Two corporate travel executives explain how providers can adjust to shifting demands and preferences.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — If you want to know how operators successfully run their companies, you’ll find a showcase of best practices among Summit attendees. This year, LCT editors took some time out from the three-day event agenda to talk with operators one-on-one about how they manage staff and lead in an era of tech disruption.
Selim Aslan, president, MIB Worldwide Chauffeured Services, San Diego, Calif.
Teamwork: Selim Aslan describes his leadership style as “compromising”; he prefers to listen to his employees and start a dialogue. For example, he describes the process of choosing the logo for his business: “There were four finalists we decided on, and we chose the winner together as a company,” Aslan says. Oddly enough, they all decided on the same one.
Aslan empowers his employees by educating them and letting them make decisions on their own. “My staff automatically knows they can offer discounts if it’s a customer who uses our services constantly. They don’t have to ask me because they know the boundaries.”
Zappos is a company he admires because of its great customer service. “Their philosophy is ‘you’ve got to make the customer happy.’ Everybody knows there’s one goal, and it’s to keep the client happy.” He also names Tesla — not only because of their attitude toward innovation, but because of CEO Elon Musk’s work ethic. “He failed so many times, and he always got back up and he’s still trying to do new things.”
Aslan is involved in his community and on the board of the San Diego Young Leaders association (a subgroup within the city’s Chamber of Commerce). He talks to attendees at every meeting, educates them on TNCs, and even offers them complementary services after some of the events so nobody uses Uber or Lyft.
Barry Gross, vice president of business development, Reston Limousine, Sterling, Va.
The veteran industry executive has cultivated a management approach honed at several large fleet operations around the nation.
Macro-management: “In terms of my style, I tend to be much more of a coach than a disciplinarian, the idea being we want our people to be as prepared as possible. We want to give them the tools and support to feel they’re best prepared so they can focus on delivering the service. When there are problems, we want them to feel free to think about solutions and then we can discuss the results after the fact. One of the things I say to my people is whatever you do, have a plan. Don’t let me see an incident report where we forgot about something or we overlooked it or we just didn’t pay attention. Give me an incident report stating the action we took. If it didn’t work out, then we can coach on that and determine what would have been the better course of action.
“Training and preparation are the two biggest things, and at that point you trust your people to make good decisions. I have this analogy that leadership and operations can be kind of like holding on to a cube of Jello. You can hold a cube of Jello in your palm with no problem, but when you squeeze it, it starts to go through your fingers and out of your hand. So, it’s a weird analogy but I think it’s most apropos. So if I’m constantly micromanaging my people and squeezing the life and decision-making out of them, ultimately we’re going to have problems because people will be hyper tense.”
Nick Boccio, fleet manager, Buffalo Limousine, Buffalo, N.Y
Steady presence: Nick Boccio leads in a calm, calculated manner. He doesn’t believe in flying off the handle or saying something without thinking it through first. “I would say seek first to understand, and then seek to be understood. That’s what my Uncle says, and it sums up how you have to consider what a person was thinking while they were doing something and why they did it,” he says. “If I can’t even begin to wonder, then obviously my response will indicate that, but if I can say, ‘Well, you know what? This person has a point,’ I’ll react differently.”
As a manager, Boccio empowers his employees by understanding their capabilities so he doesn’t expect too much of any one person. “I think as long as you enable them to enjoy what they’re doing, don’t create a hostile environment, and encourage them to explore positions that interest them, no one will dislike coming in to work every day.”
Mike Barreto, COO, Eagle Chauffeured Services, Upland, Pa.
Rebuild with respect: Mike Barreto recently took over another company, so his leadership style has centered on rebuilding it from the inside out. “It was hard for me; it wasn’t like I withdrew myself to the point where I wasn’t talking to anybody, but I wanted to make sure the company was running properly,” he explains.
With employees used to working under a different leader for 15 plus years, Barreto understood he couldn’t just tell them they were doing things wrong and change overnight. “You have less of a chance of retention once new policies come in place. So, I try to be as disciplined as possible as to how I release information, and how I was able to get people to understand the vision we’re going towards.”
Barreto wants his people to be free thinkers and gives them what he calls “the 180 view.” If there’s a problem or issue, he wants them to understand what ownership is like and let them make decisions; but he also tries to help them see why he acts in a specific way.
He credits Tim Rose (of Flyte Time) as a mentor who taught him a lot about how to manage people. “He doesn’t look at anyone as a stat on a payroll sheet,” Barreto says. “You have to consider what you need to do to put your employees in the best position to succeed.”
Barreto tells his staff to not come to him with a problem, but also with a solution they think is best. “It might not always be something the person at the top agrees with, but at least it shows you they care about the bottom line.”
The most difficult obstacle he has overcome in taking over Eagle is setting up proper processes. “I’ve had to really be a puzzle maker to be able to fit the pieces together where they were falling short and rearrange it so everything fit, and that was the biggest challenge that drew me to do this company.”
Eagle was once a very large, strong operation in the region. “It was in the ashes, but there’s still something great there — it’s just a matter of doing the right things to make it grow and rise up out of them."
H.A. Thompson, founder and owner, Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Charlotte, N.C.
Customer service: “One of the things you have to understand in any business, especially in the service business, is how do you treat the customer? How you treat the employees is how they treat the customer. So you have to create respect. And a lot of people in our business have a tendency not to respect the chauffeurs. They respect the vehicles and the equipment sometimes more than the chauffeurs. And you’ve got to build respect and trust between the employees and the chauffeurs. That’s so critical, and it takes a long time. We didn’t have it for a long time and we’re really coming full circle now. It is so important, because our product is hospitality. This is a high service business. And I don’t think a lot of people who have limousine and transportation companies realize the level of service.
“We have driver meetings and I read [emails] to them. Then we talk to them, and sometimes if they drop the ball, I bring them in and talk to them about it and say, ‘Hey, what happened?’ You know, ‘Why did you do that?’ And when they’re hired, we talk about this. The driver is the whole company when they’re out. They’re everything. They are the pipeline to the company. This is why if you do it right you don’t have to advertise. Like a killer restaurant that has awesome food and servers. They don’t have to promote because you get an experience. Then they come back in the door.”
Harry Dhillon, owner, Ecko Transportation, San Jose, Calif., and two-time LCT Operator of the Year Award winner
Employee attention: “I’m very involved with employees and understand what can be done to make their lives easier. I give them incentives on a quarterly basis, such as $50 gift cards. I have not overloaded any employee in the office or on the road with work that can stress them to a point where they miss something very critical. The quality check system we have in place gives them the power to back up their work and give 100%. For chauffeurs there are incentives for spot time; whichever driver is making the most spot time will get a gift card at the end of the pay period. We have a fleet manager who does spot checks on them, and anyone who scores best in the pay period also gets another incentive. That gives them a reason to be there before the pick-up time, to keep their cars clean, and to keep the assortments such as sanitizers, newspapers, and magazines in order because they know that if they get spot-checked and it’s 100%, they’ll get a gift card at the end of the pay period.”
Evan Blanchette, CEO, VIP Global Ultra-Premium Chauffeured Transportation, Miami, Fla.
Focus: Evan Blanchette describes his leadership style as being swift and direct. He doesn’t sugar coat things, and makes sure to convey to his team the details they need to succeed. “I don’t usually micromanage, but I do when I need to until things are running smoother,” he explains. Clarity is the key to ensuring there’s no miscommunication. “Everyone’s very clear on our vision and how we do things, and it resonates through the company.”
President Donald Trump is a leader he admires because he’s focused and makes things happen. “I see myself in some of his struggles as far as being the underdog. People counting you out, let’s say. But if you just stay focused and consistent, things will eventually work through. And I think that’s what he’s shown.”
Rising from zero and establishing the company’s credibility was Blanchette’s biggest challenge when he started his business four years ago with one car. He’d build a department and then pass it along to someone he could trust to manage it. “I didn’t start with a lot of money; I started with $10,000, one car, and a cell phone, and just grinded through it.”
Nick Kokas, vice president of business development, Brentwood Limousine, Macomb, Mich.
Team of rivals: “I’m a firm believer of not surrounding myself with yes men or yes women. I don’t mind someone who may have an opposing view or idea. I think it creates dialogue. It creates new insight and ideas. I think when you surround yourself with a bunch of yes people you limit your potential and creative thinking within an organization. So we have discussions among ourselves where we’ll sit around at a table and throw out ideas at each other. That even includes the chauffeurs. We’ll ask them for their feedback and what they like and don’t like. And we really take those things into consideration. It also gives our staff a sense of unity, inclusion, and creates a better team environment.
Difficult decisions: You have to look at your company almost as a living, breathing entity. What do you have to do to keep that thing healthy? Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And so during those times, we downsized. We right-sized the fleet and renegotiated with many of our vendors. That includes insurance. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, well. Insurance is something you really can’t negotiate.’ Not true. We’ve been with our insurance broker for over two decades, so we have a great relationship with them. But I think many people put their pride in front of the well-being of the company. You should be willing to swallow your pride and really look at the company as a human being and take care of it. I think it’s one way to go through difficult obstacles.”
Two corporate travel executives explain how providers can adjust to shifting demands and preferences.
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