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Planet Cool: Operators Embrace, Make Changes

Posted on December 14, 2016 by Lexi Tucker and Tom Halligan

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In LCT’s second annual coolest operators round-up, we focus on industry members who have shown they aren’t afraid to try different things.

As times change, so do client’s desires. From tech to good old-fashioned customer service, these businesspeople know how to stay relevant while never sacrificing what it means to be a provider of luxury ground transportation. Some of them have been associated with the business since before they could walk, while others simply had a dream and took a chance. No matter how they ended up in the wonderful world of limos, they all have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Editor’s Note: The following operators are presented in no particular order.

Neil Spenta really, really loves Tesla vehicles.
Neil Spenta really, really loves Tesla vehicles.
Tesla Aficionado

Neil Spenta, president and CEO, American Corporate Sedan and Limousine, San Diego, Calif.

If there’s one term that defines operator Neil Spenta, it’s cutting-edge. It’s not every day you meet someone who commands a fleet comprised mostly of Teslas. “I decided using these cars for a luxury transportation service could help get Tesla some publicity, as well as save on maintenance and energy costs,” he says.

The company uses Model X SUVs, which can travel 260 miles in one charge, and are mostly charged using sustainable electricity. “These vehicles are extremely quiet and eliminate heavy vibration, unlike traditional gasoline powered SUVs,” he explains. “They also feature cool, functional falcon-wing doors for easy client entry and exit.”

For operators who have never really considered using electric vehicles for this kind of work, Spenta urges you to give them a chance. “They’re an amazing vehicle for livery work that can almost drive themselves on the freeway, seat six passengers comfortably, swallow a lot of luggage, improve the quality of life for your drivers, and keep the air clean around you.” The company’s Teslas have driven more than 150,000 miles collectively during the last 18 months. “That in itself saved us from buying around $30,000 worth of gasoline, and reduces around 150,000 pounds of CO2 emissions — and that’s all in just 18 months, with no maintenance other than tires.”

Fun Fact: Neil loves hanging out with friends and family, and traveling in his personal Tesla. As a tech geek, he enjoys tinkering with computers and exploring new technology categories such as drones and wearable tech.

Anuj Patel is all about working smart, not hard.
Anuj Patel is all about working smart, not hard.
Manager Of Change

Anuj Patel, director of strategic development, Pontarelli Worldwide Ground Transportation, Chicago, Ill.

With a degree in international business from George Washington University and fluency in three different languages, Anuj Patel is an educated, experienced cool guy who’s a great fit for an industry that’s becoming increasingly global.

“The bottom line is this: The core of all business is always people. Being able to relate to and motivate others in all areas of the workplace is my most important quality — getting them to buy in to the strategy. The people drive the business, period. You are only as good as your least talented employee.”

To increase market share in the world of premium car service amid TNC disruption, he believes you must hire top talent and implement creative strategies in all parts of your business.

“For example, if I’m used to hiring mechanics at $15 an hour and they are all more or less subpar, why not get a top diesel tech for $20 who has management experience and can help manage the fleet? Wouldn’t it cost you so much more in time and money to send out all your buses and vans to a diesel garage where you pay a lot more per hour and lose your vehicle for weeks at a time? It’s easier said than done, because you must be consistent and practice these strategies daily. It must become a part of your company culture. Work smart, not hard.”

Fun Fact: Anuj is a die-hard Chicago sports fan (“GO CUBS!”), and loves being a dad. Another area that interests him is social media and digital marketing.

Carsten Kahner wants to use tech for good, not evil.
Carsten Kahner wants to use tech for good, not evil.
International TNC Combatant

Carsten Kahner, director of affiliate management, Blacklane, Berlin, Germany

Unlike TNC executives, Blacklane’s director of affiliate management Carsten Kahner walks the talk and actually visits companies who want to become affiliates — and that’s pretty cool. His team has traveled to more than 20 countries and met with more than 500 of the company’s local partners.

Although one can schedule rides online or via its app, Blacklane is about the furthest thing from a TNC. “We aren’t just a tech company,” he explains. “Technology is great, and it’s a major facilitator — it’s the backbone of our business, but the differentiator is the local chauffeur and operator. We understand the chauffeur is the face of your company and is the one that has contact with the customer. Our mindset, culture, and daily operations take all of this into account.”

One unique attirbute of being a Blacklane partner is operators get access to customers who normally wouldn’t consider using luxury ground transportation. Most rides are airport runs and the average trip is mid- to long-distance. This allows users a chance to really enjoy the difference in quality and service Uber and Lyft drivers lack.

“The industry by nature is global, and we can provide [small businesses] access to a global customer base, not just additional revenue and rides, which helps them grow,” he says.

Fun Fact: Carsten’s hobbies include sailing, biking, hiking, and relaxing with his family.

Richard Fertig is working to improve the industry.
Richard Fertig is working to improve the industry.
Client Turned Operator

Richard Fertig, president, Brilliant Transportation, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Before he became a cool operator, Richard Fertig started out as a cool client. This is an experience that has given him a particularly interesting vantage point when it comes to improving the industry.

“We are constantly questioning ‘is there a better way to do this?,’” he says. “When we look at our business, we look at it forward-facing. What’s the industry going to look like five or 10 years down the road?” In fact, his company was one of the first operations that saw a market opportunity with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van. Fertig spotted them a lot in Europe where he traveled for business, but hadn’t yet seen wide scale adoption in the U.S.

As an operator, he’s always looking for ways to better serve his clientele. “We’ve really analyzed our customers and examined where we add the most value, and are spending every minute of every day on scaling and automating whatever can be,” he explains. “We’re adding value through relationships with our clients by designing event transportation and solutions for them.”

Fun Fact: Richard enjoys skiing, working out, being with his kids, and thinking about his future.

Aaron Schiff has a kind heart and a sharp mind for business.
Aaron Schiff has a kind heart and a sharp mind for business.
Cool, Calm, Collected  Californian

Aaron Schiff, president, Ascot Limousine, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Millennial operator Aaron Schiff proves it’s cool to be kind. With his meticulous attention to detail, Schiff knows it’s important to stay one step ahead by anticipating client needs, and then meeting and exceeding their expectations. To do this, he advises other operators to “treat your employees well.”

He believes keeping your best people happy reduces turnover time. “25% of the chauffeur staff has been here 15 years or longer,” he says. Schiff offers his employees 401k plans, pays for half their health care, and has a profit sharing incentive. “Also, always try to see it from your employee’s perspective. Incentivize those who work late shifts; start them a few dollars higher than you normally would.” He also gives his staff bonuses at the end of the year and holds work parties.

Schiff has been involved in every aspect of the limo business, except being a chauffeur. “I started out doing event coordinating at award shows. Then I came into the office and learned how to do reservations, eventually became a dispatcher, and then worked in accounting,” he says. After experiencing all of those roles, he jumped into the vice president position. “It was a little overwhelming at first, but it made the transition from vice president to president a little bit easier.”

Fun Fact: Aaron loves to surf and bodyboard, plays guitar, and enjoys graffiti art.

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