In the early 1980s there were nearly 50 men whose companies built limousines. Many were colorful, outspoken entrepreneurs who worked hard and played even harder. With the introduction of Lincoln’s new body style in 1990 and a nationwide recession, the number of coachbuilders dwindled significantly.
In 1986, Dan Mitchell joined Executive Coach as its chief financial officer. In 1990, he was lured away by Rick Bryant of DaBryan Coach Builders in Springfield, Missouri. He is now the president and CEO of DaBryan, which was established in 1979.
Mitchell’s personality and management style differs from the early limousine builders. He is a graduate of Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, and earned a Master’s degree in business administration from Southwest Missouri State University. Mitchell is a certified public accountant by trade. He owned a business consulting firm before he entered the limousine industry.
Mitchell was initially surprised by the relative lack of business sophistication when he first began his career in the limousine industry. “This was an industry that lacked maturity early on,” he says. “You did not see planning cycles or a real intention to detail. I was used to a much more methodical way of doing business.”
The recession of the early 1990s forced the surviving coachbuilders to mature quickly. “We did not forecast this downturn,” says Mitchell. “There were many 1988 and 1989 limousines that were not used. The coachbuilders did not realize that operators would hang on their vehicles through the early 1990s.”
Mitchell has been an active member of the Limousine Industry Manufacturer’s Organization (LIMO). In 1997, he served as president. He has also been a proponent of the Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) and Cadillac Master Coachbuilder (CMC) certification programs. “I always believed safety was the most important issue in our industry,” he says. “When I first went to work at Executive, a 54- to 60-inch stretch was a long car. I am definitely surprised that a 120-inch stretch limousine is now considered a standard vehicle.”
Mitchell expressed concern about operators that overload limousines. “The Yellow Pages advertises 10- to 12-passnger limousines,” says Mitchell. “These vehicles are clearly overloaded and violate the standards set by the federal government. I hope I’m wrong, but we could see a high profile accident that could negatively impact the industry.”
As the millennium approaches, Mitchell predicts increased industry sophistication. “Every aspect of our industry has matured,” he says. “Operators are running total transportation companies. They are much more aware of what it takes to be profitable. Coachbuilders are now cognizant of business cycles and implications to the bottom line. I think we all have become better at what we do.”
Mitchell says that his greatest accomplishment was helping DaBryan become the first coachbuilder to become an employee owned company. DaBryan’s ESOP program was established in 1996. “The ‘American Dream’ is to go from worker to business owner,” says Mitchell. “I am very proud that we have helped so many people fulfill that dream.”