BY LIZ HUNTERThe perception that women should follow certain career paths never suited Joan Wynne. At an early age, she set her sights on being part of the business world and has never looked back.
After graduating from Texas Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in business, Joan founded her own commercial real estate firm, and by the mid-’80s, the market was booming. During that period, more and more corporate clients came to check out properties in and around Dallas, so she contracted with a limousine operator to drive them around. As her son Bedford Wynne Jr. puts it: Texas in the mid-’80s meant big hair and bigger cars.
Full ownership of a limousine came when the operator asked for Joan’s help to buy a vehicle. As he was unable to secure a car loan, she purchased the vehicle—provided that he agreed to handle gas, washing, maintenance, and insurance, and that she could use the vehicle whenever she wanted, which often included her son’s various high school events and celebrations.
“Fast forward a few years and we had cars in Dallas, Austin, and Houston,” says Bedford. This attracted attention from affiliates and, eventually, Joan left her real estate career to manage the transportation business full time.
Joan founded Wynne Transportation in 1995 and contributed to elevating the level of service in that market. “We come from a hospitality family. The entrepreneurial experience and ability have always been there and, in my opinion, we were pioneers in the Dallas area,” says the founder, owner, and CEO, adding that her brother-in-law Angus Wynne Jr. brought the Six Flags theme park to Texas. At the time, black cars were not as in-demand as they were in New York or L.A. “So as Dallas became more sophisticated in wanting that service, we were there with the sedans and black limousines.”
Joan says that the company was the first in Dallas to introduce an SUV to its fleet, and when Bedford joined the family business in 2001 as vice president, he launched a meetings and events division, which led to further diversification with vans, Sprinters, VanTerras, minibuses, and, in 2008, motorcoaches.
Getting into the motorcoach side of things took some convincing, Joan admits, adding that she didn’t understand them. But her son’s business acumen—some of it inherited and some of it learned at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland, where he obtained a BBS in international business—helped break down the reasons motorcoaches would be a good investment.
“He’s a good analyzer. He looked at how much we farmed out and kept giving me the numbers. Finally, I said, ‘Let’s buy one motorcoach,’ and he replied, ‘We need to buy six,’” she says. “So I signed my name, and as it turns out, they were a great investment and we couldn’t keep them in house; they were constantly going out.”
While the new venture started off strong, the 2008 financial collapse did create some hairy moments. “No one had an idea of the extent of the implosion and financial crisis that would hit the country and our industry so hard,” says Bedford. “We didn’t think fuel would spike close to $4.50 a gallon. It was a challenging time, but we made it through.”
Today, this division of the company operates more than 30 motorcoaches.
The Wynnes attribute their overall success to several factors. For one, the company’s certification as a woman-owned business has helped them land lucrative contracts. Joan herself has been an active member of the Women’s Business Council Southwest for 20 years. Perhaps the greatest influencer is her background in real estate, which helped her find a prime piece of land in Irving, Texas—located just five minutes from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), ranked among the top five busiest airports in the country.
Wynne’s facility includes the executive offices, full-service maintenance area, car wash, and space for their entire fleet of over 80 vehicles. “Our cars can come through here for service and it’s a little like NASCAR with how quickly we can make it happen,” says Joan.
On a broader level, the Dallas-Fort Worth market—often referred to as the Metroplex—is in the midst of a growth cycle. The area’s major industries include banking, commerce, telecom, technology, energy, health care, and research as well as transportation. Dallas already contains the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country, including Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, Energy Future Holdings, and Dean Foods, while others are relocating to the city, including Toyota, which is moving from its base in California, due in large part to the availability of affordable housing in Texas, not to mention the Lone Star State’s pro-business policies. According to CNNMoney, the overall cost of living in Texas is 30 percent less in the Dallas area than Los Angeles County.
In fact, research shows more and more people are moving to Texas, and Dallas specifically, although both cities offer their own unique charm. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas gained 490,000 new residents between July 2014 and July 2015, and Dallas-Fort Worth accounted for 145,000 of that number. And even if people aren’t relocating here, they are definitely coming to visit.
Maybe it’s the cuisine: authentic barbecue, Mexican, and Tex-Mex doesn’t get much better than here. Or perhaps it’s because there is plenty for the arts and culture buffs, who may want to check out the Dallas Museum of Art or Winspear Opera House. History fanatics won’t want to miss the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the former book depository where the sniper is believed to have shot President Kennedy. Sports fans can catch a game any time of year, whether it’s the MLB’s Texas Rangers, NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, NHL’s Dallas Stars, or the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys—of which Joan’s husband, Bedford Sr., was an initial owner and founder.
Dallas is also home to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, ranked a top 10 convention center by Trade Show Executive Magazine. It’s a high-tech, sprawling center with 1 million square feet of exhibit space, 88 meeting rooms, and various other impressive amenities any group would desire.
With their selection of buses—all of which wear the Wynne name proudly—the company is well-equipped to take advantage of the growing meetings and events business coming to town, including the pharmaceutical meetings sector, which Bedford says is increasing. But their reach on group transportation goes beyond our borders. Bowen Sorrells is Wynne’s manager of international events and is regularly off-site overseeing moves in places like Costa Rica, Madrid, or Prague, just to name a few.
Much of this business is due to the affiliate relationships that Joan has cultivated throughout the years. Richard Weiner, director of sales and marketing, joined Wynne from Carey, bringing experience and new connections for the Wynnes. It was a successful supplementation to the companies Wynne was already using.
For optimal affiliate service, Joan likes to have three affiliates in each major city. “We have great affiliates in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Florida, who we don’t question or think twice if they can handle a job,” she says. “But in some cases if you have a 5,000-person move, one company might not be able to handle that.”
“We attend many of the trade shows for both limousine and bus operators and we have developed a solid network over 20-plus years of doing meetings outside of this market,” says Bedford. “Seeing these affiliates at trade shows, visiting them in their cities, getting to know their families, how their organization works ... it goes a long way.”
Both mother and son are still in awe of how much their affiliate business has grown through the years. “I didn’t realize how big of a revenue stream it would be not only in Dallas, but the U.S., and globally,” says Joan.
“I wouldn’t ever in a million years have dreamed of completing an event in Tokyo with staff on the ground to oversee it,” Bedford adds.
Aside from Sorrells and Weiner, Wynne’s management team is rounded out by Phillip Capers, CFO; Bill Peek, operations manager and 13-year company veteran; Nicki Smith, HR manager and 16-year company veteran; and Pamela Johnson, accounting manager and 10-year veteran. Managers meet weekly, chauffeur and safety meetings are held bimonthly, and dispatch meets once a week. Besides Joan and Bedford, no other family are involved in the company, but Joan says the atmosphere feels like family.
“One of the hardest things about this business is getting employees—quality employees,” says Joan. “Once you get one, you have to stand behind them, reward them. We have chauffeurs who have been with us 12 years, 15 years. They get bonuses, rewarded, and treated with respect. We treat all of our employees like family. We want them to stay and thrive. We’re successful and you have to reward the people who are making you that way.”
Success is not without its challenges, however. While Wynne’s motorcoach division, which Bedford oversees, continues to explode, the sedan side is taking a hit because of Uber.
“The environment in Dallas-Fort Worth is super business-friendly compared to what operators on the East Coast or California might deal with,” says Bedford. “But the city of Dallas has completely rewritten the rules for Uber and TNCs. It’s disappointing to watch how they’ve catered regulations to benefit them.”
Like fellow operators who do things above board across the country, Joan feels frustrated. “We’ve done it all by the letter of the law,” she says. “When they had mileage restrictions, when the cars had to be black and younger than five years ... we’ve always complied. Uber comes and they don’t need authorization or permits.
“If you’re getting in one of those cars you take a chance. We continue to vet our drivers, obtain permits. We still do everything like we’re supposed to,” she continues.
Wynne says, contrary to what might be happening in other markets, the company is not losing chauffeurs to Uber. “Uber drivers are coming to us because they aren’t making money,” she says.
Another challenge is technology. Joan has always been quick to adopt efficiencies for the better of the company and clients, but they have felt disappointed by what the industry has to offer.
We come from a hospitality family.The entrepreneurial experience and ability have always been there...” —Joan Wynne, Founder/CEO of Wynne Transportation"
“We feel let down by the tech companies in our industry,” says Bedford. “Uber has been around for years and we haven’t come close to what they are offering. People talk and say they are getting close to rolling something out that gets us in closer competition with the TNCs, but I have yet to see it. The software is functional, but from a client perspective it’s disappointing.”
He adds that they would be willing to spend the money if someone came to the table with “an awesome product that works.”
This year the company has been focusing on creating a larger social media presence and they revamped their website.
Another big step they took earlier this year was establishing a Houston branch. “We wanted to open another office, but we didn’t want it on the other side of the state,” says Bedford. “We have two sedans and two coaches there, and we’ll be adding inventory at the end of the year just in time for Super Bowl 2017.”
Just like the decision to run motorcoaches took some convincing, Joan says her son has also led the way for expansion plans. “Bedford is ‘go big or go home.’ I’m more conservative. He’s pushed me, but I’m proud of him and how he thinks to grow the business in different ways. We are a good mix together,” she says.
It wasn’t always Bedford’s plan to join the family business, but it has ended up being the ideal career.
For Joan, having her son’s help is rewarding, and she has even allowed herself to slowly retire—somewhat. “I’m still here every day and I plan to be, but maybe I leave a little earlier,” she says. “I feel fortunate to have started this business and it’s been successful. It would be sad to work as hard as I have for 17 hours a day and just sell it. It’s rewarding to think I can pass this on to my son, who can then pass it down to his children.”
In what spare time she has, Joan enjoys living in a high-rise with an amazing view of downtown Dallas. “I love having parties with clients and friends and enjoying the balcony,” she says. “I recently bought a lake house in Mabank, Texas, where there’s an active golf and boating community. And of course I enjoy anything having to do with my grandchildren.”
She’s speaking of Stella, age 9, and Ford (Bedford the III), age 7—Bedford’s children with wife Tia. “I’m an avid outdoorsman: hunting, fishing, camping, boating,” he says, and with the beautiful weather from March through November in Dallas, there’s plenty to do outside. “I love getting out with my kids and showing them the many different fun places in the U.S.”
But like the saying goes: everything is bigger in Texas, and for the Wynne family, that includes their hearts. Giving back is a core value, and one cause in particular is the annual Cattle Baron’s Ball for the American Cancer Society, which started back in 1974 inside a barn on the Wynne family ranch.
“That first year Johnny Cash was the entertainment and we raised about $56,000. We thought we were cooking then!” Joan exclaims. But that seems peanuts compared to what was raised in 2015, when Tia Wynne hosted and Tim McGraw was the entertainment. “We raised more than $4.2 million that night. It was the largest single-night fundraising in the history of cancer research. It was huge.”
Seeing the impact her connections through business and the relationships she’s built throughout the years makes Joan smile. She has built a legacy future generations can be proud of, and one that allows her to pay it forward.
She says, “My friends used to call [the company] ‘Joanie’s little limo service.’ Wow, how it grew!” [CD0117]