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Vince Wolfington Reflects on the Industry

Posted on July 1, 2004 by Alisha Gomez

Google the name Vincent A. Wolfington. About 842 results will appear. Not all of those refer to the Vince Wolfington who is the backbone of Carey International, the largest chauffeur transportation company, with operations in 480 cities and 75 countries.

But a good portion do. After all, Wolfington is chairman at both Carey and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

He played basketball at Georgetown University in the 1960s with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. A residence hall at Georgetown University bears his name. And “Forbes” magazine featured him in a 1998 article, comparing his franchising ideas to McDonald’s.

A buy-out investor, Wolfington was approached by Barron Hilton of Hilton Hotels to put together a rental car company. Although that plan never happened, Wolfington approached limousine owner Don Dailey in San Francisco. He suggested that Daily buy out options in other limousines companies.

“At the same time that we were doing that, the Carey family in New York had decided to expand outside of New York City,” Wolfington says. “The Carey family was one of the founders of Hertz [rental car company], so they wanted to do the same thing Hertz had done – build a national company with chauffeur transportation. But when they went outside of New York City to buy companies, they found these operators had already agreed to sell to Don Dailey’s company. And so the Carey family came to me, and we agreed to merge that company into Carey back in 1971.”

Today that investment dominates about 12 percent to 13 percent of the chauffeured transportation market, which has an industry revenue of $3.5 billion.

“When I did that, the Carey system consisted of six cities and I went into all those cities, but I didn’t visit the Carey companies. I visited all their competitors.”

From there, the “Carey System” was born.

“The way to build this business is not to compete in price in each market, but by selling service and how you differentiate yourself,” Wolfington says. When I went to Boston, I sold New York, Chicago, San Francisco; I didn’t sell Boston. If they were happy with whom they were using in Boston, then use us when you leave town. That was the germ of the idea to put together the ‘Carey System’ we talk about, a service network where one city feeds the other – by saying use whoever you prefer in your local market, but when you leave town, use Carey. When these clients experience bad service in their local market, then we’d go after their business.”

Wolfington instituted the Carey Quality Assurance Program, which includes secret riders who survey all facets of Carey’s operations; a “listen-in” program ensuring customer service reps are at the top of their game; a next-day quality assurance survey; computerized surveys to assess performance; spot inspections, monthly general manager recaps; and all new employees must attend an intense training course.

Carey built a unique license and franchising system. “We did that between 1973 and 1979. Between 1980 and 1983, we expanded outside the United States into Europe. Between 1983 and 1987, we built our central reservations systems and continued to expand out of Europe. And 1990, we were in all the major cities around the world.”

The former CEO’s dream – he was Carey’s CEO from 1972 until this spring – was to build a worldwide service organization that would be a professional, top-quality service provider.

In 1993 and 1994, Wolfington started buying up Carey franchises in key markets in the U.S. and Europe. The company went public in June 1996, and in fall 2000, it went private again.

As for the industry itself, Wolfington has seen quite a bit.

“When we first got into it, the industry had a few old-lime established companies in each of the major markets. What’s happened over the past 30 years is that the old guard has moved on and more young people have gotten into the business. Also, the business has grown: there are more operators and it’s become more professional.”

Wolfington also says the industry works more closely as an industry than it ever did before. “After 9/11, insurance went through the ceiling because those companies had tremendous losses to recover.” There are no real preparations for such events, “What operators have to do is operate lean, number one, and have the ability to retrench.”

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