Page 1 of 2
Chicago operator Mary Paul combines the best of her transportation and military experiences to develop a corporate culture focused on motivated employees, organized operations, and strong customer service.
CHICAGO — A quick look at Mary Paul’s list of accomplishments in the first quarter of 2012 alone shows why a life of lessons in leadership and organization go a long way in getting a lot done.
For the co-owner and CEO of Crown Cars & Limousines, a 55-vehicle-plus operation based near Chicago, her dual career in transportation and military reserves has provided the resources for success, which are coming to a head on many fronts:
- Crown Cars & Limousines, which she co-founded with her husband, Matt Paul, reached its 20th anniversary on April 1, 2012.
- Paul retired March 3 as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves after 21 years of service. A special retirement ceremony will be held June 3.
- She was elected in December 2011 to a three-year term as a board director of the National Limousine Association, representing the Central Region on the 18-member board. Her term officially started on Feb. 13.
- Paul received a 2012 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women magazine at a gala event March 13 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She was chosen as a winner in the $1 million to $5 million business revenue category, and is being featured in the April issue of the magazine. The magazine chose a total of 70 women for its awards this year out of hundreds of applicants.
- Crown Cars & Limousines closed a deal Jan. 31 to buy Keen Limousine, a $1 million chauffeured transportation operation based in nearby St. Charles, Ill.
- Crown was certified in January as the first limousine company in the state of Illinois as green by the Illinois Green Business Association.
- And in February, Crown finished its first year in a newer, larger building it bought near O’Hare International Airport that now houses all of its operations and vehicles.
No Army brat
Well, where to begin? It undoubtedly would have to involve the lessons in leadership for Paul that began for her as a U.S. Army private in 1985 in East Texas, and continued through her service as an Army nurse, accountant, and trainer. “When I enlisted, I didn’t have any money and was flat broke, living with my father. I joined the military for the same reason many do: looking for a way out.” Paul first trained as an Army medical nurse, for which she still holds a certification.
“In a lot of ways, my military service has been complementary” to a limousine business, Paul says. “I took the structure of the military and put it into Crown. We are all a team and work as a team.” One vital lesson of leadership is to know how and when to delegate, she adds. “I could have never done it without delegating my duties out.” She emphasizes an important distinction in military and civilian life: The difference between responsibility and authority. “You cannot delegate responsibility, not in a business or combat situation. I am the owner and always responsible. But I can delegate authority out.”
Chicago taxi training
After serving a few years as a private, Paul left the Reserves and moved back to her home state of Illinois where she began working in the Chicago taxicab industry. By 1989, she had re-enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and had met her husband, Matt, also working as a taxicab operator in the city. For the next two decades-plus, each side of her career would help inform the other.
“Matt and I had taxicab medallions, and ran nine flash cabs under the Flash Cab Company at Lawrence and Clark avenues in Chicago,” Paul recalls. “In the late 1980s, the quality of drivers went down. It got more difficult to find honest, decent drivers. Cars were stolen, people were not paying, and cabs were dirty.”
When one of the cab drivers quit and went to work for an executive car service, the Pauls discovered the benefits and opportunities of offering higher-end car service. They bought into Smart Cars, a successful Chicago-based chauffeured car service run today by veteran operator Stuart Rothstein. They worked with Smart Cars for a few years, learning the details of chauffeured transportation before teaming up with a business partner to launch Crown Cars & Limousines in 1992 with three Lincoln Town Car sedans and a Buick Roadmaster.
“At first, it was more of a black car service,” Paul says. “There was nothing in between a cab or a limo. It was nothing fancy, but we had clean cars and drivers. [The business] evolved by going to the hotels, which didn’t want a black car service but more of an executive service. So we evolved into executive cars and started buying new Town Cars.”
Crown then followed a path common to successful limousine companies: Hotel contracts led to corporate ones, which led to more diverse chauffeured luxury vehicles. Two decades later, Crown runs one of the largest luxury limousine fleets in Chicago. The company specializes in the client niches of hotels, such as Intercontinental, law firms, and consulting firms headquartered in Chicago.