In Chicago, Ernie Banks is known as “Mr. Club,” Mike Ditka as “Iron Mike,” and Michael Jordan as “King of the Bulls.”
In the limousine industry, George Jacobs and American Limousine are the most recognizable brand name in the “Windy City.” With almost 300 vehicles, American Limousine is the third largest company in the U.S., according to LCT’s 1997 “Top 50” listing, and the number one limousine company.
In 1993, Jacobs was named one of the 10 most significant people of the decade by LCT Magazine. In 1996, he was LCT Operator of the Year (large category). He was also named Entrepreneur of the Year in Illinois by Ernst and Young, Merrill Lynch, and Inc. Magazine. In 1993, he was inducted into the entrepreneurial Hall of Fame by Arthur Andersen and the University of Illinois.
More than 20 years ago, Jacobs overcame a crippling gambling addiction that threatened to ruin both his personal and professional life. He became active in Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and has not placed a bet since. “I think that is my greatest personal success,” he says. “I was at the point in my life where I had embarrassed myself and hurt many of the people who cared about me.”
In 1984, Jacobs purchased a 40-vehicle limousine company and built his current business through an aggressive series of acquisitions, which includes his 1998 purchase of top competitor Hinsdale Limousine.
One of the biggest surprises for Jacobs in his 14 years as owner of American Limousine has been the growth of the sedan market. “Chicago is different than many markets in that the limousine has always been a workhorse vehicle,” says Jacobs. “In the 1980s, there was almost no demand for sedans. However, I currently have more than 40. Big companies are now requesting sedans, especially when the client requests to be picked up at his facility.”
Jacobs also believes the quality of chauffeur has improved. “Drivers are much more professional and training is more sophisticated,” he says. “We are one of the largest employers of female chauffeurs in the country. Women make up more than 35 percent of our chauffeuring staff. We’ve been very fortunate to have successfully incorporated female chauffeurs.”
Jacobs was president of the National Limousine Association (NLA) for five years and was one of the driving forces that made the NLA a viable organization.
“In 1987, the NLA was a struggling organization” says Jacobs. “We could barely pay the rent. Now, we have $300,000 in the bank, our membership is over 1,400 companies, and we have done a great job improving the image of our industry. The NLA successfully changed the public perception of the industry from a special occasion business to a respected part of the corporate world. It is a remarkable achievement.”
Jacobs recently won a key victory that impacted limousine company owners nationwide. He successfully challenged Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations that attempted t deny independent contractor status in his company. Wayne Smith, executive director of the NLA, says Jacobs was a key figure in the IRS fight. “His determination helped hammer out an agreement that will benefit many operators throughout the country,” says Smith.
Jacobs sees consolidation as the major trend in the limousine industry. “I think companies will either stay small, get very big, or get eaten up by larger companies,’ he says. “There is still an opportunity for the small operator in this environment, but consolidation is happening at a rapid pace.”