Operations

Cool Planet: Operators Raising Their Profiles In Unique Ways

Lexi Tucker and Martin Romjue
Posted on December 4, 2018

Kristin Hundley, director of operations, Limousine Connection, Los Angeles, Calif.

The luxury transportation business has been a part of Kristin Hundley’s life for as long as she remembers. Before Limousine Connection had 24-hour dispatch, she recalls being forbidden to answer “line two” because that was the office line forwarded to the family’s home at night. “My dad could be dead asleep at four in the morning, that line would ring, he would answer with the most professional-sounding ‘Limousine Connection, this is Chris,’ and would start taking a reservation practically in his sleep,” she remembers. She was organizing trip sheets as young as seven or eight, and would negotiate her “rate” with her father, usually getting 50 cents to organize 25 or 30 trip orders.

Aside from learning the ins and outs of the business, she’s had the opportunity to live, work, and travel to many interesting places. She lived in Chile for a year working in education, and in Bogota, Colombia for a year with a tech company. She also spent time living in Ecuador and Bolivia working on development projects with a focus on education and disabled accessibility. She studied in France when she was in high school, and spent six weeks hitchhiking around Cuba in college. Post-college she also worked for a law firm for a few years.

“I would say my varied background has really helped me thrive in this industry. If you know how to deal with people from all walks of life in a compassionate and direct way, you can be successful almost anywhere,” she explains.

She believes taking good care of your employees is vital to achieve success. “So often it seems there is an “us versus them” mentality with management, owners, and staff. That is not the way we view things. Have their back and they will have yours. I have a personal business relationship with every one of our office staff and chauffeurs. They all know at any given time they can call, text, or come into my office, talk to me, and they will be heard. Employees need more than just a paycheck. They need to feel valued and appreciated. They go the extra mile for us because they know we do the same for them.”

Fun Fact: Aside from traveling, she loves to camp and hike with her boyfriend and dog. She also has a ceramics studio in her garage where you can find her “throwing” (making things with clay on a motorized wheel) a couple of days a week. She also volunteers with a few different organizations teaching ESL (English as a second language), providing legal aid for asylum seekers, and helping with citizenship workshops.

Nina Parson, director of sales, Company Car and Limousine, Cleveland, Ohio

A cool salesperson has no fear, which describes Parson. She’ll talk to anyone wherever, whether at a networking event or the grocery store. Building relationships is step one to helping potential clients feel at ease. “I want to talk about you as a person. It’s not about me trying to close a sale; it’s about trying to get to know you.”

She wasn’t necessarily looking for a job in the luxury transportation industry, but it was certainly looking for her. After working in the hospitality industry, she was scouted by a limo company whose owner thought she’d be a good fit. “I was a lover of all things limo and ground transportation. When I worked for hotels, I never wanted to work for a lower-end brand. I really liked the high-touch, luxury aspect of the service we provided.”

Her advice for other operators looking to foster quality salespeople: Don’t make them spend tons of time trying to figure out their productivity with forms or emails. Don’t require them to go to a networking event and bring back a designated number of business cards, and don’t hover. “They aren’t making you any money spending hours telling you how they are trying to make you money. Micromanagement is counterproductive and makes your salespeople feel like you don’t trust them.”

She says you should take the role of a teacher, mentor, and coach. “Don’t think your way is the best way all the time. Let them grow as individuals. If they grow, we all grow.”

Fun Fact: She likes spending time with family, friends, and her boyfriend of 10 years, Keith. A self-proclaimed “in-your-face, annoying fan,” she loves all things Cleveland sports. She recently got into yoga which she does twice a week, and is a wine aficionado.

Jason Ramsey, president of Prestige Worldwide Transportation and the Colorado Limousine Association (CLA), Denver, Colo.

As the world changes, it’s up to a new generation to help guide it. This means taking action instead of waiting around for someone else to do something — and that’s what makes Ramsey so cool. As president of the CLA, he’s always looking to drum up more participation from active members, as well as seek out new blood for the group.

“Operators small and large need to get involved in their local industry trade association. The more members we have, the more power we gain,” he says. His team player attitude comes across in the way he sees the industry overall. “Experience has taught me no one can do it by themselves — independent operator or 50-vehicle fleet — everyone needs help sometimes. This mentality has allowed me to form bonds and relationships with local and national affiliates and genuinely work well with them. I like getting along with people; I believe in this industry and want everyone to be successful. With the right marketing, a solid business plan, and high service level expectations, we can all have a piece of the pie.”

If he could give readers one piece of advice, it would be to value your employees. This not only means treating them respectfully, but ensuring they all have the proper training, information, and tools at their disposal as well. “Don’t get mad if someone makes a mistake, and always talk problems through. My staff is as comfortable talking with me as I am with them. This open communication allows us to function as a true team and be successful.”

Fun Fact: He really loves what he does, and often finds himself researching new vehicles, reading articles, and chatting with affiliates for fun. Outside of that, he bought a new home this year and spends his free time working on personalizing it with yard work or home improvement projects. He also enjoys being outdoors, whether it’s camping or jet skiing.

Matt Shafik, managing partner, Genesis Corporate Transportation, Houston, Texas

Shafik believes being genuine and honest is what makes a person cool. When working with others, he believes being yourself can get you far in creating long-lasting, solid relationships. “It certainly makes it easier to foster a real connection,” he says.

He gives an example of the time he wanted to win more work out of one of his current clients. After speaking with one of his contacts, he was put in touch with their procurement department. He filled out an RFP, but soon learned they would require 60 to 80 rides a day. Genesis only runs nine vehicles, so he knew there was no way he could promise a consistent level of service. “There was simply too much that could have gone wrong. I don’t want to put my name on something I can’t totally guarantee. I explained the situation to them, and as a result we have a great relationship built on trust.”

Rafik Tadrous, Shafik’s uncle, owns Genesis, which is in its 28th year of business. Shafik has worked there for eight years, and has always looked up to his uncle. “He cares deeply about everyone, and was running Genesis all by himself. He was working incredibly long hours, but always did it with a smile. Our clients love him and he’s always helped everyone in the family, so I wanted to do the same for him.”

During his time in the industry, Shafik says he’s learned there’s no substitute for hard work. “Just put your all into it and be proud of the product you put out, and the rest will come. At the end of the day, we are in the service industry — if you keep that at the forefront, you’ll succeed.”

Fun Fact: Growing up playing basketball and football, he’s a huge sports fan who enjoys going to Rockets and Texans games. He loves cars and motorcycles, enjoys hanging out with his friends, and when the weather is nice, likes to go to the park or ride his bike.

 

Jason Messinger, president, and Sam Emam, general manager, BBZ Limousine and Livery Service, Bergenfield, N.J.

Messinger comes from a computer background and has always been interested in technology. Naturally, when he joined the luxury transportation industry, he wanted to leverage tech in every way possible to deliver the highest level of service. Together with Emam’s mix of social media and video skills, they are bringing a 21st Century spin to the business.

BBZ was originally Messinger’s father-in-law’s company. “Coming from an entrepreneur background working for small startups, I knew I wanted to own my own business. I asked my father-in-law if I could work at BBZ, but he said no because he didn’t want me to turn down my career in technology. With persistence and annoyance, he let me work on my two week vacation from my technology job. After those two weeks, he saw a lot of potential, and I was able to spread my wings and dive into the luxury ground transportation industry,” he explains.

Growing up, Emam watched his father go from working at a company to starting his own. He says it’s important to always be open to learning new things. “This industry will keep changing, so it’s vital we learn to change with it.”

Messinger’s words of advice are to document and track EVERYTHING, because it will help with your operations and performance. When mistakes are made, both agree that sometimes taking a hit is better than losing a client altogether.

Fun Fact: Messinger enjoys hanging out with his family, gardening, and cars, while Emam likes playing soccer, making videos, taking pictures, and chilling with his family.

Reza Choudhury, owner and CEO, Reliance Worldwide Logistics Solutions, London, U.K.

If the name omits limousine in favor of of logistics, that’s because entrepreneur Reza Choudhury considers chauffeured cars a form of it. In the last few years, he’s broadened his luxury vehicle service to include an on-demand app and a packaging and content delivery service.

“It’s not just about moving passengers,” Choudhury says. “It also has to do with other high-end logistical services.”

For passengers, Choudhury plans to launch his on-demand/pre-booked HYRYDE app during the first quarter of 2019 under a customized software operating system designed in-house. The emphasis will be on duty of care coupled with data security. “We carried out surveys to learn what our travel managers were looking for in the customer experience and data protection. How are we protecting their data? If a chauffeur leaves, does the data sit on his phone or application? It’s been a great eye-opener when receiving this level of feedback. We’re focused on time, safety, customer experience, and GDPR compliance. We’re also looking to collaborate with many companies that travel managers work with, such as hotels, airlines, and GDS systems. We’re looking at API integrations to make process seamless across multiple channels.”

Reliance’s integrated parcel delivery system will use the same API for its B2B delivery service, which handles such items as high-end documents and road-show–related investment reports. “We’re trying to bring in different product lines to fit into our logistics business. We’re becoming more like an open source company for logistics, not just for transportation. We’re planting those seeds now to fulfill those areas as we grow in the next few years.”

Neil Davies and Gary Fraser, co-founders, Secure Ground Transportation, London, U.K.

Secure Ground Transportation fuses the highest level of luxury chauffeured transportation with the best of driving security. Its roster of clientele includes royal families, British aristocracy, VIPs, foreign dignitaries, and high net worth corporate executives who run companies that are household names.

To achieve consistent trust and repeat business from this elite sector, Secure has created a new division in its company based on security-oriented driving and service, which operates distinct from its standard luxury chauffeured service division.

Its chauffeurs have undertaken security driving courses run by former members of Special Escort Group, an elite cadre of metropolitan police officers who escort and coordinate the routes of royal vehicles. Their chauffeurs are trained in anti-hijacking and anti-terror driving techniques well beyond standard defensive driving. They must take exams informed by the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM/Roadsmart).

“People who pass these exams are statistically better equipped with their observation skills so they do not have accidents,” Fraser says. “They are about 75-80% less likely to have accidents. The training heightens your observation on what is going on to the front, side, and back of you. The observation is so well honed, you anticipate better what can happen on the road. You see what others don’t and can take evasive action.”

Only 50 chauffeurs in the U.K. have reached the highest level of professional security driving, and 13 of them work for Secure Ground Transportation. Several of the chauffeurs are trained in First Aid, and one is a paramedic. Davies and Fraser take this secure driving approach because there is not enough demand in the U.K. for armored vehicles, and chauffeurs and the general citizenry are not allowed to carry firearms. Only members of the military and law enforcement are allowed to carry weapons.

Secure runs a fleet of 18 S-Class Mercedes-Benz, 15 Mercedes-Benz Viano minivans, two Range Rovers, seven Sprinters, and one motorcoach.

Among its other practices is a 15-minute-after waiting policy where the chauffeur must stay near the drop-off point after a client leaves the vehicle and does a complete sweep of the vehicle. This helps retrieve lost or forgotten items of the client as well as stand ready in case the client’s appointment has been canceled. For women traveling alone, chauffeurs escort them to and from the vehicle when picking up and dropping off.

“We make a point of getting to know clients, and for the first five or six times, we drive them,” Davies says. “They know us and we know their likes and dislikes. Anytime they have a problem, they can call us. We get to know all of our clients personally.”

Karim Maachi, owner and CEO, Cardel Global and Wanderlust Agency, Paris, France and Los Angeles, Calif.

The luxury transportation industry is seeing an increase in operators like Karim Maachi, who boost their business reach by creating complementary ventures. As the owner and CEO of Cardel Global, one of the largest luxury chauffeured services in Paris, Maachi in recent years noticed a steady stream of business and private clientele moving between Paris and Los Angeles.

In addition to ground transportation, these high-end clients need access to and reservations for charter jets, hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and other luxury services. In April 2017, Maachi launched the Wanderlust Agency, a worldwide full concierge service to fulfill requests from his chauffeured clientele. The Wanderlust Agency has grown faster than he expected, and now serves 50 VIP clients on its roster.

While Maachi’s primary focus is still on Cardel Global, he now divides his time between his base in Paris and a new Wanderlust office in Beverly Hills that has a full-time concierge manager and a business developer.

“After almost two years of seeing our French clients moving to the U.S. and many living in Los Angeles, we decided to open an office there and create a bridge with Paris,” Maachi says. His clientele breaks down about 80% corporate/business and 20% private/leisure. Many of his clients have connections to the Southern California entertainment industry. Overall, 65% of Wanderlust clients came from Cardel Global, which runs 49 luxury chauffeured vehicles in Paris and Geneva, Switzerland, and uses affiliates in Los Angeles.

“I saw an opportunity to create a business related to our transportation service,” Maachi says. “This is a good way to diversify and have real synergy among your businesses. It’s not that difficult to grow your network.”

As Maachi has proven, one business can lead to another. With a rising number of French residents moving to Los Angeles, he is laying the groundwork to launch a service focused on helping expatriates adjust to the U.S. and navigate immigration and the legal paperwork needed to do business and reside here. He’s developed relationships with the French Chamber of Commerce, the local French consulate, immigration lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents to refer clients. The goal is to provide French and international entrepreneurs, and arts and entertainment professionals, custom relocation packages based on the profile of the client.

“You have to approach your clients in different ways, and use your professional experience in the transportation industry to diversify your business,” Maachi says.

Mike Fridge, vice president of Audubon Limousine, New Orleans, La.

Fridge enjoys what he does for multiple reasons. Not only does he get to show travelers the cool hidden gems of his city, he also gives locals a chance at a career path that fits their lifestyle. Fridge has grown the 27-vehicle company from 50 to 200 employees during the past eight years, giving many people the opportunity to make a reliable living with few or no sacrifices.

“We have great training programs, and because we are a seven day a week company, it really allows people who might be parenting on their own or going to trade school or college to be able to work on a schedule that works for them.” He believes the industry could work together on a national level to promote job opportunities.

“People don’t realize the pay is as good as it is,” Fridge says. “Working at a small company is a great way to get your foot in the door to maybe work for a larger company that pays more. There’s so much opportunity for upward mobility, and I don’t think we as an industry promote that enough. I think if we worked with trade schools on a national level, we may be able to get some grants or funding to train and recruit people who don’t even think about it as a career path,” he adds. “They may think about driving for the city, but not as a chauffeur.”

Since shifting from being just a tour company, Fridge has learned luxury executive transportation brings unique demands compared to tour transportation. “The expectations are greatly different. Focus on all the little details. It’s not a matter of having flashy cars as long as you have some of the best trained chauffeurs and the little extra touches like hand wipes, mints, and newspapers. This really separates you from competition.”

Brock Pittman, owner and president, Royal Parking and EcoStyle Transportation, Raleigh, N.C.

Before Brock Pittman moved into chauffeured transportation service, he mastered the art of parking vehicles. His unusual path into luxury ground transportation evolved from a parking lot, deck, and valet service management business he started in 1999 while a 20-year-old college student.

Royal Parking handles a full spectrum of parking-related services, such as managing paid public and private parking lots, valet parking for hotels, restaurants, and hospitals, parking decks of all types, and parking attendants. The company either leases parking facilities or manages them for others. It runs 60 lots, decks, and venues spread across Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Asheville, and Charleston, S.C.

Pittman’s started his now 50+ vehicle transportation business, EcoStyle, in 2011 while his parking company was handling a contract for a five-star, five-diamond hotel property that was Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certified. The hotel asked Royal to provide the in-house car service, using two green luxury vehicles.

“Demand was so high we started adding other vehicles,” Pittman says. “There’s a high level of service that has to be provided to clients parking in front of five-star properties. We took that training and applied it to the service we offer in transportation. The quality we have with chauffeurs skims off of our experience in the hospitality industry. There’s a demand now for an aggressive hospitality approach.”

Ecostyle’s fleet includes nine motorcoaches, 14 minibuses, and variety of sedans, SUVs, and vans.

Lest anyone think parking is a static business, Pittman is transitioning to higher-tech versions of parking services, such as pay kiosks, credit-card paid passport accounts, texted payment options using lot and space numbers, and use of parking spot apps. His parking monitors use tablets with Bluetooth printing and digital cameras to document license plate numbers. The results? “99.3% of our customers pay.”  

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Related Topics: business management, customer service, entrepreneurship, innovation, international, international business, LCTFast40, Millennials

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