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Carey International, Inc. is the largest limousine company in the world, with offices in over 300 cities in 60 countries on six continents. The company was started in 1921 by J. Paul Carey and his father. J. Paul Carey Jr. didn’t start working for the company until 1946, but he grew up surrounded by the business and. although semi-retired, continues to stay involved in it today.
Recently, J. Paul Carey Jr. shared his memories of the past, as well as his thoughts on the present and future of the industry, with Limousine & Chauffeur.
L&C: Exactly when was Carey International established?
Carey: The company started in 1921 as Grand Central Packard Renting Company.
1936 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine
L&C: What was it like then?
Carey: I wasn’t even born then, but I’ve heard all kinds of stories through the years. We used to handle mostly luxury private customers. We never got too many corporate customers in those days.
L&C: What were the private customers like? Were they travelers?
Carey: Mostly, they were people who had either given up their chauffeur-driven car or used us as a supplement for their regular drivers. We drove probably the most prestigious families in New York in those days. Corporate customers as we know them today didn’t really start riding until just prior to World War II. From that point on, the business started to build. Probably one of the greatest booms to the business has been the credit card. If you didn’t have a regular account with us (before credit cards), you had to pay the driver in cash. We did not accept any checks. So when the credit card came into effect it was an entirely different avenue of solicitation to the passenger.
L&C: When did the credit card come into being?
Carey: Back in the middle ‘50’s. Diners Club was the first one, and they were followed shortly thereafter by American Express. And then the bank cards – Visa and MasterCharge – came out after that.
L&C: You started in 1946, you said. What capacity did you start out in?
Carey: I started out with the airline company in 1946. We started going to buses because the size of the planes began to get so much larger that the Cadillac stretch couldn’t be used too much except for overflow.
Cadillace executives gathered next to a 1936 Carety Cadillac stretch Llimousine.
We used the third generation (Cadillac limousine) for overflow. We ran 21 and 28 passenger buses in those days. The limousine business and the airline business started to separate back in the middle ’30’s. The airline business became Grand Central Cadillac. The limousine business became Carey Cadillac. All of our service at that time was in New York.
L&C: How old were you when you started?
Carey: About 23.
L&C: When did the company start to go international?
Carey: Well, in 1968, my cousin Edward J. Carey Jr., who was working with us at the time, decided that we ought to grow. And he started a company called Carey International Chauffeur Driven Systems, Inc. He started Carey International. That was 1968. In 1970, they merged with-I think it was National Executive Service. And the Carey name prevailed.
L&C: It was your father who started the company?
Carey: My father and grandfather started the original Grand Central Packard Rental Company.
L&C: How did they decide to get into limousines?
Carey: Remember that this is basically an outgrowth of the old carriage livery that had the horse and carriage - the sedan type carriage. So this was an outgrowth of that. We were based at Grand Central at the time, and we saw a need, with people coming in from out of town on trains like the 20th Century Limited, the Empire State, the Detroiter, the Wolverine, and all of these early deluxe trains that used to terminate in Grand Central. We would pick up the people and take them home, or to the hotels. Then we got connected with the hotels, and that’s how we began to grow.
L&C: What was your first job with the company?
Carey: My first job was as a road inspector for the bus company. I used to ride the routes to check and see that nobody was off the route, any breakdowns I would go out on, things like that.
L&C: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you were going to get into the business? Did you want to do anything else?
Carey: No. There was never any doubt in my mind that I’d get into it, because I’ve been interested in it all of my life. I was exposed to it all of my life. When I was growing up, when my mother and father were going out, chauffeurs used to come up and babysit me.
L&C: How does the service work now?
Carey: It’s the owner-operator concept. They operate the cars to our specifications. We look for experienced people who know their way around and know how to handle customers.
L&C: Do they generally approach you, or do you approach them?
Carey: They approach us.
L&C: Is it handled differently internationally than here?
Carey: Well, each city has its own arrangement. In some cities, the operator owns the cars and hires the drivers. But in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, which are part of Carey International, all operate on the owner concept.
L&C: Before the company went international in 1968, did it spread across the United States at all?
Carey: It was a very slow growth. Remember that the limousine in those days had not really picked up. We were operating, at the time, about 135 to 140 cars in New York.