NOV. LCT: Despite challenges hiring drivers, business is thriving as operators expand their services at a more measured pace.
2012 has shaped up as a pinnacle year for the largest chauffeured transportation provider based outside the U.S.
London-based Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services was granted the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade in April that officially recognizes its outstanding export achievement.
Such an award carries major clout for the 36-year-old, storied limousine company, now spanning 80 nations worldwide. The annual awards, made by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, are the U.K.’s highest accolade for business success. The awards celebrate U.K. companies and encourage the growth of British business overseas. To win a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, a company has to show a substantial and sustained growth in overseas revenue over three consecutive years.
Tristar has pulled off what few luxury transportation providers can: A seamless, “no barriers” global chauffeured network that cobbles together numerous operations and affiliates to provide a safe, reliable, quality experience for international business and leisure travelers alike. It has succeeded despite global recessions, volatile economies, shifting local political situations, and operational challenges.
Almost in the same breath that CEO Dean De Beer accepted the award last Spring, he hinted at what is always driving the company forward: “At the same time we are exploring opportunities in a number of developing markets and continue to offer new services, such as the recent launch of our luxury chauffeur driven minicoach service in the UK.”
Constantly adopting new and emerging markets has been key to building Tristar toward its status as one of the top five chauffeured transportation companies in the world. It was ranked No. 3 on LCT Magazine’s 2012 100 Largest Fleets List. Tristar has resulted from decades of connections, affiliate visits, vetting of standards, innovation, and cultivation of clients, say its two leading executives, De Beer and Michael Fogarty, CEO of Tristar United States.
De Beer and Fogarty recently offered an overview of Tristar’s background, approach and future ambitions at the close of a hallmark year.
A First Class beginning
Tristar Worldwide began in 1978 as an airport transfer company at London Gatwick Airport, the city’s second largest airport behind Heathrow. Its first growth period stemmed from a major contract with Virgin Atlantic to handle complimentary limousine service for first class passengers.
“We effectively grew up on the back of Virgin’s success,” De Beer says. “They were instrumental in helping us to develop our high end service offering and, as more and more airlines offered the complimentary service, we picked up that business.”
One of the ripple effects of providing high-end chauffeured service was that many of the clients flying first class also happened to be corporate executives and managers who traveled regularly for business. Many of them liked the Tristar service while flying on various international airlines, and soon were asking for arrangements and contracts to handle chauffeured service for their respective corporations.
By 1996, the original group of owners had taken the company as far as they wanted to, De Beer said. A new team of investors acquired Tristar and appointed a new management team, aggressively taking the company to the next level as a chauffeured service for airlines, corporate and international travelers with affiliates worldwide. The company diversified into the largest chauffeured service provider based outside of the United States by extending its range of services to include financial roadshow and event transportation. De Beer served as a director until 2008 when he and the senior management team acquired Tristar in a private equity deal that left the senior management team as the controlling shareholders and De Beer as CEO.
De Beer points out that while London has transportation services with larger fleets, Tristar to this day remains the largest operation with a luxury fleet of vehicles dedicated to high-end service.
Within the industry, it has also distinguished itself as first rate identifier and cultivator of talent, with a uniquely rigorous chauffeur training program, and a commitment to its chauffeurs that results in long-term relationships and a track record of steady, consistent service provided by a loyal group of employees.
A new U.S. base
Tristar’s growth surged again when it opened its U.S. operation in Boston in January 2006 with Michael Fogarty as CEO. As part of the business plan, Fogarty and De Beer worked on a strategy to capitalize on Tristar’s strong transatlantic client traffic, to invest in fleet-based operations in Boston and, later,New York.
Today, the company maintains active owned operations in both cities.
“We already had a significant amount of transatlantic business between the U.K. and the U.S., giving us good insights in to the flows of business,” De Beer says. “It was an aggressive part of our strategy to open in the US to give us greater flexibility in service and pricing, on both sides of the Atlantic.”
For the U.S.-based management team, it was an exciting entrepreneurial opportunity.
“No one was [fully] capitalizing on the transatlantic traffic by offering a company controlled service, with local rates in key financial markets such as London, New York, Boston and Hong Kong and vice versa,” Fogarty adds. “There is a tremendous amount of transportation activity in and among these financial services centers, so we created a growth strategy to mirror the set up of major financial institutions. It has worked out well.”
As a key part of its offering Tristar maintains the same high levels of service, punctuality, and dependability in the U.S., and worldwide, as it does in the U.K. With a strong on-time service guarantee and a training program that focuses on catering to a high-end customer base, Tristar has become the provider of choice for many corporations in the U.S.
New Frontiers: Growing for the Future
As it was laying down roots in the U.S., Tristar also opened a Hong Kong division in 2008, and as of 2012, has grown to seamless affiliated service in 80 countries worldwide.
It is eyeing growth opportunities in other parts of Asia and Latin America as well, and a significant portion of its new business now comes from BRIC countries such as China and Brazll.
In spite of the recession of 2008-2009, Tristar leveraged growth opportunities in regions around the world, and continues to leverage the operating efficiencies of being a “big company that thinks and acts like a small company.”
As part of the growth strategy within the U.S., Fogarty led efforts earlier this year to acquire M-7 Worldwide Transportation in Boston. The company announced on Sept. 27 that M7 Worldwide Transportation had been completely integrated into the Tristar brand.
The integration of the two companies offers clients Tristar’s latest client service innovations:
Looking to the future, Fogarty sees the possibility of additional acquisitions, the opening of new offices, and even franchising as potential opportunities to stoke growth.
“We have a flexible, time-tested, customer-oriented model, that works,” said Fogarty.
“If the track record of the past decade is any indication, the next ten years should be a great growth time for Tristar in the U.S. and worldwide.”
3 Standards For Success
No. 1: Luxury vehicle variety
Based on estimates as of October, Tristar runs a fleet of 470 vehicles in London, 30 in Boston, 30 in New York, and four company-owned vehicles in Hong Kong with access to affiliates for a total of about 40 vehicles there. Tristar also licenses a franchise in Paris and southern France that consists of 30 fleet vehicles.
A vast global transportation network invariably involves using luxury vehicles suitable to specific regions, making Tristar a comparative expert on those chauffeured vehicles delivering the best value.
As a few examples: In the U.S., Tristar has gotten good client feedback on the new 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car and Cadillac Escalade; in Europe, Tristar deploys the trusted stalwart S-Class and E-Class Mercedes-Benz sedans; London gets a mix of Mercedes-Benz, BMW 7-Series sedans and Volvo V70, XC70 and S80 models, under a special arrangement with Volvo and Virgin Atlantic; Hong Kong offers Mercedes-Benz Vianos, Toyota Alphard minivans, and Mercedes-Benz sedans; in China, Tristar operates many Buick GL8 minivans; for Brazil, the Kia Caravelle is preferred; and in Japan, Toyota vehicles are ideal for service.
No. 2: Safe, reliable, consistent service
With such an extensive global reach, Tristar teams continuously vet affiliates and monitor service quality to ensure adherence to company standards. Fogarty and his team handles North and South America, Hong Kong Tristar manager Gary Au leads vetting efforts across Asia and Australia, and De Beer’s London-based management team handles affiliates across Europe, with other executives and teams looking after Africa and the Middle East.
The trips also enable Tristar managers to visit with clients and companies in various parts of the world. “The busier we get in various places, the more we have to visit,” De Beer says. Fogarty, for example, has visited Brazil four times, as well as Chile, Argentina and India in recent years.
The demands of running a chauffeured network in so many diverse nations with varying political conditions also requires an emphasis on security for a mostly corporate travel clientele. Tristar is not able to develop service in some nations, such as a few in Africa, because they carry too high of a security risk.
“Security depends on the market and the travelers,” Fogarty says. “For most, it’s better to take a low profile. The moment you have an armored car it draws attention to you. It makes you an attractive target. They know you are someone of importance. We counsel customers not to use branded placards, and instead use white signs with the passenger last name only, to not dress in a flashy manner. You do have to be cognizant that it’s not in Kansas.”
However, in some situations in certain cities, traveling executives need armored vehicles. They tend to be the exception rather than the norm. “The golden rule is you never want an armed chauffeur,” Fogarty says. “You want the chauffeur to drive. If you have an armed escort, you want a separate individual in a separate vehicle.”
No. 3: Premium chauffeur performance
Chauffeur training at Tristar ranks as among the most intense and thorough in the chauffeured transportation industry. They must foremost be courteous and trusted to be the best drivers on the road. Ongoing training programs hone their advanced navigational, driving and customer service skills.
Tristar’s service is heavily involved in a corporate clientele that includes a wide range of financial services, private equity firms, banks, consultants, and multi-national oil, gas and energy firms. In addition to Virgin Airways, Tristar provides service for Emirates Airlines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
To maintain high quality service across its network, Tristar trains chauffeurs over very intense week-long courses. “We are looking for someone who does have customer service skills and who is passionate about the job,” De Beer says. “We put a lot of emphasis on health and safety.”
In the metropolis of London in particular, chauffeurs must have a thorough geographic knowledge and good driving skills. Chauffeurs are expected to have the same detailed street orientation as a licensed London cab driver as well as know how to get around via alternate routes and the nuances of London’s numerous side streets.
“We have quite sophisticated technology that allows us to monitor car movements in and around London and proactively manage service,” De Beer says. “We are constantly getting ETAs in real time. If a potential problem arises, then it is flagged to our service assurance team to mitigate or minimize service issues.”
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