Driving Transactions
Thursday, July 18, 2024
In our previous issue, we had the privilege of gleaning knowledge from operators who are leading companies that have been around for nearly—or more than—a century, a period with many phases of change. This time around, we narrowed our focus to companies that have a few decades of experience under their belt, but with no less interesting insight on the evolution of the industry—and beyond.

Robert Alexander Robert Alexander of RMA Worldwide ROBERT ALEXANDER
President of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Rockville, Md.

Founded in 1988 by Robert Alexander

What were some of your early hurdles?
I started out as an errand-running company and it evolved into a limousine company. So my early hurdles were delegating things and building a system of doing things, including training. You have that initial client who always sees you as the chauffeur, and then you have to hire somebody to now deliver the service that your customer is used to YOU delivering. So in the beginning as I was growing, it was hiring people who understood what it was I was trying to do with the company.

How did you survive the dips and thrive?
I learned a lot after 9/11. I, like a lot of my colleagues, didn’t slash and burn my company. I did burn through a lot of money—about $500,000—thinking things were going to come back the way they were, and I learned that’s not necessarily the way to do it. You have to make sure your company is adaptable so you can pivot and adjust accordingly. As far as staffing, have the right amount: enough to serve your customers but not much more than you need. Also, take care of your people so that you thrive together in good times but in bad times they are vested in survival. The give and take.

How did/do you balance family life?
There were seven years when I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Early on, I was single so I was able to put all my energy into it. I got married when the business was maturing and I was able to add more people and delegate, but there were times where I needed to put in those hours. I think the industry tends to suffer from micro-management and small-minded thinking. They’ll think that they can’t delegate because no one can do it as well as they can. The minute you think that way, you’re done. It means you haven’t hired the right people, or you haven’t taken the time to train them. It’s just a recipe for having a good job but not a good company.

Working hard is important to me but working smart is just as important. My goal was not to eat sleep, live, and die the limo business; it was to be able to have a really good company to support my family and provide opportunities for people I work with. I balanced it by making sure that I had my priorities understood. It also helped that my wife understood the goal and saw the big picture as well.

What advice can you offer newer operators?
There’s a diametrical shift in the industry right now, with more consolidation and people going sideways. Some think they can subsidize their income by working for Uber but may ultimately hurt themselves in the long run. My advice to growing operators is to run the numbers. Challenge the ideas: Do you really think you can generate this much revenue? How? That’s the “oh” moment, the reality check. Know the numbers.

Also, you have to know your value and what it is, because just saying you have better service is not an answer. There has to be a fundamental reason that makes the experience different. We have too many companies with outdated policies, like having to cancel a car 12 hours in advance. Really? Why would I want to use you if my plans change an hour before the ride when Uber will pick me up in 10 minutes? I think what’s going to win at the end of the day in this industry, prior to autonomous cars taking us all out, is efficiencies. Whomever is the most efficient wins.

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
I wish after 9/11 I was quicker to downsize my company and make changes. Surround yourself with people smarter than you: Right now we’re in a youth movement, and hiring a lot of bright Millennials with good ideas because it takes a lot of bright people to succeed. I’d also tell myself that maybe not everything is as big a deal as you think, but it’s a fine line because sometimes sweating the small stuff is what makes you great.

How do you feel you’ve been influenced by the younger employees?
They use different ways to look at things, understand how younger people spend, and what their expectations are in a changing environment. It’s how they approach a new account; it’s a fresh set of eyes from a fresh generation.

Did you feel like you were building a career in this industry?
I don’t own a transportation company; I own a service company. I started as an errand-running company, which should have been called Anything for a Buck, because that’s what I was doing. Then I became a livery company. We’ll see where it goes next. But the key is remaining fluid. I read The Washington Post and USA Today every day, and I’m starting to read the Wall Street Journal because the more information you have, the better. The more I can understand what’s going on globally, in the whole marketplace, the better I can run the company. You can’t operate in a vacuum in a global economy.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
We’ve done multiple acquisitions over the years so they were a good a launch pad to get to another level or into another market. However, I find that people think their business is worth a lot more than it is. It’s based on profitability, not what you can do with the company.

James Andrus The Andrus family JAMES ANDRUS
President & CEO of Andrus Limousine in Milwaukee, Wis.

Founded in 1964 by James Andrus and wife Margaret

What were some of your early hurdles?
Seeking financing and becoming a competitor in our market.

Can you share some of the wisdom you gained to not only stand the test of time but also thrive?
Having a good, solid team behind you is the key to success. The best marketing and office staff will help bring in customers, but if our chauffeurs or equipment fail us it will have a huge impact on our business. People want to ride with someone with whom they can build a rapport over time. Having a familiar face also says a lot about the company because it means that employees like their job—we have some who have been with us for 20 or 30 years, even 40 years. When customers see a new face each trip, it could suggest something about the way the business is run and they are not able to keep staff. Familiarity shows stability.

Also, pricing is important. And the reality is: Do you want your vehicle to sit in the garage or have it out on the road? We price our services where they need to be to keep everyone happy and still make a profit.

How did/do you balance your family life?
Family has always been very important and remains that way. Even when we were just starting out and growing the business, family time was just that: family time. I have been fortunate enough over the years to have staff who I can rely on to help run the show while we are on vacation or just a night out for dinner.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
We have acquired several businesses over the years, although it was mainly their customer database that we purchased. Doing this has taken us into surrounding areas that have been untapped until recently. If and when the right acquisition comes along, we always explore our options and how will it best suit our needs and the needs of those in the area.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
Our business began as a funeral livery service. Over the years, the funeral industry has changed and we have had to change with it: The days of full funerals are declining with more and more people opting for cremation. The need for a funeral home to have its own equipment has also diminished as so many are opting to rent hearses and limousines from us instead. Our most recent acquisition for the funeral industry is our brand-new family coach, which is a unique vehicle that provides transportation for the family with area in the rear for the casket that is completely separate and cannot be seen from the passenger compartment. The perimeter seating accommodates up to 13 passengers. We are the first and only company in the area to have such a vehicle.

Our big break into the retail market came during the historic 1964 tour of the Beatles, when we were called upon to provide the transportation for them during their stay in Milwaukee. We had to acquire stretches from other funeral homes to accommodate them. From there, we expanded to where we are today: sedans, SUVs, minicoaches, and stretch limousines.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
With three of our children in the business, they have been an influence in the more recent years as to expanding and developing our affiliate network: Jonathan is our affiliate manager and handles day-to-day funeral operations, Steve is our fleet manager, and Jane is our office manager.

What advice could you offer newer operators?
Focus on customer service and offer the best equipment. Also, make sure that you have great support staff—you will not be able to do this on your own without burning yourself out.

Carla Boccio Carla and Frank Boccio of Buffalo Limousine CARLA BOCCIO
Owner of Buffalo Limousine in Buffalo. N.Y.

Founded in 1960 by John and Camille Patti (parents)

What were some of your early hurdles?
For my parents in the early ’70s, it was a 24/7 operation. In that day and age, it was difficult to manage the business without the technology that we have today. Their goal was to become a limousine service that catered to corporate clientele and they needed to be a “yes man” in order to achieve the goal.

For my husband Frank and I, our challenge early on was maintaining our established standards. We bought the business when our children were six and four years old, so our attention was split between raising them and improving our established standards. We experienced a rapid improvement of technology, and with that, we had a steep learning curve in all aspects of our business.

How did your company stand the test of time and thrive?
Over the years, we have learned that servicing the customer is the first priority, and exceptional service is above all. We figured out how to operate in a lean fashion while maximizing the vehicles in our fleet. Our geographic location has helped us withstand recessions; providing service between Buffalo and Southern Ontario helped us stay afloat. In tough times, we stuck to our core business, which is corporate work.

How did/do you balance work with family life?
Frank and I are the current owners. Balancing family life with running Buffalo Limousine was and is very difficult. There have been a lot of times when we had to tough it out because of the nature of the industry.

What advice would you offer to newer operators?
When just getting started, it is wise to seek out an experienced operator as a mentor. This business is glamorous from the outside, but as the operator, it is a grind. Be careful not to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell myself that straying from family roots is a big mistake when it comes to the business’ highest level of management. This industry is strongly oriented around people, and having a good staff is key in providing exceptional service.

How has social media impacted your business?
Our niche work is mostly corporate travel needs, so we are not deeply invested in social media. Facebook is our main line to communicate to the general public.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
We do not have any plans for immediate acquisitions, but would consider an opportunity in the future.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
Initially, we did not intend on building a career in the industry. Frank was a long-standing chauffeur for my parents and eventually became an owner-operator. I was familiar with the business after working for my parents off and on over the years. Once Frank and I made the decision to buy the business from my parents, our goal was to grow our farm-in and farm-out work.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
My son Nick has been working for us on and off for the past year and a half as our fleet manager, and is currently studying for his CPA license so he can become our CFO. He has brought a set of fresh eyes out in our garage as well as with our use of some technology. “Work smarter, not harder” is what he would say.

Barbara Chirico L to R: Barbara Chirico, Deanna Gulino, Joseph Gulino Jr., Lauren Gulino, and Joe Gulino BARBARA CHIRICO
Owner of Gem Limousine Worldwide in Woodbridge, N.J.

Founded in 1976 by Barbara Chirico

What were some of your early hurdles?
Being a woman in a “man’s industry” was very intimidating and not having anyone believe in me. Jack Schwartz of Gaines Leasing is the person I credit with believing in me and extending me credit when no one else would.

How did you survive and thrive?
Being part of the very first limo show when the NLA was formed was monumental to our industry and to my business. Joining the NLA and our local New Jersey association (at that time it was called the Private Livery Association) was my introduction into what our industry was all about. I learned a lot from all those “old timers!”

How did/do you balance your family life?
The toughest time for family life was when I worked from my small house for the first 15 years. It’s still hard to believe how I did it: chauffeurs in and out, no privacy, raising my daughter, 24/7 living and working the business. But I did it—mostly because I had people depending on me to make a living and put food on their table, and I didn’t want to let them down. The word “failure” was and is not in my vocabulary.

What advice would you offer newer operators?
Surround yourself with good people who are intelligent, honest, and caring. Always be fair to all your employees and treat them with respect. Remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

How has social media impacted your business?
Social media has brought our industry to the next level. Use it wisely to showcase your company. We invested greatly in technology over the years because you can’t be left behind or your competitors will take over your clients.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started? How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
I never ever imagined 40 years ago that I would be where I am today. I have many people to thank but especially my daughter and son-in-law, Deanna and Joe Gulino, who have that passion in their belly to continue growing the company—and bring in their children to keep it going for at least another 40 years.

Jon Epstein Jon Epstein and Amy Birnbaum JON EPSTEIN
President of Royal Coachman in N.J.

Founded in 1969 by Robert Epstein (father)

What were some of your early hurdles?
The limousine industry was virtually an unknown commodity in the late ’60s and early ’70s, so gaining acceptance as a legitimate transportation provider was difficult. Also, chauffeur communications were in their infancy—we relied on pagers and two-way radios to get the job done. Regulations (and regulatory agencies) were also beginning to show up, which most operators were not prepared for.

Can you share some of the wisdom you gained to not only stand the test of time but also thrive?
It comes down to being ready for anything and everything and, more importantly, reacting quickly to anything and everything, especially in the face of adversity. Changes in our industry occur almost daily and some require massive changes to your operation (recessions, 9/11, etc.) that need to be implemented immediately in order to survive. However, the most important thing is to always put your clients first and focus on customer service. This should be the bread and butter of every successful operation.

How did your parents balance their work and family lives?
My father was the founder of the company and I was able to watch from a very early age the amount of time (as well as the stress) required to grow Royal Coachman. When I joined the business full time after working part time since I was 8 years old, there was not much “balance” between work and family life. It was all work. I always believed I could do more and better work than anyone, so I put much of that on myself. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized that in order to be successful, one must delegate and focus on the big picture in order to grow your business. It was at that time that we grew our infrastructure, which led to our success.

What advice could you offer to newer operators?
Be prepared for long hours, hard work, and many disappointments. Attend industry shows and learn from the people who have made mistakes before you. Seek out mentor(s) who are willing to share their knowledge and hardships. Most importantly, take care of your customers, as they are the most important part of your business.

What would you tell your younger self, or what do you wish you knew then?
I wish that I was more prepared to enter the business at such a young age and take on the kind of responsibilities necessary in a leadership role. Most of what I accomplished was learned “on the job,” as opposed to any formal training or prior experience in managing others, delegating, and leading a company. Unlike myself and my sister (my partner), all of our kids (two each) are out in the real world learning these important things.

How has social media impacted your business?
Social media has impacted everybody’s business, whether they know it or not. There are many advantages and disadvantages associated with social media so it is very important to have a great plan run by knowledgeable people. We have successfully outsourced almost all of our efforts. Many transportation companies today have younger employees who grew up with social media and are much more tech savvy than others so they handle it in-house.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
We have looked at quite a few potential opportunities over the years, some of which came very close to completion. I think that, in the future, they will play a much bigger role for both my company and others in the industry.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you started?
As a second-generation owner, my goal was to build a career and a company that would last, but also to eventually buy out my father, all of which has occurred. I certainly could not have imagined this industry becoming what it has when I first got started. Technology has drastically changed how we all approach our business and the solutions we try to bring to the table.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
I believe every company has been influenced by younger employees/managers and we are no exception: It offers you a different and sometimes refreshing approach to what we do and how we do it. Also of great importance are younger customers, who demand different things than their predecessors in terms of service and technology, as well as the younger owners in our industry who offer different and valuable perspectives.

Sue Jarvis Sue Jarvis of Aristocat Transportation SUE JARVIS
President of Aristocat Transportation in Detroit, Mich.

Founded in 1987 by Sue Jarvis

What were some of your early hurdles?
At first I did not know much about the industry. I was also modeling at the time—which involved a lot of travel—but I did have a BA in business and a strong will to run a successful company. I connected with several local limousine operators who I came to know and trust. Not knowing what to truly look for in a manager, I choose one who was not honest and it hurt my numbers the first year. It was a hard lesson but it taught me to know my numbers, to have great cash flow and accounting procedures, and to be on top of what was going on with my business even when out of town. I had to learn to make smart hiring decisions.

Later, it was growing the business and getting the right mix of advertising, networking, working with local affiliates, and cold calling. Also self-discipline was big for me at first, as was finding the right balance of vehicles and profitability.

Overcoming rejection during sales calls was another hurdle—I had to learn that the more nos I got the more yeses I inevitably would get and never to take the rejection personally.

How have you stood the test of time?
For us, focusing on corporate work—local and worldwide—and affiliate work only has been a great move. Your demographics and city have a lot to do with it, and we have a fair amount of corporate work in the Detroit area. Being grateful to God and thankful for what I have is so very important in my life—it is not just about the money. A great work family is super important to me: Working with people who are loving, kind, respectful, fun, and passionate about the job they do is nirvana. It is amazing the contrast of coming to work now versus in the past when I did not have ideal people.

Getting a great business coach was one of the best things I have ever done; I wish I had done it earlier. It has helped in so many ways: accounting and budgeting procedures, fine tuning our quarterly goals, best practices with hiring and employee retention, running our daily huddles, and helping me see where I could be a better owner and co-worker. Using a CRM tool has helped me to be more focused on keeping track of who I need to call and who I have met at various meetings. Getting my WBENC (woman-owned business) certification has been very helpful. It has brought us some great new clients who we would not have had otherwise, plus being part of this nationwide group of female business owners has also given me great new friends who have helped me professionally and personally.

How did/do you balance your family life?
Right now I have a great balance and that is only due to the great staff we have! This has been important to me from beginning—more than a big paycheck. At times I’ve had to work 90 hours a week and take phones at night, which is why I truly have a deep appreciation and respect for my staff. I just had a major death in my family and was able to leave for two weeks to take care of my loved ones with hardly any notice. This was priceless to me because you don’t get that time or those moments with family back. When I returned, all was perfectly taken care of and not a beat was missed, which feels like great success.

What advice could you offer to newer operators?
If you can, get a great business coach who specializes in our industry. Set achievable goals and try to work 40 hours a week, if possible, so you can take time for yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually—things fall into place easily and naturally when we take care of ourselves in these areas.

Write a great business plan, including a vision statement and defining your core values—it is a great asset for your new company. Keeping a positive “can do” attitude in tough times is huge! Getting out of the “lack” mentality by finding solutions and more customers. When things are slow, focus on fine-tuning procedures, cultivating current and potential client relationships, working on the website, and more networking opportunities.

Go to the industry shows and make new friends to build trusting bonds: To this day I still have friends I met 25 years ago who would help me at the drop of a hat if I needed anything. Also, get involved. In 2008, had the pleasure of serving on the NLA board for three years. This was such an awesome experience for me. The best part was making new friends with fellow board members, some who I have vacationed with, had to my home, and still talk to frequently. There is just nothing like having friends in the industry who know what you are going through; the support is just amazing. It will also help to push you out of your comfort zone by “just showing up”—a lesson I learned at a women’s conference years ago. Just show up, even if you don’t want to.

What would you tell your younger self?
It has been an amazing, fun, and interesting journey—and still is each day—but I would tell my younger self to put more time and energy into developing a great team of employees who would stay and grow with the company. Employee turnover and false expectations of what this business can give back are the hardest challenges. Be honest at the interview about the work flow and work load. People need to feel valued and part of something bigger than themselves. Give feedback often and fairly, and don’t let emotions sway decision making. Also, I wish I had watched the profit per car more closely and sold them when they weren’t profitable any more.

How has social media impacted your business (hiring staff to handle, customer service impact, etc.)?
Social media has been a game changer in so many areas.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
I have purchased five companies through the years and they were all great decisions.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
Yes, and I did not set a goal back then except to expand as much as I could and buy cars as needed.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
We are never too old to learn and evolve. The longevity of our business models depend upon staying current with technology and people skills. The younger generation wants an “experience” and to feel appreciated more than anything. They tend to stay for only a short time at their jobs because they seek to find more meaning out of work. Outside the office, using industry consultants and sales trainers have made a huge impact on my business model, state of mind, and effectiveness with my clients and staff.

Robert Levine Matthew (left) and Robert Levine of Hy’s Limousine ROBERT LEVINE
Owner of Hy’s Limousine in West Haven, Conn.

Founded in 1951 by Hyman Levine (father)

What were some of your early hurdles?
At the beginning, it was difficult to generate sufficient business to make it a full-time commitment. My father Hyman operated part time in 1965 as a wedding/funeral transportation rental with six factory-style limousines, from that year. I took over the company in 1973, and my son Matt joined the company in 2008.

Can you share some of the wisdom and experience you gained to not only stand the test of time, but also thrive after numerous recessions?
No secret, really: We always had a goal to grow slowly by hard work and careful spending. I operated without a manager to assist from 1982-2000, in order to keep costs down. We replaced vehicles to reduce costs and I ran the office and drove seven days a week.

How did/do you balance your family life?
Family life was always an issue. For many years, I would go and back and forth to work two or three times per day in order to attend school functions and sporting events. It was very difficult to balance, and it required a lot of discipline and determination.

What advice could you offer to operators just getting started or who have only been in business a few years?
You must weigh the benefit of owning a business versus working for someone. Many times, the overall result is not too different on a small level, yet the monetary exposure when you own is far greater. If the opportunity is there, a partnership between equal size companies can be a good way to own and utilize assets best as well as share costs.

What would you tell your younger self?
My largest regret was not seeing the value in hiring help on a managerial level earlier. This would have improved the business and my personal life.

How has social media impacted your business?
Social media is huge. It really emphasizes the importance of providing the best customer service possible. Clients can slander you with one click and you need to satisfy them no matter what.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
Acquisitions have played a significant role in our success. We’ve acquired more than 10 companies and it has been a great way to grow and reduce costs.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
I never dreamed we would get to the position we have in the industry. I credit our national exposure to Matt. He really saw the growth potential and we have grown considerably since.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
In addition to Matt, my managers have been my best sounding boards and have been great resources for understanding the way certain aspects of business are attended to today. It’s all about the current technology and we have embraced that.

Anthony and Mary Jo Mazzarella The Mazzarellas: Bob, Mary Jo, and Tony Jr. ANTHONY (Owner) and MARY JO MAZZARELLA (Director of Sales)
American Limousine in Cleveland, Ohio

Founded in 1948 by their father Anthony J. Mazzarella

What were some of the early hurdles?
MJM: When my father started the company, he was still in high school. Then in 1950, he was drafted into the Korean War, so his family maintained the business. Creating a corporate client base was challenging, too. It wasn’t common for corporations to use hired vehicles back then, so my father had to turn Cleveland’s industrial companies into corporate clients.

Can you share some of the wisdom and experience you gained to not only stand the test of time, but to thrive after numerous recessions?
AM: We all washed cars, chauffeured, worked in dispatch—we had to learn every aspect of the business. For the company to survive, our father became a distributor of professional vehicles—hearses and limousines—in 1969. In 1981, he started Eagle Coach Company, building and manufacturing coaches with his brother Bob Mazzarella. We had two different styles of limousines for transportation and funerals, so my father came up with the idea of the “24-hour car”: a limousine where the seat came out of the car and was able to be flipped, which he started building in 1984. He also created what we see a lot of today: In 1988, he and Bob came up with the concept of the five-door limousine.

MJM: They found their niche, which is what got us through challenges like the oil crisis, the recession in the ‘80s, and this most recent recession. When 9/11 happened, all corporate travel just screeched to a halt, and the funeral side kept us going. With current challenges like TNCs, we find that just being honest and forthright is really important with clients, as is staying true to your product.

How did/do you balance your family life?
MJM: It is not easy! It’s almost innate because Tony and I were brought up in the business. And when it’s the family business, you totally absorb it. My daughter would pretend to take reservations at three years old. My kids are in their 20s now so I have more time to devote to the company. So many of us have worked in the company at some point and it’s great having people—family—we totally trust when it comes to extra help.

AM: It’s not unusual for me to show up at the office with my kids. It is a family business so we know that if we call someone for help, they’ll have our back immediately—like with the RNC and the World Series recently.

What advice could you offer to operators just getting started or in business a few years?
MJM: Get involved with the community you serve. I’ve sat on non-profit boards, and I joined the business traveler groups and our visitors bureau. They’re great for networking and making a personal connection as well as breaking through to travel managers to get corporate exposure. It’s an investment in our community that sets us apart from the TNCs.

AM: We also built relationships and friendships with other operators across the country by attending the trade shows.

What do you wish you could tell your younger self not to do, or what do you wish you knew then?
MJM: We’ve built a really strong reservation call center to deal with our clients nationally, but we regret not starting that farm-out business earlier.

How has social media impacted your business?
MJM: Maintaining that web presence is important. We have a Facebook page to promote the company but we don’t want it to be overkill because, for me, if I like a company’s page, I don’t want to be constantly hearing about their 10-percent-off deals. So we’ll post interesting articles about Cleveland and the other cities we serve that might interest our followers, or link to the associations we do business with to stay connected with them. We use LinkedIn for hiring, and that has really helped.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
AM: Our first acquisition was two smaller operators in Cleveland and then we branched out statewide in 2008 and purchased a funeral business and corporate business in Columbus.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started and what goal did you have for your company then?
MJM: With 11 kids in our family and that third generation coming in, they’re staying in the industry but finding related positions—like our sister who’s a Cadillac dealer. Our Uncle John, who was a founding member of the NLA, really gets so much of the credit for building our affiliate business, and Tony has carried that national presence. Because we’re able to find our niche—like my local involvement—we can focus on what we want to do for the company.

Scott Solombrino Scott Solombrino of Dav El/BostonCoach SCOTT SOLOMBRINO
President and CEO of Dav El/BostonCoach in Boston, Mass.

Dav El was founded by David Klein in 1966; merged with BostonCoach in 2014

What were some of your early hurdles?
I was put on the Dav El Board of Directors in 1979; I was their Boston affiliate and took over in 1983. My biggest hurdle was understanding how to run a multicity organization because I had only operated in one city at that time. I had to get used to managing my time better because I had to travel; we had big operations in New York, Washington, D.C., and Beverly Hills. So, I had to adjust to that because I was spending 50 percent more time on the road than I had done before.

I made as many appointments on the road as possible so I had an efficient use of my time. I had a rule: When I would travel, I always had a client breakfast, two meetings, a client lunch, two meetings, and a client dinner. If, say, I was in California for five days, I would have six or seven client meetings a day. I’ve always tried to fill every meal with a client meeting—that’s how I became efficient.

How did your company stand the test of time and thrive?
Platforms like Uber and Lyft are having an effect on the business, but we all keep pace with that change. As long as you don’t fall off the grid, you can compete in the marketplace. You always have to have something being sold in the pipeline so that two months from then, you’ll have another big piece of business coming through the door. My theory is to sell every day, and as deals close, you’ll get the revenue incrementally in the future—or else you’re going to have gaps and shortages. I was always obsessed with selling something new every day.

How did/do you balance your family life while on the road?
My rule is to always be home on the weekend. I was at every game and event for my kids. Even if I was in London, I would fly back on the weekend, and then go back the following week if I had to. To this day, I only travel on weekends three to four times a year. You HAVE to have that work/life balance.

How has social media impacted your business?
Social media is just another means of communication. Corporations aren’t making decisions based on their social media presence. I do think it’s made an entire generation inept in how they’re able to communicate with real skills, such as speaking and presenting. They’ve become totally dependent on texting or social media, and they believe it’s helping their development. It really comes down to how you interact with people on a one-to-one or group basis.

What role have acquisitions played in your business?
I believe the industry is going to consolidate very rapidly, and we’re a big consolidator. It’s happening because of pressure from TNCs, because the marketplace on the corporate side is demanding fewer people out there. The industry has matured and is in a new place.

The number of new entrants is dropping dramatically because it’s too hard and there are now too many barriers to entry. Labor laws in places like California are out of control; liability is out of control; insurance is becoming impossible to manage; and licensing everywhere is becoming an issue. I don’t see anything on the horizon that’s changing that. So, what you’re going to see is more consolidation, which is being forced by the corporations who are out there and employ us. That consolidation will continue on for a number of years—that’s the trend.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
I started my company because I wanted to work my way through law school. By the time I finished my undergrad degree, I had a company doing about $4 million a year. I was going to stay with it for a while, and then was going to sell. It was never the intention that this would be where I spent the bulk of my career.

What would tell newer operators?
You can never rest on your laurels in this business; you always have to be one step ahead of everyone else. However, I would tell anyone starting to not work 20-hour days; it’s just not healthy. You shouldn’t be obsessed by your work. When people go to your funeral, nobody ever says, “He worked 20 hours a day.”

Ron Stein L to R: Ron, Brandan, and Dan Stein of Exclusive Sedan Service RON STEIN
CEO of Exclusive Sedan Service in North Hollywood, Calif.

Founded by Ron Stein and wife Jackie in 1980

What were some of your early hurdles?
There was not enough time in the day. For the first five years, my family life suffered because I was driving, handling sales and marketing, billing and collections, office cleaning, and car detailing. It was usually an 18-20 hour day because there was no real technology back then.

How did you learn to balance your work and family lives?
It was a priority to be able to watch my son Brandan compete in gymnastics, karate, football, and basketball, and Jackie was there to help with homework. Most of my involvement didn’t occur until we had a bookkeeper and a few chauffeurs on staff. I remember carrying around “The Book” and a huge mobile phone everywhere I went.

How did you survive and then thrive?
First off, it helps to have a supportive wife. It also helps to have your son step in to help and eventually take the reins. Patience, forecasting, and budgeting are huge; learning when to grow your fleet and when to hold back are skills. Now, investing in technology is a key ingredient in staying ahead of the curve.

What advice would you offer newer operators?
Learn to delegate and don’t micromanage people, but have KPIs or other ways to measure how they work for you. Set your expectations, invest in technology, and strive for balance with family and the business while still working hard. Try to figure out what success means to you: Does it equate to more money, better quality of life, or more family or personal time? Once you think you know what success means to you, set the goals to achieve around those things. Have a written plan that includes short-term and long-term goals.

What would you tell your younger self?
I don’t really have regrets, but I do wish we had bought stock in Apple and Starbucks.

How has social media impacted your business?
Social media is a must-have. It is the new century of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing, but it is just one piece of our marketing strategy. We have an outside professional to handle this for us.

The industry trend is toward consolidation. What role have acquisitions played in your business now and in the future? We are always looking to acquire companies similar to ours with the same type of clientele, rates, and customer service.

Did you envision building a career in this industry when you first got started?
When Jackie and I started our goal was just to make a decent living and have a happy home life; Brandan was born same year we started ESS, and our big goal was to send him to private school for a better education and have quality time watching him grow up. It really wasn’t until Brandan came on board that we focused on serious growth.

How have you been influenced by younger employees/managers?
They are the future and the future is now. For them it’s all about technology, they have taught me to embrace it. [CD0117]