One-Man “Crusade” For Chauffeur Professionalism: Interview with Charles McGarey

Posted on November 1, 1988 by LCT Interview


Charles McGarey entered the limousine business in 1976 as a chauffeur for Smith Limousine in New York. McGarey discovered that he had a flair for chauffeuring, and also found that there are substantial rewards for capable chauffeurs who work hard and provide good service. 

Then as now, quality chauffeurs were in high demand in New York City, and McGarey soon had job offers from other livery services as well as from private individuals such as Liza Minnelli. When an opportunity presented itself, he moved to Bermuda Limousine as a chauffeur and eventually became a dispatcher. Later, Charlie accepted a management position at Carey Limousine, but found that he missed chauffeuring. “I loved chauffeuring,” he says. “It was the most fun I’ve had in this industry.”

Charles McGarey manages a staff of approximately 200 chauffeurs at one of New Yor City's largest livery services.
Charles McGarey manages a staff of approximately 200 chauffeurs at one of New Yor City's largest livery services.

In 1982, Charlie found an appropriate niche for his talents at Manhattan Limousine when owners Alfred and Michael Hemlock hired him as a consultant, “My original contract was to provide managerial services three days a week, and the rest of my time would be devoted to selling, I’ve been here ever since. It was the best thing I ever did,”

Charlie’s role with Manhattan Limousine evolved into full-time responsibility for hiring, training, find supervising a staff of 200 chauffeurs. Along the way, Charlie has dove loped a distinct philosophy concerning chauffeur professionalism. To maintain a high level of performance at Manhattan Limousine, he has created a screening process that he uses to select now chauffeurs, he has written a detailed chauffeur manual, and has a highly refined quality control program.

Now that Charlie has implemented his chauffeuring philosophy at Manhattan Limousine, he has begun a “crusade” to improve the level and image of chauffeurs throughout the industry. He recently shared his outlook with Limousine & Chauffeur.

L&C: You say you started in the limousine business in ‘76?

McGarey: I started in the limousine business in 1976 as a chauffeur. I worked for Pete Smith at Smith Limousine in New York, Although I was putting in 60 or 70 hours a week, I loved what I was doing, I tried dispatching and managing for a while, but it was an education in frustration, I came to Manhattan Limousine in 1982 and it was the best thing I ever did.

L&C: How much has the company grown since you started?

McGarey: We’ve doubled in size as far as vehicles. We have approximately 185 now.

We have approximately 155 franchisees and I have a house fleet of about 30 vehicles. When I can’t do it with those two combinations, I go to my 57 farm-out companies in New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island, and Manhattan. That gives us the opportunity to be selective about any new franchisees. We farm out a lot of work. I farmed out $37,800 in business during one week in June.

I use the house fleet like an accordion. When we find that we’re jammed, I expand the house fleet. During that period, we will go out and get more franchisees. We’ll wait until we’re suffering before we add rather than add and hope we do the business.

We have some exceptionally fine chauffeurs in the house fleet. What we do is graduate them up to a franchise. And, in some cases, we help them purchase a franchise.

L&C: How is the company different now than it was when you came here six years ago?

McGarey: We added an assistant dispatcher. We also changed our communication system. We added a second radio channel that we use for billing information. And we added space in the reservation area. We had pretty much outgrown our reservation and dispatching areas. We decided to add to our farm-out program in order to handle all of the calls. All of these things have been growing over the; past six years. We’ve also done some great work with computers.

L&C: So your job was really to enable the operation to handle the calls that were coming in?

McGarey: It wasn’t just my job. It also involved Michael Hemlock and a lot of other people. It took a lot of input from the management team.

In 1983, one of the first major situations we had was with Air One out of Newark Airport. They included ground transportation in the price of their tickets and we had 60 to 80 calls a day. That’s when we started to expand our sedan fleet.

At about that time, I decided we needed a training program. So, besides my other managerial duties, I took that on and it became the meat of what I truly do. I deal with all the chauffeur personnel here at Manhattan Limousine. I interview each one who comes in and, if I think they have something, we proceed a little further.

I say to them, “This is a crazy business. Why would you want to be in a business like this?” Then they either give me answers I want to hear or they don’t. We have plenty of applicants and we haven’t had to advertise once since I’ve been here. Word travels around in this city.

L&C: Did you have a turnover problem with chauffeurs who were not carefully trained or supervised?

McGarey: They weren’t leaving, but they weren’t trained properly. With a franchise man who’s putting up good money, what you want is to give him every chance to make a success of his life. This is the most rewarding part of what I do. I’ll take a man out of a delicatessen, or a tractor trailer driver...We have accountants, PhDs, retired policemen, CPA’s, and people from all walks of life. Maybe they just get bored sitting at a desk and want to do something else. Often, they don’t know First Avenue from Second Avenue, or Kennedy Airport, from Newark!

Usually they pick things up fast. Our training goes anywhere from two days to two weeks. I try to train one at a time. You can usually train two sedan men at the same time. I once had two brothers who had been in the garment business and sold out at the ages of 50 and 51. They’ve been with us for five years and have be­ come consummate chauffeurs.

There’s a lot of psychology in this. I make a man drive and we cover the tri-state area. If a man is driving...he’ll remember the routes.

When I’m hiring a house chauffeur, I look for a man with at least two years’ experience, hopefully more. I like to see that he has continuity. Maybe he’s been with the same outfit for two years. Once I have an applicant, I do an abstract on his license. Then I give him a complete six-page test of New York geography and locations. If he can get 70 percent at think he’s at the professional level of knowledge.

Part of the training process is to send a man to Dornan Uniforms where he can get two or three good black suits and charge it to us. We’ll take it out of his pay over maybe four pay periods. They certainly earn the money.

L&C: How many hours a week do they average?

McGarey: 50, 60, or 70. We allow them to work an extra day if they want. We give them two days off. We also pick up major medical insurance. It’s an unlimited policy, plus life insurance.

L&C: Is there a probationary period?

McGarey: Not really. We have no seniority system but, if we have a certain client or a difficult job, we’ll send a man who knows it. That’s expediency.

Franchise men get the work first. Then the house fleet and then the farm-outs. Many of our house chauffeurs will get requests and, when we hear that, we will reward them. We might give them a six-hour van job which is the most expensive job we have. We don’t want to take work away from our franchisees, but we want to reward good house chauffeurs.

Robert Lingo is our chauffeur performance control manager. He inspects the vehicles and chauffeurs to make sure they’re 100 percent. It’s a key job. He’s one of the people who keeps our physical image at a professional level.

L&C: What do you require as far as service for your customers?

McGarey: That’s a broad question. We require a professional atmosphere. A chauffeur should be on time and have the car set up. The other main things are knowledge ability, professional etiquette, how he looks, how his breath is, and general decorum.

Please underscore that I am just a part of the management team that also includes Alfred and Michael Hemlock and others. It’s really a team effort.

We teach a lot of little things that customers appreciate. One of my favorites is to make sure chauffeurs get clients in a car before loading their luggage. A lot of chauffeurs leave clients standing on the sidewalk while they load luggage. We tell chauffeurs that the first thing they should do is open the back door. Don’t even touch the luggage until people get in the car. Then, count the pieces of luggage, open the door, and say “Mr. Jones, you have five pieces of luggage in the trunk and one in the front seat. Is that the correct amount?” The client will think, “Now here’s a guy who cares about me.”

The chauffeur is there to service a client just like a waiter in a restaurant. Your performance will affect the green that comes out of his pocket. You know where the word tips came from? “To insure proper service.” In Europe for years, prices were fixed. Well, people wanted extra service so they’d hand the maître d’ extra money and say, “This is to insure proper service.” A tip is not to be expected. It has to be earned.

L&C: What are some of the other little touches that bring tips?

McGarey: I have a whole bunch of them. Choosing polite words, using intelligent language, thinking about what you’re going to say before you say it. Speak softly. Don’t use slang expressions like “no problem,” “okay,” “yeah,” etc. All that stuff doesn’t belong.

Impress them with your driving skills. The most important thing I teach is, before you start a trip, examine your information and plan your route. And plan an alternate route. If there’s any doubt in your mind where something is, find out. Get the information beforehand. That’s why they all have maps and books with routes and everything else. And then, leave immediately and go to the area of pickup even if you’re going to be an hour early. Then eat or make your phone calls or whatever you have to do. You never know what kind of traffic you may have. We pride ourselves on being 15 minutes early. That’s why 80 percent of our business is referral.

L&C: Is driver safety a part of your training?

McGarey: It is to a great degree. When I take a chauffeur out one on one, I can see just exactly during the course of the day whether he knows how to handle the car properly. The first thing I do is get an abstract of his license. The things that annoy me most on that are a DWI, speeding, or a failure to answer a summons. This to me means the man is ignoring authority.

I like to see politeness in the people I train. Like waiting for pedestrians to cross an intersection rattier than forcing your way through like a cab driver. And I know clients like to see that.

You quickly spot the things that a chauffeur does improperly and I’ll be the first one to say, “Look, this is the limousine business. People want a comfortable, professional ride Stay in the middle. Don’t weave through traffic.” The only time you will ever do anything different is when the client asks you to make some time. Then you can move around and so forth. Clients should be able to sit with a glass of water on their lap without spilling it. Not including potholes, of course.

L&C: Does it take away a chauffeur’s incentive to include gratuities on in voices?

McGarey: Not at all. In a franchise stretch, over and above the 15 percent we add on, a franchisee will average between $12,000 and $20,000 per year in cash tips. Stretches are a matter of finesse. These drivers can really do the job. They bow, scrape, and do everything. They know where they’re going. We make reservations every day for lunch at 21, or the Tavern on the Green, We get plane tickets for them. We do everything.

I teach chauffeurs that the most important man at a hotel is the doorman. He is there to open doors, and put people in cars. So the chauffeur has to respect that area and not block it. Make friends with the doorman. He can really help you.

I also show them what to do at theaters and restaurants. When you drop somebody at a restaurant, you shouldn’t leave that spot unless you have to because of parking. At a restaurant, when he goes in, wait 15 minutes because, although a client has a reservation, he might have to wait 45 minutes, or it’s too noisy, or he sees his boss sitting with somebody else’s wife.

I also teach short cuts in and out of airports. People notice that type of thing. Wearing a hat is also important. You never see a magazine ad with a chauffeur who is not wearing a hat. Skycaps wear hats. Airplane crews wear hats. In the Marine Corps, I had to wear a hat. As a chauffeur, you’re out of uniform without one.

L&C: What are some of your frustrations?

McGarey: The frustration comes from people that don’t listen to me. You go through the effort to show them and teach them, and then they do it wrong. I only have three rules. The first rule concerns punctuality and absenteeism, the second is no drinking and drugs, and the third is no hustling in the street. They’re very simple rules.

My rewards come from seeing people who come out of nowhere that have a good attitude and they work hard and make a lot of money.

I’ve had people who didn’t have two nickels to rub together and, all of a sudden, they own a $100,000 house. I have other fellows who buy franchises and only want to make $600 a week. Either way, the opportunity is there. One of our franchisees just put himself through dental school and is now a dentist. Another man is in his last year of medical school to be a heart specialist. He does his studying in the car and goes to school at night.

L&C: You say you’re on a crusade for chauffeur training?

McCarey: Yes. (I think there’s a definite problem across the industry. People spend millions of dollars on vehicles to get glamorous clients into their cars, and they do nothing to train the chauffeur. I’d like to eliminate the word driver among limousine companies. They’re chauffeurs, and the chauffeur is the image of your company as he is the only person the client ever train him to be a true professional.



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