People

“Serve and Protect” Carries Into Limo Careers

Denis Wilson
Posted on August 23, 2013
Chris Quinn, President and CEO of CTS and captain with Metro Fire in Sacramento.

Chris Quinn, President and CEO of CTS and captain with Metro Fire in Sacramento.

Chris Quinn, President and CEO of CTS and captain with Metro Fire in Sacramento.
Chris Quinn, President and CEO of CTS and captain with Metro Fire in Sacramento.

It takes a special kind of person to serve in the name of public safety. Selflessly, police officers, firefighters and paramedics put themselves at risk every day to ensure the well-being of others.

Within the limousine industry, many operators have served or continue to serve the public as second jobs. Often these individuals bring what they have learned through training and experience to their businesses. A background in public safety is an invaluable asset, yielding sharp organizational and operational skills, resilient character and strong leadership. And their companies and the industry are all the better for it.

Mission Critical
The one time a citizen may rely on the fire or ambulance service is when a child is injured or at risk. There is no room for failure. Chris Quinn, President and CEO of Corporate Transportation Solutions (CTS) in Sacramento, sees things the same way at his company.

Quinn is a captain with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District (Metro Fire), also serving roles as his agency’s public information officer and liaison to local, state and federal agencies on homeland security matters. Quinn says his background in emergency services has instilled a sense that every trip his company makes is mission critical.
“In the fire and ambulance business, we don’t say we’re overbooked. It’s not acceptable to say I can’t find you. Those are things that I just don’t understand because I come from emergency services.” Whether it’s a job interview or anniversary, it is mission critical for that customer, Quinn says. Quinn co-founded the company with his wife, Shannon Quinn, in 2002. He brought his strong operational background, while Shannon, who worked for upscale fashion retailer Nordstrom, has a strong sense of customer service.

One thing in particular Quinn brought from his public safety work is doing post-incident analysis. Sometimes formal, sometimes not, emergency services use post-incident analysis to evaluate their performance and improve. “After a fire is under control, we’ll get together for 10 minutes and say, “Engine 1 arrived, what did you do? Truck 3, there were some problems getting water on the roof…”

The same goes for when CTS handles a large group movement: Quinn will ask what worked, what didn’t? It builds situational awareness and helps the less-experienced employees learn from the more experienced ones, he says.
Although the motivations may differ at CTS, Quinn still wants clients and affiliates worldwide to trust his service. “The reason we’re at CTS is to provide a service you can rely on so that when you see us you know it’s someone [who] can take care of you.”

Gary Buffo spent six years serving with the Petaluma Police Depart in Northern California.
Gary Buffo spent six years serving with the Petaluma Police Depart in Northern California.

In Case of an Emergency
When 9-11 and the dot.com bubble put the economy on the skids in the early 2000s, Pure Luxury Limousine owner and NLA President Gary Buffo didn’t want to cut any employees loose. Instead, he decided to pursue a longtime interest in law enforcement, put himself through the police academy, and became a member of the Petaluma Police Department in 2002. Although pulling double duty was draining him, the six-year experience proved to be a valuable one for Buffo and Pure Luxury.

The quick thinking required when you’re wearing a badge and uniform has been especially helpful when leading a company, Buffo says. “In law enforcement, when you’re going into a critical situation, the first thing you have to do is eliminate the threat.” Similarly, when a problem arises in business, isolating the cause allows you to slow down the situation and think about the resolution with a level head.  

Buffo says there’s an old expression in law enforcement: once an officer, always an officer. It’s an apt expression because being in the law enforcement field changes your mindset as an individual, he says. Never more true than during an emergency.

Earlier this year, Pure Luxury experienced an emergency when the company’s servers went down late one evening, losing all the scheduled reservations. “By 1 [a.m.] in the morning, we realized we were out of business,” Buffo says.
Buffo called the reservations and dispatch managers and they were in by 3 a.m. Buffo asked them to sit down for 15 minutes to assess the situation and form a plan. Buffo told them, “’All I need you guys to do is deal with this day.’”
“That entire day, because of the calmness I was able to instill in the staff, we did not miss a pickup. That’s a good scenario of an emergency situation and how you can deal with them on a calm level.”

Training plays a big part in being able to quickly enter and analyze a critical situation, Buffo says. In police academy, he received nearly 800 hours of training, learning case law, safety procedures, hostage negotiating and firearm techniques. But just like business school, law enforcement books and training can’t fully prepare you for the real world. “When you get on the street, it is a totally different ballgame,” Buffo says.

Jeff Shanker, third from left, with East Windsor Township EMTs circa 1992.
Jeff Shanker, third from left, with East Windsor Township EMTs circa 1992.

Expect the Unexpected
Before his days at A-1 Limousine of Princeton, N.J., executive vice president Jeff Shanker spent time as a police officer for The College of New Jersey and then as the chief EMT for Ewing Township, N.J. Shanker says his background in public safety taught him how to manage under pressure and the importance of preparing for any and all possible outcomes.

“When you’re dealing with an individual in a crisis, as opposed to a controlled environment, it teaches you how to manage more efficiently and productively,” Shanker says. “You learn how to analyze from precarious positions. If you’re in a bad spot, you need to recognize how to get yourself out of it so everybody wins. And ultimately, those skills were honed in emergency services.”

Shanker also served as the exercise coordinator for the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management, where focus was put on preparedness exercises and disaster drills and how to deal with the unforeseen. “With this, we have to lay out goals and objectives, we then have to have a manner in which to quantify them, to evaluate them, to make sure we met our goals and objectives.”

Last year, he was selected by the Department of Catholic Schools and The Diocese of Trenton to manage transportation for a Eucharistic Congress, an event meant to reinvigorate faith within the Catholic community. The project required moving 7,200 students throughout Central Jersey in a day. Shanker supervised the project — a massive logistical undertaking, even more so when considering that when dealing with children, there’s zero room for error.

Careful consideration and multiple checkpoints were required for safe transport. “The objectives were to make sure we had a head count and names of people, we had to make sure they were identified correctly, we had to have a transportation route planned, a secondary plan in case there was a motor vehicle accident that closed a major roadway.”

Of course, the limo business requires a lot of planning for the unforeseen: Being able to accommodate surges in reservations without service lapses, procedures that ensure passenger safety, and on-the-fly adjustments for vehicle breakdowns and late passengers. “I’ve taken all of my emergency services background and planning of these large scale disaster exercises and honed that into the business,” Shanker says.

He continues to serve as a volunteer EMT and president for East Windsor Township Rescue Squad District 1.

Just Following Procedure
Between his time in emergency medical services (EMS) and his time in law enforcement, Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Chauffeured Services Worldwide in East Hanover, N.J, has a combined 48 years in public safety. He has even more than that if you count his service as a youth.

Serving the community has been important to him since a young age, Sharenow says. He was 13 when a friend approached him about taking a CPR class. At 15, he joined a youth EMS squad. He soon started volunteering at night and weekends and “it just mushroomed from there.” Sharenow followed what he calls the natural progression from EMT to law enforcement and graduated from Essex County Police Academy in 1992.

Sharenow is a sergeant with the Livingston Police Department in Essex County, N.J. and volunteers with the Livingston First Aid Squad. “When someone calls 911, I’m the guy [who] shows up,” Sharenow says.  

In 1997, Sharenow started his first limousine business, but never left the public safety mindset behind. ”The biggest thing that I learned in the police field that carries over to the business is structure. You have to have a good foundation; there have to be Chiefs and Indians. Obviously, in the police world you have chief, police, and patrolmen.”

Working his way up the ranks of the police force has helped in a range of other areas, from customer service to employee management to insurance matters, Sharenow says. Law enforcement skills help in investigating vehicle accidents.

Sharenow doesn’t take any shortcuts when training staff. “Whether it be the chauffeurs or people in the office, [training] is an integral part of what we do here.”

Related Topics: better business management, Chris Quinn, Gary Buffo, Jason Sharenow, Jeff Shanker, leadership, passenger safety, vehicle safety, West Coast operators

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