Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
LCT: When and why did you get started in the business?
Hart: I purchased my first company in 2005. It was a small operation that had been in business since 1990 with some great customers, but the owner wanted to retire. At the time, I managed software training centers traveling weekly to New York City, Chicago, and Dallas using that company’s limousine service. I found out the company was for sale — and the timing couldn’t have been any better — because I was tired of being gone from home every week and it seemed owning my business would be a lot of fun. Logistically, it didn’t appear to be such a complex operation — I later found out how complicated it really can be!
LCT: How did you first get involved in advocacy for the industry and your association?
Hart: I have always been an advocate for a cause. In my 20s, I worked for a non-profit company. I am very involved, politically, with legislators on the local and national levels. I know my representatives and have a great working relationship with many City Council members. I have attended NLA Day on the Hill and met several of our Texas legislators in D.C. and continue to work with one person to this day still interested in supporting our industry. I have a great personal relationship with my state representative and have begun to form relationships with her colleagues from other areas. These are relationships I never considered until I owned my business. I believe without them, I would be throwing darts at a board in the dark and hoping something hits.
LCT: How do you see the industry from your local point of view and overall nationally?
Hart: My view is in our area we have been hit with poor economic conditions due to the oil and gas industry. In 2009, my business grew 40%, mostly due to the bad economic conditions because most of the smaller operators went out of business. What’s so different in 2016 is the oil and gas crunch has lasted much longer than the 2009 crisis, so our customer base is rapidly changing and could be slow to recover.
Nationally, it’s hard to say how much TNCs have affected local markets. In our market, I have heard from many C-level executives who said they either had tried TNCs and it wasn’t for them, or they would never been caught dead in one of those vehicles.
LCT: And your take on the future of the industry?
Hart: Our industry was very slow to adapt to technological changes. In 2005, I was adamant we start working on an online reservation system. Remember, just 10 years ago few companies could offer a ‘true’ online reservation system. I believe we will have some great technological advances coming soon. Our customers want this and we have spoken to a few vendors that can integrate with our system.
LCT: What are some of the things you want to accomplish as president of the association?
Hart: I have a huge wish list. I have always seen a need to bring workshops to Houston. Being a small operator, I have noticed how many don’t show up for the big shows in Vegas, Atlantic City, D.C., Miami, etc. I want to see more educational workshops in Houston for the smaller operators. HALCA is a great organization to be involved with and will grow. We have some excellent board members who are passionate about our industry. I’m so grateful to have their support and service for our organization.
LCT: What keeps you competitive and motivated?
Hart: Kristen Carroll of The LMC Group, an industry consulting group, and [the late] Tom Mazza, who was not only a friend of mine, but was first an amazing force as a mentor. I went through a few years kind of waffling around trying to decide if A or B was better, etc. I had the privilege of being introduced to Kristen through a friend, and she and her group have been great mentors to me. They are also available through their vast array of services. I love numbers and statistics and the LMC Groups’ benchmarking is really a great tool and motivator.
LCT: You attend many industry trade shows and events. What inspires you to give back to the industry?
Hart: I am a very practical individual. I enjoy helping others, serving my community, and I give selflessly. I don’t deal with huge egos. That’s just not my thing. If you help build people up instead of knocking them down, I believe it gets you much further in life. I believe in a holistic, positive approach to most situations.
LCT: So what do you like to do in your downtime?
Hart: I love to travel. Friends and colleagues know I rarely sit still. Whether I visit New York City for three days or Europe for 28 days, I would much rather have experiences in life than accumulate things. Those experiences stay with me forever while the ‘things’ just weigh me down.
Tom Halligan is LCT East Coast editor, based in Marlton, N.J. He travels regularly to industry association meetings in the eastern U.S. Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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