You asked for it and we listened. In this column, we ask operators of all sizes and from all walks of the industry a question about their business and report their answers so you can assess how your own company compares to your peers. If you would like to participate, please email Rob Smentek at firstname.lastname@example.org for next issue’s question.
TOPIC: Do you have a mentor (either in or out of the industry)? Where did you meet? What’s the best advice you’ve received from your mentor?
I would have to say my father John Patti is my mentor. Growing up, I always looked up to him when he and my mother started Buffalo Limousine. I picked up so many habits from him that are with me today, and I very much feel that is why we continue to be successful. Business aside, he was a great father to me, my brother, and my sister, as well as a great husband to my mother Camille.
That said, the best advice I received from my father was always to provide exceptional customer service—everyone is a VIP and should be treated as such. He would always say that “a 17-year-old calling about a prom might be a future CEO, so always place the customer’s concerns first. If you do that, success will follow.”
Another sound piece of advice that has carried with me is pay attention to details; it’s something Dad would echo daily.
Carla Boccio, Owner
Buffalo Limousine in Buffalo, N.Y.
Over the past 28 years, I have met a lot of great people from whom I have learned so much in this industry. I think every time you speak with people you can learn something—if you take the time to listen. People told me I was crazy to get in this business, and I do think that most days they are right. br / However, I would have to say I have learned the most from my lawyer. Thirty years ago, we were both just starting out, and together we formed a great friendship and working relationship. I knew nothing about the legal side of our business, and he needed help with common-sense ideas I could give him. We are still close today and talk weekly.
Gary Day, CEO
American Limousines in Baltimore, Md.
I have been fortunate to have several positive mentors in my work career, but my No. 1 was my first leader at Drury Hotels, Linda M. I worked with Linda for more than 18 years, and I am so thankful for her patience, guidance, and true desire to make me a strong leader. When I think about some of my “areas of opportunities” as Linda would call it, she was always there to teach me, give feedback, and guide me as a female leader in a typically male-dominated industry. In my first week selling for Drury Hotels, I misspelled “accommodations” in something I wrote and she said “If you are going to sell it, then learn how to spell it.” That taught me we must pay attention to the details and know our stuff. Then later in my career, she advised me to never go into a meeting seeking approval without already knowing where your idea stands with key influencers. That is how you get stuff done and approved.
Because of all she did for me, I have a true passion for developing our team to be their best!
Kim J. Dolniak, President & Co-owner
BEST Transportation in St. Louis, Mo.
My mentor growing up in this industry was my father and founder of Royal Coachman, Bob Epstein. He was able to “toe the line” in the parental struggle of giving me too much space or not enough space to make my own mistakes and decisions. Over the past 15 years, I have relied on my limousine industry 20-group as a mentor, or more as a board of directors, and they have helped me make some major changes to my business. As my father always told me: “It’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems.”
Jon Epstein, President
Royal Coachman Worldwide in Denville, N.J.
My mentor is my father, Tony Hernandez, who founded our business. He said two things on my first day on the job, which have stuck with me: 1. “If you eat the pie by yourself, you get sick”—meaning, don’t be greedy; and 2. “Anybody can fire someone. It takes real brains to turn a mediocre employee into a star.”
Andy Hernandez, President
CTA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in San Antonio, Texas
Sadly, both of my mentors—Tom Mazza and Carla Boroday—are deceased. Both were instrumental in both helping me open my own company and believe in myself. Tom gave me his cell number and we spoke weekly, and Carla and I would talk late at night a few times a week as she worked third shift as the owner of Associated Limousine in Miami. Without both of these mentors, I would not be as successful as I am, especially in a one-mile town.
Wendy Kleefisch, President
Brevard Executive Limousine in Indialantic, Fla.
There are several women and men who I can call upon, depending on my current challenge, and thankfully, they’re generous with their time and knowledge. It may be because I need a different perspective, or it’s something I don’t have any knowledge about. I’m not too proud to say that I’m not sure or need to learn.
Over the past 10 years, those who I look up to are other business people within the industry. There are also people I maintain long-distance relationships with. All of these people are part of my inner circle. We hear the same drum, though we may react to it in different ways.
There is one special person who pivotally changed my life when I was 25. I was in a life situation that I didn’t belong in; I went to this person and presented the facts as I knew them. I then explained why I felt the way I did, and asked what they thought. Instead of giving me their opinions, a question was presented to me: “What are you going to do about it?” Those eight words changed my life. It took me a little while to realize that I was indeed in control of my life, and it was up to me to make my world right. I have the power. And did I ever make a change! Since then, I know that I am here to make the best of MY life, and those around me, each and every day. Thank you ... Dad.
Tracy Salinger, General Manager
Unique Limousine in Harrisburg, Pa.
I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors over the past 38 years in business. First was Harold Berkman (Music Express), who warned me about extending credit to clients and partners; Dean Schuler (Signature Livery NOLA), who advised me not worry about what my competitors were doing; and Tommy Mazza, who forced me to stay up with current events and read everything I could get my hands on.
Later, Bob Bellagamba (Concorde Worldwide) and Trevor Franklin (MTC Limousine) advised us with our financial strategies, George Jacobs (Windy City Limousine) is the reason we always have a backup generator, and Kristina Bouweiri (Reston Limousine) shared her marketing expertise.
Most often, though, it has been Dawson Rutter (Commonwealth Worldwide). He has shown by example that to give is better than to receive, advised my son Brandan and me when we were worried about the TNCs a few years ago (“Do what you do well and the business will keep flowing”), and even with the tragedy in his life he continues to be there for anyone and everyone in our industry.
Ron Stein, Founder & CEO
Exclusive Sedan Service Worldwide in North Hollywood, Calif.
I began my company a little more than three years ago, as a “one-man band” with a single car. That first year was like being on an island: I had no one to consult or get support or advice from. Through Chauffeur Driven and a local small business organization, I have met great mentors who have continued to expand my small business. I am now at that point where I actually need to follow their advice to let go of the steering wheel and do more of things outside the car so that I can drive my company into the future! That has been the hardest advice to follow, but it’s the push I need to succeed.
Mentorship happens organically, you can’t just force it. Many people don’t even know how to mentor, and often do it by accident. It’s not a mentor’s responsibility to impart wisdom, it’s the responsibility of the mentee to seek their knowledge and appreciate it.
Ron Tabb, Owner
A Star Limousine in Cleveland, Ohio
My mentor in this industry is Dale Schahczinski from OML Worldwide in Chicago. I met him at a trade show in 2016 after providing some farm-out work to OML. The best advice he ever gave me was to stay true to who I am and not allow the industry to dictate my character. This has been such an important piece of advice that has made me stay in my own lane. I use that advice a lot because it reminds me that I need to focus on my company and not any outside distractions.
David Uziel, President
UrbanBCN Worldwide in South San Francisco, Calif.
z I haven’t worked formally with Pat Charla of DriveProfit or Charles Tenney of The Tenney Group in many years but their lessons live on. I still use a ton of Pat’s awesome sales language as I do a few programs Charles turned us on to when was doing more business consulting. Thank goodness Pat was there when we landed our first invitation to a giant RFP on the overwhelming Ariba procurement platform. We still use Charles’ valuation guidance to merge and acquire livery services.
Another important group of mentors was the NLA board. I was elected to the board when I was 28, so I hung on their every word and continue to use much of what I learned from them. I highly recommend operators consider joining a committee of their regional association. Coincidently, Charles Tenney was the NLA president when I joined the board in 1989. He started his meetings by having everyone tell the group about something in their personal or business life that was going well. This is another chestnut that I still keep with me.
Charles Wisniewski, President & CEO
Teddy’s Transportation System in Norwalk, Conn.
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