Operations

Industry Women Take The Lead With Tips For Success: Part 2

Brittni Rubin
Posted on July 13, 2012

Company leaders often bear the heavy burdens of numerous tasks: Monitor cost efficiency, manage affiliate relations, keep current with technology, and supervise a team of workers, who also can be very human. What’s more, leaders are held accountable for a team’s performance and must act as a personal motivator and role model.  Here are four more women of the chauffeured transportation industry sharing how they call the shots, where they get their inspiration, and what effective leadership techniques they’ve developed along the way. 


Meryl Kelso / Owner / Dash Limousine and Sedan Service / San Francisco

Cultivate relationships: “I’m building my business based on relationships. You want an affiliate to know you by name when they pick up the phone, especially if you’re sending them work.”

Limit your driving: “Several mentors told me I should stop driving and put my focus on running and promoting the business,” Kelso says. “I will never get out of the car entirely — I think it reinforces customer loyalty — but my mentors are right. Now that I don’t drive every day, I am more able to keep my eye on the numbers and operations, and I can still connect with clients by phone.”

Don’t be a homebody: “San Francisco is a very saturated market. To break into it, you have to be pretty aggressive to take business away from others or at least get a piece of it. I don’t work much with local companies; instead, most of my affiliates are out of state or international. I meet them at shows and they’ve been very good for business.”


Julie Dotan / President / J&B Executive Transportation, Inc. / Troy, Mich.

  • Be an approachable boss. Don’t give yourself a huge luxury office with big-screen TVs; show your employees that you’re fair and simple. Get to know your staffers personally; they all know my children!
  • We found it helps to pay employees weekly. We also give our drivers gratuity money right away. They prefer to have cash flow more frequently.
  • Invest in technology upgrades to make business more efficient. GPS is a huge timesaver, plus you can track mileage honestly.
  • Expand your own farm-outs to bring in more income.
  • Set up your office so chauffeurs can better handle last-minute scheduling changes. Make sure items such as laminated signs, markers and badges are organized and easily accessible so employees can grab what they need and go.

Erin Shields / Founder / Green Carpet Limo / San Francisco

As one of the few alternative luxury-transportation services in the industry, Green Carpet Limo has a clientele that consists of high-profile individuals and celebrities. The company is often viewed as an extension of its customers’ brand; immaculate service is essential.

Owner Erin Shields attributes much of Green Carpet’s operational success to the power structure she has created, as she delegates a significant amount of leadership to her employees. “When the team is empowered, they make decisions from a more entrepreneurial perspective,” Shields says.

For example, the company’s lead chauffeur has a strong role in the hiring process. He interviews candidates and narrows them down for Shields. This opportunity has helped improve his work, she says. “My team is only as strong as its weakest link. And this concept holds true in this industry.”

Shields also grants her employees the power to make crucial decisions on the spot. “This has been vital to creating long-term relationships and maintaining integrity,” she says. A few months ago, a chauffeur’s vehicle was towed while on the job. Thinking quickly, he hailed a cab and delivered his client to her next meeting. During the meeting, he retrieved the car from impound and was able to resume their tight schedule without much of a hitch. “When they know they can offer viable solutions that make a big difference, everyone wins.”

Additionally, Y Fray of EcoLimo in Los Angeles has served as a guide and resource to Green Carpet. “Fray is willing to share the ins and outs of the industry through the perspective of a niche market company,” she says.


Jonna and Al Sabroff of Los Angeles-based Integrated Transportation Services.
Jonna and Al Sabroff of Los Angeles-based Integrated Transportation Services.

LOS ANGELES —  Ask Los Angeles operator Jonna Sabroff about a male-dominated industry and she’ll point out the many husband-and-wife partnerships and families running small limousine businesses.

Sabroff, President of Integrated Transportation Services (ITS), located next to Beverly Hills, has been part of such a team since she and her husband, Al Sabroff, founded the company in 1990 after he bought two smaller Southern California limousine companies with a combined fleet of 19 vehicles. The ITS fleet now numbers more than 50 luxury vehicles.

Before entering the chauffeured transportation industry, the couple met and worked in the aerospace industry. Al was vice president and general manager for the NASA Division of TRW (now Northrop Grumman) and Jonna a contract manager assigned to various proposal and negotiation teams such as the Space Station and Star Wars. As was the case then, their skills and leadership roles are complementary. Al is the CFO and Chairman of the Board who does financial planning, oversees the selection and financing of vehicles, prepares monthly financial statements, handles payables, and supervises accounting. Jonna oversees marketing, sales and operations. She also has served as a vice president of the Greater California Livery Association and helps the group strategize on legislative and regulatory matters.

Q: How did you overcome challenges in a male-dominated industry?
A: Any challenges I have experienced have only served to strengthen my resolve to achieve my goals. Hard work is the most effective method to overcoming challenges, both fair and unfair. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” I set out to meet and understand needs and desires of our existing and potential new clients. I worked with companies larger than ours, at times much larger, to understand their policies and business practices that have led to their success. I built on my government interface experience with TRW and applied this knowledge and understanding to the RFP process and the over-regulation by state and airports.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to other newcomer women in the industry?
A: This industry offers women opportunity. To avail you of these opportunities, you must act. Nothing can be accomplished without action. Go, do, accomplish that which is in front of you. It is also important to develop goals and be self-disciplined and highly motivated. There are many examples of successful women in this business who have done just that. Look for a woman you admire and emulate her.

Q: What is the vision you have created for yourself and your team?
A: The vision for our company is to provide quality transportation, each and every ride. To implement this vision, we monitor our performance in every area. A report is issued every eight hours, detailing each incident, noting the account and people involved. An incident might be a report of an accident or a chauffeur being late for a pick-up. This report notifies every supervisor, manager and salesperson. It allows the company to react quickly to rectify problems.

Q: As a leader of your company, how do you motivate yourself?
A: Associate with successful people. I am inspired by the accomplishments and determination of successful people in our industry. There are so many I admire. I have watched them grow their businesses, accomplish amazing things, face overwhelming challenges and ultimately achieve success.

Q: Who have you learned from?
A: I have learned much of what I know about this business from other business owners. I have worked for many successful companies as an affiliate. I have taken their best practices and adopted them as my own. I have gained so much knowledge and experience about this industry in that manner. Also, I believe that joining your local and national limousine associations will enrich you as an owner. When you are part of these associations, you are learning about the business climate in your area, networking with other limousine owners, and protecting your business from out-of-control legislation and regulations. In short, my advice: Become an affiliate for a company you admire; join and participate in your state and national associations. The learning never stops if you are open to it. It is a great business.

Q: Which management/leadership techniques have you applied to your operation? How have they contributed to its success?
A: One of the biggest mistakes small companies make is to operate their business out of their checkbook. I know it is tempting, but many small companies grow into larger ones and the owners fail to upgrade their financial management techniques. This can be a serious challenge as a company attempts to grow; it can be a fatal mistake in a crisis. My husband has provided the leadership and management techniques that we have applied in our operation. He has provided sound financial management by making sure we have the data we need available to obtain lines of credit, and more importantly, to know where we stand monthly so we can make timely budget corrections. To effectively manage your company, you must have financial statements. You cannot manage what you cannot measure.


Read Part 1 by clicking here.

Related Topics: business management, California operators, leadership, Michigan operators, San Francisco operators, women in the industry

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