Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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.
Jeff Wright, owner, Pinnacle Car Services, Rogers, Ark.
Wright has 81 employees, including about 50 chauffeurs. He’s had to evolve staff from a small operation to one that does $4 million per year in revenue.
Empowering managers: “If it’s day one and you’re wearing every hat in the company, there isn’t anyone to empower, and there’s more micromanagement. Then you start hiring a few associates. The first person I think you want to get on board and empower to do things is either a bookkeeper or somebody who has the potential to be a CFO. It’s easy for an operator to manage everything else, but you need somebody else managing payroll and making sure all the car payments and finances are done correctly — payments being made on time, cash flow being correct. As you get up to $350,000, $400,000, $500,000 in sales revenue, you must have that bookkeeper/CFO in place.
The second position you can empower would be someone in operations who can take some of the items off your plate. It should be someone you can train, trust, and then ultimately empower to run all of operations. And then additional people from a support standpoint such as a human resources director who can handle everything from hiring to unemployment claims to training. Anything that falls under HR you should empower someone else to do for you full-time.”
Cory Zucker, EVP sales/marketing, VR Worldwide, E. Elmhurst, N.Y.
Growing responsibility: Cory Zucker describes his personal leadership style as stern but fair. “I try to look at the other person’s thought process and what they did that I don’t agree with. If there’s some merit to I say, ‘Okay, I see why you did it that way, but this is the way to do it.’” He then explains why in detail, so the person fully understands.
“If you just tell them they did it wrong, they shut off. You want people to be receptive. I feel explaining it in fine detail helps. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Don’t try to patch it temporarily like a Band-Aid...fix it so it stays that way long-term.”
Empowering his employees boils down to giving them as much responsibility as possible and not limiting their abilities. He wants them to feel they have a role in helping build the company and are not just another cog in the wheel. “The simplest thing you can do that many overlook is just acknowledging them and telling them they did a great job. Thank them for the extra effort they make to help you out.”
Nick Lopez, VP of operations, and Todd Roberts, president, JACO Limousine & Transportation, Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tenn.
Communication commandos: Nick Lopez and Todd Roberts are rarely seen apart, and while their leadership styles may differ, their belief in the power of teamwork doesn’t. Lopez believes leadership is based on training and helping people understand what’s expected of them.
“Every day I work to hold people more accountable as they become more aware of the context of what we do. You can never be upset at somebody if they don’t know what to do, but when they’re trained and they know, they’re expected to do things a certain way,” he says.
A difficult obstacle the two have faced in business is running the company in three different markets, but they’ve been able to do it by being experts in communicating. “We’re so heavily involved, and since we’re always together, we’re able to meet demand and expectations because our line of communication is so good; we’re always able to get a hold of each other and solve things pretty quickly,” Lopez says.
The basics of what operators do is turn employees loose in $100,000 plus vehicles and leave important people in their care. Therefore, your staff is always empowered. It’s up to operators to put competent people in place and provide them with the proper training.
“We let them know they’re in charge of their trips so they have an owner’s mentality in everything they do. You have to instill that belief and thought process in them, which interests a lot of people when they are being hired because they’ve not had that kind of ability before,” Lopez says.
Nadeem Ajaib and Rabia Patel, Icona Global, London, U.K.
High-end humility: Serving the ultra-high-net-worth global VIPs, they must take more of an “OCD” approach to business: Check and recheck all details and anticipate all client needs.
Nadeem: “When you deal at the highest end, royalty and A-list celebrity status, you can have as many layers of trained managers as you like, but often they want to reach out to the owners and operations director at any time of the day or night. Sometimes it has a lot to do with security as well because often we’re not disclosing the names of the clients even to our chauffeurs and staff. We’re using pseudonyms at times because we can’t afford to leak out details of specific itineraries, as they’re often mobbed by paparazzi, so it’s very intense for ourselves.”
Rabia: “I find very wealthy clients will want personal attention. So even if they’re happy with a comped ride, they’ll want you to go a little bit extra and make sure the owner of the company calls them back so they feel valued. Any time of day or night, I will do that. . . I don’t mind humbling myself, going down on one knee to any client. At the end of the day, they’re paying for a service and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Ajaib and Patel admire Richard Branson, the worldwide famous founder and CEO of the Virgin brand. They cite a story of Branson getting down on one knee to ask a former client to return to Virgin Airways.
Nadeem: “One thing about Richard Branson is he started his business with a phone call in a pub, one of those old red telephone boxes in London. He never had a telephone in his house, so he went to a public telephone box and set up a meeting with somebody he called. He dialed that number and the person answered. So he’s gone from very humble beginnings and a fairly impoverished background to being at where he is.”
Rabia: “I think he’s a brilliant person. He really looks after his employees, he spends a lot of time with them, gets to know them, and they will always stay with him.”
Michael Brinks, owner, American Luxury Limousines, New Orleans, La.
Cooperative competition: In a town known for conventions and group outings, Brinks sees competitors as an asset to leading in a market.
“When I look at the market, I’ve always been able to appreciate competition and see value in working with your competitors. If everybody works together and ends up getting better...then that leads to the success of everything. If you assume you have a pie of 100%, and if a given company has 20% of that pie, in order to increase to 22%, you have the choice of taking from someone else or working together to increase the pie. Because if the pie goes up to 110%, 20% of the market is like 22%. The bigger the market gets, the better it is for every company.”
John Paraoan, assistant VP/brand manager, West Suburban Limousine, Winfield, Ill.
Can-do attitudes: Paraoan uses the acronym TRIP to describe the foundations of his leadership style: Teamwork, Responsibility, Integrity, and Professionalism. “None of us can do it all by ourselves, so my leadership style is to be approachable to our team as well as our customers. There’s no question or issue too big or small they can’t come to us with.”
His company has implemented a feature called “Rate My Ride.” This enables customers to provide feedback at the end of a trip. “Our goal is to, within 24 hours or less, immediately respond in a professional manner. If they touch base with us, whether it’s through Yelp, Facebook, email, or even a phone call, we want to be there for them; I don’t think TNCs take their customers as seriously as we do.”
Paraoan wants his company to foster a “never say no” attitude among employees. “You want them to think in terms of ‘let’s find out how we can do it. Maybe it’s a no now, but it might be yes in the future.’ That starts with hiring the right people.”
To find the right person, you have to hire slow and fire fast. “Recognize the positive and/or negative influences in who you are looking to hire. You may have to go through a coaching and probationary period, but you need to make a decision quick before that type of negativity or inactivity creates the wrong type of atmosphere.”
The biggest obstacle Paraoan has seen is changing the company culture to handle today’s sales pressure. There wasn’t as much competition in the past, so employees didn’t have to work as hard. To prevent a laissez-faire attitude toward business, he ensures staff feels comfortable discussing issues with one another and acting as a team to maintain prestige. They must realize everyone is working toward one goal: Creating a successful company.
Michael Fogarty, CEO, Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services/Americas, Boston
Info-driven delegating: As an executive at one of the world’s largest ground transportation companies and former president of the Taxi Limousine & Paratransit Association, Fogarty maintains consistent quality through a detailed reporting system that allows him to delegate and focus on priorities.
“I’m a metrics driven leader. Fortunately, I have a really strong team of tenured managers, many of whom have worked for me for more than 10 years. This management structure enables me to focus my time and business development in any problem areas that arise. We have a tremendous reporting system that enables our team to keep an eye on the health of the business, quickly diagnose business issues, and work collaboratively to resolve them. These metrics also demonstrate successful sales and marketing efforts, so we can quickly double down on what’s working. I love frontline employees who step up and resolve customer issues on the first call. We will always stand behind this person’s efforts to satisfy our customers. I also mentioned we are a metrics driven organization. I tend to leave my team alone to do their jobs. We all understand what the key metrics we need to achieve are, and we share these with all involved to deliver on these goals. If we need to support any area of the business, I work with my managers to assure the resources are deployed.”
Jeff and Laura Canady, co-owners of CLT Express Livery and S.C. Express Chauffeured Transportation, Charlotte, N.C., and Aiken, S.C.
Hands on & hands off: The Canadys practice a leadership balanced by knowing when to pay close attention and stay on top of matters and when to empower employees to solve problems.
Jeff: “I am always hands on. I follow up all emails and with dispatchers, communicate with our mechanics every morning, our South Carolina office, and out motorcoach office. We educate and re-educate staff. I’m there and they can always get in touch with me when they have to.”
The co-owners make sure clients or prospective ones are only asked questions once, and not subjected to a phone tree or multiple transfers requiring them to re-explain the reasons they called.
Laura: You want to have that personal touch...We empower all our team to make decisions on reservations. We give the staff the tools needed to handle conflicts and resolve them. They can do a 10% discount if they are negotiating rates. It gives them ownership and they know they are part of the business.”
Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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