At age 75, H.A. Thompson prefers to cling and adapt to the new ways.
He just wrote his first book and his company is about to buy its fourth motorcoach. Sadly enough, he’s also adjusting to the recent loss of his beloved wife of 49 years, Lucille.
H.A. Thompson says his life proves that change is the only constant.
A life of change
The life of Thompson — husband, grandfather, author, speaker, entrepreneur, operator, chauffeur, radio host, to name a few, both then and now — reflects the title of his book, “If You Want Something You Don’t Have. . . You’ve Got To Do Something Better.” The book is “an opportunity to look in the mirror and take a look at yourself, and decide what do I want to change?” said Thompson, who started Rose Chauffeured Transportation of Charlotte, N.C., with one limousine in 1985. Rose won a 2008 LCT Operator of the Year Award in the 31-50 vehicles category. “I’ve had to change my life three or four times. You have to get off one horse and ride another one often,” says Thompson, a radio talk show host on Charlotte’s 50,000-watt WBT-AM until 1991.
His self-published paperback packs 32 chapters into 80 pages; its brevity, simplicity, and ease of language make it accessible and useful to all. Thompson intertwines business and customer service advice with his experiences and lessons from other entrepreneurs and risk-takers, such as Toots Shor’s legenday Manhattan saloon, The Stork Club, and New York’s famous Sardi’s restaurant. “What I’ve always admired is people who did things well,” Thompson says. “You’ve got to search out something that you have a passion for. Go after it. Do something in your heart.”
Customer service pointers
Some of the book’s most memorable anecdotes involve a limousine breakdown just before a senior prom pick-up of 10 students; and a client from South America who arrived without luggage and needed a suit for an important business meeting. In both cases, the chauffeurs and Thompson improvised.
Instead of just giving up and calling an affiliate to take the run, Thompson drove out to meet the chauffeur with the stranded limo. They diagnosed the electrical problem and found a nearby truck stop sevice center that sold them a 50-amp fuse for $5. Lesson: Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.
For the client stuck with rumpled clothes, the chauffeur drove him to the nearest Belk department store and waited for him as he was fitted for a new suit. The client got to his meeting on time. Lesson: Satisfied customers are not good enough. Make your customers loyal. Such anecdotes help underscore Thompson’s theme of being flexible and adapting cheerfully to whatever life and work throws at you. “You must reinvent yourself contantly,” Thompson says. “Be willing to change. Be willing to experiment and try new things. Especially if you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing.”
Keep changing for the better
Something that worked well for the last five years is not necessarily going to succeed next year, he says. “You have to take a good risk. You can’t stay in the status quo and get more money and get more business.”
That rule still applies to Thompson. In the past year, Rose Chauffeured Transportation has seen a drop-off in business, as have most operators nationwide. The company, which operates each of its vehicles as an individual profit center, has pared back from 36 to 30 vehicles. Ten years ago, Rose had seven stretch limos; now it has one. So Thompson has embraced the next opportunity. “The business is going through tremendous stresses, so last May we bought a 45-passenger Blue Bird. I never thought I’d be in the big bus business.”
As revenue for stretch limousines and sedans declined, demand for the 45-passenger bus picked up. “It was going out almost every day,” Thompson says. “We bought a second one in September, we bought a third one in January. They are rolling. If you would’ve said to me a year ago I’m getting into the bus business, I would have said, ‘No way.’ We had to be willing to change.”
Now Rose is about to buy its fourth bus, a Van Hool, like the second and third buses. The four-bus fleet is equipped with Internet access at about $2,000 per bus. Thompson also makes sure the buses are driven by “polished” chauffeurs oriented toward premium customer service.
Venturing into motorcoach service is just one more facet of a changing career that keeps Thompson vigorous. “I’ve had so many careers. I’m enjoying the best career of my life at age 75. I can go to work every day.”
Thompson’s book had a first printing run of 500, and he plans a slight revision for the second run.
“It’s the best business card you can possibly have,” Thompson says. “Nothing is better than this. I don’t expect to be on the NYT bestseller list or in many stores. I can hand it to someone on a sales call and give to clients.”
If You Want Something You Don’t Have. . . You’ve Got To Do Something You’ve Never Done
Contact: Rose Chauffeured
Transportation, (800) 377-6912
Web site: www.rose-limo.com