Robert and Hoss Oskouie could use some coffee. It’s after 7 p.m. on a weeknight, a day’s work behind them, which included a flight back from New Orleans where Robert was checking out some equipment. Self-proclaimed caffeine addicts, the brothers joke they may have to enter Starbucks rehab. In this 24/7 industry, plenty of operators run on caffeine to get through the day, but the Oskouies get a genuine adrenaline rush from this business—the coffee is just a bonus.
“No day is ever the same,” says Hoss. “You walk into the office and you don’t know where the day will go. We make things happen and that keeps me interested, keeps me ticking.”
Robert founded Atlantic Limousine & Transportation in 1995, just before the Summer Olympics were hosted in Atlanta. At first, he had been working part time for another company whose owner was struggling a bit personally; professionally, Robert thought he could do a better job.
He bought a Krystal limousine in December 1995, and within a couple of months, he had saved enough to buy a second vehicle. As the Olympics approached, Robert saw the potential money to be made. As Hoss says, “Robert always jokes that he thought he would make so much money from the Olympics that he could retire. Well, 22 years later he’s still working hard.”
Although both Robert’s and Hoss’ backgrounds are in the restaurant business, they found the core principles of the two industries to be similar: customer service and making people happy. “I was a waiter in college and that required people skills, but then I started driving for Robert and I thought the clientele were better,” says Hoss. “It was weekend work and there was more waiting than driving, so I found time to do my schoolwork.” It was also helpful for Robert, who was a one-man show during the week, and it afforded him a night off. After graduating with a degree in computer information systems, Hoss came on as a partner in 1999.
That same year, Atlantic Limousine & Transportation moved to its first “real” office. Before that, the company was run from the family garage. “Our mom would cook for the chauffeurs who would watch TV while waiting for jobs. The phone would ring and everyone would go silent,” says Hoss. “But soon we doubled the size of the company and needed to get out of that house.”
The first office was small: not even 2,000 square feet, with two cubicles. Three years later, the office was upgraded to 22,000 square feet. Then came the staff: dispatchers, reservationists, accounting personnel, and a salesperson. In 2005, they added an overnight dispatcher. “That was a game changer when we finally did that,” says Hoss. “No more transferring calls to our cells. I wish we had done it sooner.”
Atlantic has come a long way since those humble beginnings. Its current campus is almost 3.5 acres, with a 55,000-square-foot warehouse, enough to house the 30 office employees and nearly 80 vehicles belonging to the two sides of the company: traditional limousine service and buses. That investment in buses has been a big factor in how the company scaled, and was all thanks to a tip from a client.
"We couldn’t do the day-to-day responsibilities of being at this level without our team. Our management team provides the structure this place needs to function.” – Robert Oskouie, CEO & President of Atlantic Limousine & Transportation“One of our earliest clients told us to get a bus back in the early 2000s. Everyone knows now the growth is on the bus side. We got a head start in 2005,” Hoss says. To the Oskouies, getting in the motorcoach business completed the company. “We were fed up with the [bus] service we were getting, and we figured, we have everything else. This completed us as a full-service ground transportation company,” says Robert. For the past five years, coaches have been a bulk of the company’s investment.
But getting into the coach side was like starting all over again. “You have to think of storage and maintenance, and having buses with a bathroom ... you have to deal with that,” Hoss says. Aside from the equipment itself, there were difficulties involving chauffeurs. “We’ve experienced challenges shifting drivers from the truck mentality to the chauffeur mentality: being 24/7, showing up in a suit, being technologically advanced,” he continues.
The brothers drew on their restaurant experience to find a solution. “When it comes to training, we’ve always compared ourselves to luxury brands like The Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons ... we’re in that class,” says Hoss. “For chauffeurs, we want to find quality people and turn them from a short-order cook to a fine chef.”
“We brought a limousine touch to the bus world,” says Robert. “Our bus chauffeurs are in a suit and tie, and they help people with baggage and getting on and off the vehicle. Most bus drivers wear a plain shirt and pants uniform and don’t go that extra step to help.”
These efforts have helped Atlantic become one of the largest providers of limousine and bus services in the Atlanta market. “When it comes to going up against the competition on the bus side, we can’t beat them on pricing but you’d be surprised with our presentation and reputation, plus the bad experiences some clients have had with traditional bus companies, we easily win contracts,” says Robert.
The buses are also effective as “billboards on wheels” with logos on all sides for everyone to see. “You don’t know how many people call from the road seeking information,” says Hoss. “They are well-oiled marketing machines moving around all day long.”
In a market like Atlanta, having this type of mobile advertising is wise, considering how much time is spent in traffic. “Everybody who comes in to see us, different operators, they don’t realize how bad traffic is. They don’t expect it,” says Hoss. Despite that, Atlanta is booming with development.
Atlanta has a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies, which includes The Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Chick-Fil-A, and UPS. Media giants like CNN, TBS, and The Weather Channel also have headquarters in and around the metropolitan area. Mercedes-Benz recently relocated to Atlanta from New Jersey.
"Part of success is risk-taking and adapting, while not being afraid to be surrounded by smart people.” – Hoss Oskouie, COO & Vice President of Atlantic Limousine & TransportationHartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the world’s busiest in passenger traffic, yet the Oskouies say a lot of that is pass-through. “Only 30 percent are getting off at this destination; most of them are connecting flights, so we don’t get all of the rewards of such a busy airport,” says Hoss.
Those travelers whose destination is Atlanta, especially for business travel, are certainly boosting the economy, though. According to the Atlanta CVB, 53 million visitors generated $15B in spending in 2016. It hosted 750 meetings and conventions in 2017—no surprise considering the more than 2 million square feet of convention space available.
For the past decade, the area has been attracting new residents, creating a culturally and economically diverse population. It’s not uncommon to hear the acronyms “ITP” (inside the perimeter) and “OTP” (outside the perimeter) when discussing Atlanta. Interstate 285 forms a border around the city limits, and everyone has their points of pride about being an ITP-er or OTP-er.
“The area has urbanized in the past 10 years,” says Robert. “If you live inside the beltway (ITP), it’s like a supermixture of cultures. There are high-rises, condos, young people, and nightlife. You don’t feel like you’re in the South.”
Perhaps this melting pot has had something to do with another multi-billion dollar industry taking hold in Georgia: film production. It’s become the third hub for TV and movie production, following LA and NYC, driven in large part by tax incentives. Some shows or movies you may recognize—The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Baby Driver—have been shot in the area.
In response to the renewed attention on it, Atlanta has invested in infrastructure and attractions. One of its most well-known destinations is the Georgia Aquarium, the second largest in North America. The Civil Rights Era plays largely into Atlanta’s history as it’s the location of Martin Luther King Jr.’s National Historic Site, which includes his childhood home. Philips Arena, home to the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, is undergoing a major renovation to make it a true destination experience for sports and other entertainment events. The $1.6B Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened just last year and will soon be hosting Super Bowl LIII in 2019.
Atlantic has of course serviced Super Bowls before, but there is always something special about hosting in your own city. “Being as big as we are, there’s a high level of preparation for the equipment and staff. We have to be ready for the worst, not the best,” Hoss says, adding that their staff is especially experienced in big events. Director of Operations Patrick Kiesel has dealt with the Kentucky Derby, managing upwards of 250 vehicles for that event, and Affiliate Manager Linda Jagiela has her own history of managing several Super Bowls with 300 vehicles. “We have staff who have done this before, and we’ll be ready by the time Super Bowl is here.”
Success doesn’t come from the top down at Atlantic, it’s from the bottom up. “We couldn’t do the day-to-day responsibilities of being at this level without our team,” says Robert. His daily responsibilities fall largely on the equipment side of the business: financing, purchasing, maintenance, and detailing. Hoss is more on the operations side, connecting the departments to ensure they communicate. “Early on we divided our duties and we try not to cross over,” says Hoss. “Our management team provides the structure this place needs to help it function.”
In recent years, the Oskouies have set a goal to surround themselves with smart people and get every aspect of the company departmentalized. “With a structure of departments, each one runs itself so we aren’t managing everyone, just the department managers,” says Hoss.
Along with Kiesel and Jagiela, the management team of Atlantic includes Forough Lott, director of HR, and sister of Robert and Hoss; Isatou Jallow, the rare female chauffeur department manager; Emann Haghighat, shop and detail manager; Kimeo Lee, senior groups logistics coordinator; Leah Welch, marketing and sales; PJ Johnson, event coordinator; Ron Kowalsky, special projects manager; and Sammy Neal, manager of the charter division.
All departments communicate with each other through their own email exchange, sending daily “Chef’s Reports” that run down the day’s events and anything on the radar.
Adapting and restructuring has helped Atlantic gain an edge on competitors. “This industry is more than getting people from A to B,” says Hoss. “There’s all of the logistics involved, things we have to adapt to in the industry as it changes.”
They see technology as an advantage, and make huge investments in it, with Hoss leading the way. He created the company’s first software program while in college, and continues to adopt any piece of tech that would make the company run more efficiently and keep it competitive. Atlantic was among the first to offer iPad signage at baggage claim—as early as 2011 with the iPad 2 (remember those?)—says Hoss. Now, it’s an industry standard. Online reservations capability is available, although only 5 percent or less book through that method, clients like to know it’s there. ZipWhip, which allows you to text from a landline, is another efficiency in communication used by the firm.
Atlantic set out with a goal in 2018 to do paperless inspections, so on the bus side, the company uses Zonar, and Pocketfleet for the limousine division. “You can do your inspections any time, save it, upload it and the dispatchers see the inspection is done. If something is reported to be fixed, it’s automatically communicated with the fleet manager, ops manager, dispatch,” says Hoss. “They’re integrated with each other, and that’s great because now we don’t have to worry about someone forgetting to report a problem. It’s all streamlined.”
They’ve also integrated an app specifically for their meeting and DMC clients. “They can get a full status report and updates at each stage via email or text, or log in and make changes to the reservation,” says Hoss. “If you have a manifest with 50 people, our greeter has the technology to confirm who was on the vehicle and who wasn’t without picking up the phone.”
DMC clients love having information at their fingertips. “It makes it easier for them to see what we’re doing for them,” says Robert. “They feel like they are here working directly with us and helps them have the control they need.”
Technology is necessary in today’s business climate. “A lot of people are trying to bring as much technology into our industry as Uber and Lyft. You can see that with all of the app companies that come to the limo shows. You can follow your chauffeur, see their photo, their safety background, get your receipt immediately,” Robert says. “This is going to take over our business.”
Yet even while being so tech-forward, Hoss says it creates the need for redundancies. “Most people have switched to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), but if you lose internet then you lose your phones. We kept our landlines for that reason,” he explains. “We also have backup generators and two internet providers. If one goes down, the router automatically switches. We have two servers because everything is cloud based. Operators who are growing their companies need to think about these things.”
The Oskouies are not afraid to put themselves out there and take some risks. “Part of success is risk-taking and adapting, while not being afraid to be surrounded by smart people,” Hoss says.
Often the most unconventional ideas have some surprisingly positive outcomes. Take their female chauffeur manager, for instance. “Not many people will choose a female manager in a male-dominated industry,” says Robert. “She was an office manager for a shuttle company and we saw her as the best fit, and two years later she has done really well.” And then there’s Neal, who was a bus operator himself for 30 years before coming to Atlantic. “He was burned out. We joined with him and took a lot of responsibility off of his plate,” says Robert. “We wouldn’t own 15 coaches without him. He knows the business like no tomorrow.”
Another idea of Robert’s, albeit quirky, was to wrap a Kia Soul with advertisements for the company. “We have a person on the road doing spot checks at airports and major moves, so Robert thought it would be good to have this person drive a wrapped vehicle. One side shows our limousines, the other side shows buses, the back has an antique car, and the roof has our phone number and website so the people looking down from their hotels can see it,” says Hoss. “Now it’s a thing. People say ‘Here comes the hamster car.’”
And then there’s the drone video. Drone videos have become huge in real estate, giving house hunters an aerial view of the property. Robert tapped a real estate friend for a favor and used his drone to soar over the Atlantic Limo campus. “How many times do you wish you could bring clients to your office?” asks Robert. The video, which is available on the company’s homepage, shows the expansive collection of bright white motorcoaches outside and the garage-housed black fleet of SUVs, sedans, minibuses, limousines, and antique cars. Inside the office, the camera pans through the professional setting, where walls are lined with the company’s numerous business accolades. More than giving clients confidence, it also shows affiliates what Atlantic has to offer.
“One of the biggest fears from affiliates is that you will farm out a job. People don’t want that. This shows them we have the equipment and only use our own,” says Robert.
Also in the video is Atlantic’s full-service shop for fleet and retail vehicles. Four mechanics work in the shop, plus four detailers, including some who are designated for weekends and overnight, making sure vehicles are ready for the next morning. Mechanics can service everything from dealer vehicles to diesel buses, and the shop is a Temsa authorized facility. Atlantic also offers a roadside service truck. “We saw the need for this because if something happened on the road, it could be three to five hours before someone showed up. We offer a truck fully equipped to do tire changes and other roadside maintenance, available for any company,” Robert says.
Inside the garage is a fully automated drive-through car wash as well as a Bitimec designed system specifically for larger vehicles like motorcoaches. Hoss says this mobile machine cleans a bus in less than 20 minutes.
“In the past five years since moving to this location, I would say we’ve done a lot to work smarter, not harder, and that includes the equipment like the car wash,” says Hoss. “It makes our facility more professional but it also makes it easier for employees to come in and do the job they need to do.”
With attention paid on something as big as an automatic car wash to as little as break room perks, employees are top of mind for the Oskouies. “We have a utensil dispenser in the breakroom. It’s not a technology but it’s automated because we’d hear employees saying they forgot to bring a fork or spoon for their lunch. This is a little thing they thanked us for,” says Hoss.
"... We’ve done a lot to work smarter, not harder, and that includes the equipment like the car wash. It makes our facility more professional but it also makes it easier for employees to come in and do the job they need to do.” – Hoss OskouieAnd then of course there’s the Nespresso coffee machine, which wows everyone who walks in. “If you’re not a coffee person, working here, you will be because you always smell something brewing,” Hoss says.
These little decisions go a long way. “We make decisions not solely on the finances. We want things more streamlined and structured to make life easier for everyone here,” he continues.
After all, Robert says his employees are truly a family. “This is by far the place you spend the most time in the week. This is our work family. We share good and bad days, sorrows and happiness,” he says. “Even as big as we are, at the heart we’re a small family business.”
Doing for others extends beyond the company walls. Hoss says Robert’s heart is big, especially for children. The company gives back by providing transportation for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital “any time they want,” and sends limousines to take home the children treated at the burn unit of Children’s Health Care of Atlanta. Other outlets include participating in toy drives with a local radio station, and a “North Pole Visit” organized with the Greater Atlanta Limousine Association and Delta Airlines where sick kids board a plane and are transported to another gate decorated to look like Santa’s hometown.
The Oskouies are no strangers to industry involvement. They were in Tom Mazza’s groups and now participate in Strategy Leaders, sharing benchmarks and best practices. “Success is not a secret. We share it,” says Robert. Hoss also serves as secretary of the Greater Atlanta Limousine Association.
Hoss and Robert don’t share many interests, besides coffee. They are typical brothers with a slight “my way is better than your way” sensibility, but nothing beyond typical brotherly competition. Robert has a love for cars, and has amassed a unique collection that includes BMWs (a favorite) and even a “hippie” VW camper. “Robert has never driven a stock vehicle off the lot. It has to have his touch,” says Hoss, but he’s quick to admit to his obsession with technology. “I’m a tech-freak. And I’m an Amazon junkie.”
Both have daughters: Robert’s is 28 and an artist with great talent for abstract drawings. Hoss’ daughter is 8, and he spends as much time with her as he can. Their favorite thing to do with their daughters is going to baseball and football games, and both men are becoming fond of traveling as a hobby. One imagines they’d be perfect for a reality show that follows them on a coffee-tasting world tour. They agree Indonesia would be their first stop.
But until The Travel Channel comes calling, their focus will be on Atlantic. Hoss says the bus side of the business is only going to get bigger and bigger, but so could the sedan and limousine side. “So many people have left the retail side that there’s not enough companies left to do the work. Retail is back,” says Robert. “It’s something they indefinitely need.”
Hoss hopes to grow Atlantic’s presence nationwide, contract by contract.
“We both want to take Atlantic to the next level,” says Robert. “We have the right people and the infrastructure so hopefully we can go do these big contracts in bigger markets.”