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Meet The Operator Who Leads From The Solid Center

Martin Romjue
Posted on August 14, 2015
Kansas City operator Diane Forgy has beefed up Overland's mix of mid-sized 8-12 passenger vehicles to include Turtle Top standard and executive conversions, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with both executive-style seating and limousine interiors. (All photos by Josh Mais of 7x Design)

Kansas City operator Diane Forgy has beefed up Overland's mix of mid-sized 8-12 passenger vehicles to include Turtle Top standard and executive conversions, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with both executive-style seating and limousine interiors. (All photos by Josh Mais of 7x Design)

Kansas City operator Diane Forgy has beefed up Overland's mix of mid-sized 8-12 passenger vehicles to include Turtle Top standard and executive conversions, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with both executive-style seating and limousine interiors. (All photos by Josh Mais of 7x Design)
Kansas City operator Diane Forgy has beefed up Overland's mix of mid-sized 8-12 passenger vehicles to include Turtle Top standard and executive conversions, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with both executive-style seating and limousine interiors. (All photos by Josh Mais of 7x Design)

As a full-time operator for 24 years, and President of the National Limousine Association for three years, Diane Forgy has dealt with about every challenge for a business owner and leader in the industry. What stands out about her leadership can be observed within minutes of seeing her conduct a board meeting: “I am a great listener, peacekeeper, and problem solver,” she says. Those traits complement her low-key, unassuming and congenial manner.

As NLA President from 2010 to 2013, Forgy navigated a difficult job description, most notably, conducting unwieldy NLA board of director meetings and conference calls. That requires adroit abilities to diffuse distractions, tame tangents, balance views, contain bubbling egos, and calm frayed nerves — all while moving things along. She did this while leading an industry during a major recession, the disappearance of the Lincoln Town Car sedan, a changing market preferring buses and vans instead of stretches, and the emergence of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs).

Since then, Forgy has remained on the NLA board and expanded her business, Overland Chauffeured Services in Kansas City, Mo. She grew up in the company, founded by her late parents, took what was given to her, and multiplied its success and scope. Just this year, Forgy bought and is moving to a new headquarters as her fleet reaches 43 vehicles, the most since the company started with one stretch in 1979. She spoke at length with LCT in June about what she’s learned leading a business and an industry.

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Question: How would you characterize your leadership and management style?
Answer: I am very approachable and I believe in an open door policy. I respect and care for my employees and desperately want them to do well with my company, feel like a part of the team, and enjoy their time at work. I want them to be proud of our company and excited about taking care of our clients every day. As the NLA President, I felt I emulated the same leadership and management style.

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Q: What business leadership resources or tools do you recommend?
A: I get some of my best advice, inspiration and ideas by collaborating with peers in the industry. These relationships don’t happen overnight, so be patient and develop a trusted group of allies you can turn to and support. I have attended both Ritz Carlton and Disney Institute trainings along with most of my management team. That was one of the best investments I have made in recent years. I seek out articles online, subscribe to countless newsletters, and follow business leaders on social media. We have no shortage of resources. It’s just a matter of searching your topic of interest and diving in head first. As the Show Committee co-chair, I have to suggest attending the LCT/NLA shows, as well as other local and national industry events. One of the NLA’s main goals is to provide top-level education to our members. Get involved in your local chambers and related trade groups, and soak up their educational offerings. Be a sponge and never stop learning and seeking out ways to grow as a leader.

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Q: Who are some of your most inspiring leadership role models?
A: At the top would be Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. You never questioned where they stood and what they stood for. Among business leaders, I am most inspired by Walt Disney, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs. In terms of guts, risk taking, imagination and ridiculously high standards, they are in a league of their own. I respect and admire Oprah Winfrey for her incredible business and personal accomplishments. My parents instilled in me old fashioned hard work and high ethical standards.

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Q: What leadership failures have you learned from?
A: “A leopard never changes its spots.” There are always exceptions to that rule, but unfortunately I have been guilty of believing a person will change or I can change them for the better if I give it more time or give them another chance. Most of the time, it doesn’t work out. Other than that, I probably try too hard to please everyone and it just isn’t possible.

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Q: How do you set and maintain a high standard of ethics in your operations?
A: It starts at the top and I walk the walk. Otherwise, I have no credibility. I say nothing that I cannot stand behind. I don’t make empty promises. I don’t burn bridges and I never compromise my ethics. You don’t just decide one day to have high standards of ethics. Either you have them or you don’t. Your employees, vendors and clients will see right through you. As will your friends and family. You can’t let it creep into your business on any level. And you cannot compromise your standards.  

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Q: What are ways you invest in quality employees?
A: I seek out the very best employees who have a great attitude, the most applicable skills, and those who are willing to work hard and continually learn and grow. We tell the story of how our company has evolved to what it is today and where we are going. We train them properly and reinforce our expectations and those of our clients. Our pay levels and benefits are on par or above those of our peers in markets with much higher costs of living. There is no other way to attract great people to our industry. And we invest heavily to have the most impressive fleet in the market and the best technology solutions in the industry. We never stand still in how we are innovating and evolving. Many of our employees feel part of the “Overland Family.” That is just who we’ve always been. I want that feeling to stay the same no matter how large we get, and I will do everything in my power to maintain that.

FAST COMPANY FACTS

Overland Chauffeured Services
Location: Leawood, Kansas
Service region: Kansas City, MO metro
Owner: Diane Forgy
Founded: Sept. 1979
Founders: Herb and Sylvia Krieger, parents of Forgy
Fleet vehicles: 43
Employees: 55 chauffeurs; 20 staff
Annual gross revenues: $5.96 million
Key executives/managers: Sean Williamson, director of operations, Lisa Herndon, office manager, and David Lee, chauffeur manager
Key award: Voted Best Ground Transportation Service by readers of Ingram’s Magazine, the leading business publication in Kansas City, for eight years in a row
Website: www.kclimo.com
Contact: (800) 575-4845

Forgy at the famous Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. It ranks highly on Zagat’s and helps define the city as a BBQ capital.
Forgy at the famous Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. It ranks highly on Zagat’s and helps define the city as a BBQ capital.

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National Limousine Association service:
2003- : NLA board director
[2004-05: NLA Treasurer]
[2006-07: First Vice President]
[2010-2013: NLA President, three consecutive terms]

Q: When you stepped down as NLA President in February 2013, you had an emotional moment on stage at the general meeting. What was going through your mind?
A: I thought about the journey that brought me to that moment on stage — the support the industry has given me, the friendships and partnerships that have developed, the trust and confidence that the NLA board had in me to be their leader for three years. I was proud of everyone I shared that stage with. I learned a lifetime of lessons in the three years I spent as President, with probably the biggest being that as hard as I try, sometimes decisions have to be made that will never please everyone. A great quote from Margaret Thatcher serves me well: “You have got to do the right thing even if it is painful. Set your course and take the difficult decisions — because that is what needs to be done.”

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Q: As a NLA leader, how do you encourage high ethical standards for the industry?
A: I lead by example. It’s not about words; it’s about actions.

Diane Forgy (center) looks for skilled employees who have a great attitude and are willing to work hard, learn and grow.
Diane Forgy (center) looks for skilled employees who have a great attitude and are willing to work hard, learn and grow.
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Q: What do you see as the biggest industry challenges in the years ahead?  
A: Clearly the TNC threat and labor compliance issues. TNCs are not going to stop at replacing the taxi industry. They will attack our market. We have to keep them in their place by being a far superior and safer service option and worth every penny. And we have to catch up to their technology and provide our clients with a robust, truly integrated, seemless technology platform. Although TNCs are facing their own fights with labor issues, they are far better funded to defend themselves and influence lawmakers. Meanwhile, our operators continue to get hit with labor audits and class action lawsuits. The NLA is watching developments with Uber’s driver classification model and making its position known in Washington, D.C. That said, operators should consult and retain a qualified attorney specializing in employment law to assure they are not exposed to potential lawsuits and audits.

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Q: What do you find are the best ways to handle leadership stress?
A: For me that would be my 6 a.m. boot camp class, Bikram hot yoga on the weekend, my ever growing wine collection and study of wine, and an occasional getaway to California wine country or a beach in Mexico. When I travel for business, I strive to get up early and take a walk or jog outside. I prefer the fresh air to a small, stuffy hotel gym. We all need to take better care of ourselves and achieve more work/life balance. Start with a 30-minute walk at least a few times a week. Plan a vacation even if it is just a long weekend away. Find a passion outside of your business or volunteer for an organization.

Timeline: Overland Milestones
1979: Bought the first and only Lincoln stretch limousine
1980: Added the first and only chauffeured white stretch in Kansas City
1984: Installed mobile phones in limousines @ $2,000 to $3,000 per phone
1986: Acquired Plaza Limousine
1988: Added first chauffeured Lincoln Town Car sedan in Kansas City
1991: Forgy took over business after father died
1996: Sold off last white stretch limo
1997: Added first mini-bus
1998: Forgy assumed full ownership after mother died; added first chauffeured SUV in Kansas City
1999: Acquired A-1 Limousine; took over contract with Ritz-Carlton and moved onsite
2000: Combined all operations under Overland Limousine; launched first website; redesigned logo, and started major branding efforts
2003: Forgy first elected to NLA Board of Directors; first Kansas City operator to add Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedans
2004: Overland reaches 30 fleet vehicles; Forgy joined industry’s only Twenty Group, Limousine Success Group
2007: Acquired Mr. Nick’s Limousine Service; Won first LCT Operator of the Year Award; joined National Interstate insurance captive program
2009: Reduced fleet from 40 to 35 vehicles because of Great Recession
2012: Changed name to Overland Chauffeured Services and rebranded; started in-house Smith System Defensive Driver Training Program
2013: Won second LCT Operator of the Year Award
2014: Among first operations in U.S. to buy livery version of Ford Transit van
2015: Bought first Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan and second Sprinter Van; purchased and moved to new headquarters/facilities in Leawood

Related Topics: Diane Forgy, fleet management, industry leaders, Kansas operators, leadership, Missouri operators, National Limousine Association

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