longevity of the day. Tolerance to change and handle different situations is certainly a strength of young people. I have a driver who just turned 65. He happens to be a driver that works harder than anybody else, but he doesn’t like change. I think the older you get, the less you are willing to change.”
Although all of Smith’s employees are older than he is—the average age is 45 to 50 years old—he says that he has never had a problem managing them. He attributes his good relationship with his employees to the overall way he runs his company. “Our employees are the single most important thing in the business,” he says. “They are more important than the customer, more important than the vehicle and more important than the revenue. My logic has always been that if I have the absolute best employees out there and the absolute best package to present to the public, the rest takes care of itself.” In the two and a half years that Smith has been in business, he has never had a confrontation with an employee.
“I treat them all as if they were my partners,” he says. “When the business profits, they profit. As long as you make them feel as if they’re a part of it, you’ll never have any problems. “But I also treat them with respect and as my elders,” he adds. “I may sign their paycheck, but this is the South. You have to respect people older than you.” Smith admits that there are disadvantages in being the boss at such a young age, however. “Sometimes I forget that because I can work for 16 or 18 hours a day, a 50-year-old man with a wife and kids at home doesn’t want to work 16 or 18 hours,” he says. “I think maybe older people are better at having their priorities in life in order than I am as a 31-year-old who’s still a little greedy and likes to make money.”
Jason Kerr, owner of Ambience International Limousine Network in Garden City Park, NY.
Jason Kerr started out in the limousine business by working for Ambience International Limousine Network while going through college. After he graduated, he bought the company, which now has eight vehicles and 20 employees. Kerr’s business skills have come from his college courses in management and marketing, various management training seminars, and his years of experience working with the company. To maintain a good relationship with his employees, Kerr feels that it is important to listen to what they have to say, regardless of their age. “I don’t judge people on how much older they are or how much knowledge they bring with them,” he says. “I treat them all on the same level. I don’t use seniority as a way of rewarding people. I find rewarding people, not on experience but on what they do and how they treat the company and the clients, is the best way to go.”
Kerr says being 29 years old gives him certain advantages in the business world, and allows him to understand today’s young job market better and see the potential in his employees. “Being younger, I can understand people wanting to grow with a company,” he explains. “I see job security as a problem. With the young job market there are so many people bouncing from job to job, wanting to better themselves. It’s important to look for people who want to stay with you and want to do a good job. You also must take care of them and reward them well.”
Even though Kerr has established himself as a successful limousine owner, he has encountered many problems being younger and looking younger than most of his fellow operators, clients and employees. “Initially, people are surprised by how young I am. But once they get to know who I am, they have respect for me and what I’m trying to do,” he says. “When it comes to employees, I think their first response is often: ‘You’re too young. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can’t manage me.’ But once they work with me for a couple days, they realize that I do know what I’m talking about, I run a good company, and I treat them fairly. I think once that’s been established, they respect my position.”
Kerr says that when faced with a confrontation with an employee, it is important, as a young manager, to put his employees on the same level and not talk down to them. “The idea is to maintain the conversation and keep a professional level, and try to leave on a positive note,” he says. “I find that it’s really up to me to maintain composure with them at all times and make sure that the respect and professionalism are always there.”
Randy Galbreath, owner of Le Grand Elite Limousine in North East, PA
Randy Galbreath, 18, has actually had years of experience as a business owner. He started his first business, a DJ service, when he was in the eighth grade. It was also in the eighth grade when he rented his first limousine, fell in love, and decided that by the time he graduated from high school he would own his own limousine. Today, he is out of high school, a full-time student at Penn State University majoring in business management, still owner of his DJ service, and owner of Le Grand Elite Limousine with two vehicles and two employees. “When I was 16, I approached my dad and said I’d like to start a limousine business,” Galbreath recalls.
“He said it was risky, so for a year I did research on the Internet and found out everything I needed to know as far as licenses, insurance, and different coachbuilders. After a year I showed him all of this information and he told me if I thought I could do it, then go ahead.” Galbreath attributes much of his success to his father’s help in starting the business.
“Luckily, I have a father who was willing to loan me money, and not many fathers would do that,” he says. “When I bought my first limousine I was only 17 so it had to be in his name, so my dad was a big part in it.” Although Galbreath is still a teenager and has had no formal management training except for his current college courses, he feels he is definitely capable of running a successful business (or two). “I’m living and learning right now,” he says. “My employees are both great, and they don’t give me any problems since I’m younger. They both respect me and that’s great because I hate it when people treat me like I’m a kid.”
He also adds that being ambitious and getting such an early start in the business gives him an advantage. “I feel really good that I’m young and getting a good start in business. I’m at a great advantage right now, being in college, because I don’t need to make a living off of this. Everyone knows once you start a business, you don’t make much money at first. So by the time I’m out of college, I’ll be four years into this and it should be running great.”
However, Galbreath does feel the stress and added responsibility of being an 18-year-old full-time student who is also the owner of two businesses. “At one point, I was going to school part-time, working 45 hours a week selling cars, running a limousine service and running a DJ service,” he says. “It was to the point where I was ready to rip hairs out. Now I’m concentrating on trying to get this limousine business going and concentrating on school, but it’s still hard.” Although Galbreath has his hands full with two companies and college, he says owning his own business is extremely rewarding. “Being 18 and knowing I can accomplish something like this is the best feeling in the world,” he says. “I haven’t accomplished enough yet in the limousine business, that I know, but I figure I can. I’ve done it so far.”