North Carolina’s H.A. Thompson who retired from his company last year at age 85 reminds industry fleet owners of time-tested strategies.
[UPDATED 8/11/12 11:45 p.m. ET/8:45 p.m PT w/comments from Diane Forgy, Ron and Brandan Stein, Wade Randolph and Carolyn Nelson below]
PHILADELPHIA — Tom Mazza — a revered name and brand deeply associated with the U.S. limousine industry for the many roles and titles he held over a stacked and dynamic career — died Saturday at his home in his hometown of Philadelphia. He was 53.
Mazza succumbed to complications related to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died around midday ET surrounded by family members.Mazza's death was announced by close friend and colleague Jason Sharenow on Facebook. Sharenow had visited Mazza frequently in his final weeks and represented his interests.
Mazza's first neurological symptoms developed in mid-2011 when he lost his voice; he had devoted much of the last year of his life working with multiple doctors and specialists trying to determine an accurate diagnosis and find remedies. In recent months, the symptoms had spread, gradually weakening him.
Mazza died knowing he was widely loved, respected and appreciated throughout the industry. Despite not being able to speak or eat in his final days, Mazza could listen to and comprehend the hundreds of texts and e-mails flashing in from friends and well-wishers nationwide that he could read or have read to him from his smartphone by devotees at his bedside. He was able to text and e-mail short responses and messages, as recently as July 30, and write on a clipboard.
Tom Mazza served in so many varied roles that he became in many respects the chauffeured transportation industry’s expert and sage — a brilliant, forceful, energetic, sometimes feisty mover and shaker who lived and breathed the limousine industry. But to his abundant friends and admirers, he was simply known as a generous, big-hearted, straight-talker from Philly named “Tommy.”
A journalism major who started out as a chauffeur and an operator in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, Mazza rose to become a national chauffeur trainer, author of his namesake, trademarked chauffeur training program; an educator and speaker who led the seminars and sessions for the annual Limo Digest Show in Atlantic City, N.J.; a business broker who arranged sales and mergers of limousine companies; a consultant and financial advisor who led popular operator roundtables that boosted the service quality and financial performance of numerous limousine companies nationwide; a prolific, award-winning business writer who worked as the East Coast editor of LCT Magazine and later as a contributor to Limousine Digest; an administrator who once served as executive director of the National Limousine Association; a strident, opinionated advocate of industry interests and agendas who was a fixture at limo trade shows; an entrepreneur who founded his own consultancy and helped start Limocart.com, an online chauffeured booking service; and a champion networker and liaison who made countless friends and sparked many a fruitful business relationship and affiliate connection throughout the industry.
Mazza brought passionate intensity and street smarts to his numerous industry roles, generating a career of notable professional contributions that tracked an industry evolving since the early 1990s from a fraternal, informal business village to a larger, more diverse transportation business sector. Mazza played a major role in the transformation of the industry in the last two decades.
Reactions to his death and recollections of his life among industry friends and associates are coming in waves as so many people knew him and have much to say. [LCT will update with comments as we get them].
NLA President Diane Forgy commented Saturday evening: "When I went to see Tom in early July, I let him know how many industry friends are thinking of him and praying for him and his family. How much love and respect for him we had and what a big difference he made in our lives and our businesses. I wanted him know how much he had to be proud of and although I think he knew that I hope it was nice to hear. I first worked with Tom on the NLA board in 2003 when he was the executive director. The following year I joined the original twenty group, the Limousine Success Group which he facilitated. I was nothing short of awestruck by his grasp of the issues, his ability to command a room and his deep caring for those in the industry. As much camaraderie he had with major operators it was the empathy and respect he had for the small and struggling operator as well as the chauffeurs and front line staff that was most enlightening.
"My moments with Tom were fewer and far between but they were no less meaningful. I think all of us had our special moments with Tom. When our twenty group came to Kansas City, he relished in the culture and history of the community. He really got connected with our staff when he spent an extra day training. I think that was when he was his happiest and proudest. There were many special thoughts and feelings shared and there will be an appropriate time to make that public. I am a better person for knowing Tom both in business and as a human being. I think I learned more from Tom in his final moments that will have a greater impact on my life.
"More importantly my thoughts and prayers are with his brother Mark, sister Marion as well as his dear friend and "sister" Yvonne who have been by his side for so many weeks. What an amazing team and loving support system. We should all be blessed with their dedication and unconditional love. One thing I will share that he said was 'family is everything.' We are all for the better and owe a huge debt to Tom. He was an amazingly proud man with a tough exterior but deep down I think he hoped for a kinder, gentler and accepting community in the industry. That may be his greatest legacy."
Ron and Brandan Stein, owners of Exclusive Sedan in Los Angeles, befriended Tom, and according to Brandan, “He was considered family. He helped me grow our fleet of seven cars to a fleet of 39 at our peak," Brandan said. "Sometimes I would email Tom questions and he would always write back right away after analyzing each situation and tell me what to do." Brandan went on to say that Tom bettered everyone as a person.
Brandan’s father, NLA board member Ron Stein, considered Tom to be a little brother to him but yet a big brother to Brandan. “He taught Brandan things I would have never thought of," Ron said. "He was truly a mentor to Brandan.” The connection between the Stein family and Tom is deep. Ron said his family has been sending Tom photos, such as a heart drawn in the sand of the Southern California beach that says, “We love you Tommy,” and photos of grandchildren blowing kisses. The Stein’s wanted Tom to have very happy memories in his last days.
Wade Randolph, owner of Riverside Limousines in Baton Rouge, La., was another operator deeply touched by Tom. He sent Tom a note recently that said, “Tom, I just wanted to let you know that you have had a very positive influence on me in my personal and business life. You have made me more compassionate and generous to my staff and my chauffeurs and that has meant a lot to me.” This is Tom at his best. Impacting lives in a rich, meaningful way. Tom and Wade shared their deep Christianity together through fellowship beyond the limousine business, such as the Steins'.
Carolyn Nelson, owner of Bel-Aire Limousine in Baltimore, has known Tom since he started his original limousine service in her neck of the woods. A lifelong friendship was born between the two. Nelson said, “I was mesmerized by Tom and hung on every word he said at his seminars.”
Nelson also joined one of Tom’s focus groups and said that it helped her meet every single one of her goals and kept her on track. “I can’t imagine him not being at the shows to keep us positive,” Nelson said. Nelson added that his legacy will live on into the future through his training tapes. Those tapes will continue to teach operators in how to train chauffeurs and train chauffeurs on how to serve the industry. Nelson was fortunate enough to spend time with Tom in his final days and witnessed Tom’s enjoyment of reading many emails and text messages from industry members who wanted Tom to know what a positive impact he had on their personal lives and businesses. One wish of Tom’s was that an anti-bullying foundation might be started in his name as this was a cause near and dear to him, Nelson said.
Pete Corelli, Lakeview Custom Coach: "We’ve known each other for over 25 years. He would call or I would call him and we would ask each others opinions on different things. Tom was always high on the limousine industry. No matter how bad things were, he would always put a positive spin on it. He believed he was doing a good things for the people he helped. People would hire him to help them with different aspects of their business and he had all of the best intentions to make that company a better company. We always traded information and niceties at shows. We would have a lunch, just the two of us. I will miss being able to see him and converse with him on how he was progressing on the reinvention in his life. He always had a positive outlook. He is an old friend. When you have been together in the industry as friends who you only get to see at industry events and functions you get to know each other. Tom always put himself out there promoting the industry. His passing will leave a hollowness in the industry. I am truly going to miss him."
Philip Jagiela, Aries Transportation Group: "I knew Tom when it wasn’t about affiliates. He started in the industry with his brother Mark several years after I started my own business. We established a business relationship and a friendship almost immediately. As the times changed, both Tommy and Mark went a different direction but we never lost contact with one another. Tom reinvented himself and brought great insight to the industry. I knew Tom on a more personal level. We shared insights on things truly having nothing to do with limousines. It was there that we got to know each other as people. Even in his final days, we remained in contact with each other. He was a champion to the end and will be remembered for his vitality for the industry, friendship to those who knew him and a dear brother."
Joe Ciruzzo, A Elegant International Limousines: "It is a sad day. I have enjoyed speaking to Tom about the industry and hearing his presentations at the shows. He was a very intelligent and likeable guy. I gave him the nickname 'Mazza Man.' I told him he was a superhero who was coming to save the industry. I think he liked that. He will join Carla Boraday and Dean Schuler running the transportation in heaven. This is truly a bad day for the industry."
Jim Salinger, Unique Limousine: "We had an issue where we had a major crisis. We didn’t know what to do. Josee called Tom at 4 am and he called back in 5 minutes. He told us exactly what to do and how to do it. He was there for us through it all. He was a true friend of ours. He helped Josee and I in a time of need when we couldn’t get help anywhere else and he did it. I knew him when he had L’tour 23 years ago. I don’t remember how we connected—we just did. We will miss him. I think what drew people to Tom he would take the time to listen to them. He would finish with you and then go on to someone else. He never left you hanging when someone else came up and said hello. He was very respectful and attentive. He has helped me recently in the past six months. He is always very helpful. I feel for his family. It is very hard to take."
Tim Rose, Flyte Tyme: "Tom was our facilitator of our 20 group. He took over after Charles Tenney. Our group was the original group. We all spent a lot of time with Tom over the years in lots of different cities. The time we spent was quality time whether we were in meeting learning or having meals together and sharing stories. You really get to know each other like that and we did. Tom was a great story teller. Our company had Tom come and train our staff and chauffeurs many times over the years. Tom was great with his one liners. He would say 'Drivers deliver pzza. We don’t want drivers we want professional chauffeurs.' Tom will be missed."
Tom Mazza was born on August 20, 1958 in Philadelphia to Paul and Gilda Mazza. He grew up in northeast Philadelphia, graduating from Archbishop Ryan High School in 1976. Mazza attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received a B.A. degree in journalism in 1980.
Mazza was involved in a number of entrepreneurial ventures before joining the limousine industry in 1990.
In addition to teaching and outside sales positions, Tom was a color analyst for more than 75 division 1 college basketball games as well as doing sports talk, commercials, and a college basketball coach’s show on WTTM in Trenton, N.J. and WFUL in Philadelphia. Mazza operated a 10-car limousine service, Le Tour Limousine, in Warrington, Penn., with his brother Mark for almost seven years.
While working as an operator, Mazza saw a large void for education and training within the limousine industry. He developed a training program and business curriculum that resulted in a published book, "The Complete Guide to Operating Successful Limousine Service.”
Tom Mazza joined LCT Magazine in May 1997 as a senior editor, working as the magazine’s editor and correspondent on the East Coast. As an editor, Mazza generated ground-breaking content, including an investigative article about the 10 worst airports in America for limousine operators which spurred regulatory reforms at several airports. He also created the LCT 50 Largest Fleets List, which grew into the magazine’s signature annual 100 Largest Fleets List.
Mazza served as executive director of the National Limousine Association from February 2002 until October 2003. Soon after leaving that post, he established the Tom Mazza Consulting firm (www.tommazza.com) based in Philadelphia, which he ran through this year.
LIST OF TOM MAZZA PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS HERE
As a consultant, Mazza developed interactive roundtable forums, called Limousine Benchmarking Groups (LBG), for groups of 10-20 limousine operators in multiple cities nationwide that met several times per year. It was at these confidential sessions that he earned the deep respect and trust of many limousine operators, as they disclosed their private company finances for his review and advice. During two LBG meetings in Los Angeles in December 2010 and March 2011, Mazza was observed facilitating an atmosphere of straight talk and camaraderie among diverse groups of operators who often became good friends as well.
During his consultancy period, Mazza also penned numerous articles in Limousine Digest advising operators on all aspects of their businesses. He was cited in FORTUNE Magazine, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Charlotte Observer as the limousine industry expert.
With such vast accumulated knowledge of company financials and the business strengths and weaknesses of various owners and operators, Mazza also evolved into a savvy matchmaker for company deals. He could often recommend and refer businesses that were interested in buying, selling, or merging, and then spend months deftly negotiating the right agreement.
Mazza also was responsible for creating and leading the educational seminars at the annual Limo Digest trade show in Atlantic City, N.J., from 2004 to 2011.
In 2010, he helped develop and invest in an online chauffeured vehicle booking service called Limocart.com, which exhibited at the 2011 International LCT Show in Las Vegas.
Ever the diehard sports fan, Mazza was devoted to his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies. He also was a boxing fan, which was apparent at the October 2008 Limo Digest Show when Mazza took to the ballroom stage at the Trump Taj Mahal after speaker George Foreman’s keynote address and asked him in encyclopedic detail about specific matches, moves and historic boxing moments.
As a veteran business traveler, Mazza learned all the tricks of living out of suitcases across multiple time zones, once mentioning to LCT that he never ate meat in the 24 hours before a flight because it helped reduce jet lag. With so much travel, Mazza came to cherish his spare time; he vacationed and lived parts of the year in Miami Beach — his home away from home — where he owned an apartment within the famous art deco South Beach strip.
After losing his voice in the summer of 2011, Mazza did not slow down. He communicated via smartphone and tablet computer, pursuing his familiar regimen of consulting, advising, writing, brokering, and coordinating despite frequent medical appointments. Although not being able to speak, he mingled and shook hands at the 2011 Limo Digest Show Nov. 6-9. As always, he sat on a stage with his laptop computer, this time silently overseeing the speakers and sessions while messaging and texting his thoughts. It would be his last limo trade show.
LCT will provide information on funeral and memorial arrangements when it becomes available.
--- Martin Romjue, LCT editor, w/reporting from LCT associate editor Michael Campos, LCT contributing editor Jim Luff, and LCT contributing writer Linda Jagiela
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