Driving Transactions
Wednesday, July 24, 2024

SolombrinoScott Solombrino Industry trailblazer. Fierce advocate. Award-winning CEO. Outspoken critic. Association leader. Mentor.

Scott Solombrino has climbed every ladder, shaken every hand, and worn every hat during his four-decade career in chauffeured transportation, so it wasn’t altogether shocking when he announced his retirement from the industry in early April. After all, the 24/7/365 nature of the industry is unlike most other professions, and he says that he set out and achieved all that he wanted to accomplish.

“Retirement” didn’t last long because by the end of April, we knew what was next for Solombrino. At 59, he’s taking on his biggest challenge yet: global corporate travel.

Chauffeur Driven: Can you tell us about your new position?
Scott Solombrino: I had a contract with Dav El/BostonCoach, and I was happy to stay on, but I’m 59 years old and I’ve done everything there is to do in this industry. We drove the most important people every day—but it was a never-ending day. I knew if I again signed the deal with my very dear friends and former partners, it meant that I would have ended my career there. My sons are still there and will continue to stay there. I wanted to take one more professional shot to see if I could do this all over again. When I made this decision, the GBTA opportunity didn’t yet exist. It wasn’t a week after my team helped me put together my LinkedIn page—I was never really on social media before—that I got several job offers. People came out of the woodwork. It wasn’t about a specific industry; they wanted leaders who know how to communicate with a team and to make great decisions. But when the GBTA position came up, to me it was about being happy while also contributing to a great organization that outweighed everything. I thought I could make a big difference in the lives of people I liked very much, including many who were my customers for a long time, and I knew I could do a good job if given the opportunity. I’m never going to forget where I spent decades of my life—I will always have a place in my heart for this industry because nobody works harder than them. They work themselves to death because that’s the business they chose to be in, and I just don’t know if other travel verticals understand that. It’s not like that in other industries. My poor wife thought I was going to take the summer off and spend some time with her!

CD: What does your new position entail?
SS: I am the lead employee of the organization and I report back to the GBTA Board of Directors and President Christle Johnson. My job is to manage the day-to-day operations as well as the marketing, educational program, strategic vision—every aspect of the association is looked after by me. The board sets the overall direction of the association, and it’s my job to execute that strategy. Having sat on the board for more than 20 years, I have a really good understanding of how the role should work and the areas I want to see improved. I have a different style than those who have run the association before—I’m a little more aggressive, I’m much more commercially focused, and member focused, and I’m certainly going to try my best.

CD: What are your most important goals as COO?
SS: One of the biggest I’m starting with is the culture of the organization. I’m not suggesting that there was ever an issue, but there are ways to improve those numbers because I am a service fanatic. We’re here to serve and to advocate for the members. Coming from chauffeured transportation, I understand how to cater to people so that they feel warm and welcomed and that they’re getting value for their dollar. We’re a service organization and we’re serving our clients who are the members—there should never be any doubt that the direct membership is in charge.

Second, education is a major initiative for us. GBTA is known as the premier education organization for people in global travel. We’re always trying to improve and expand learning opportunities because the global travel buyer’s job has become more than just travel management. People are being asked to do a lot more in their positions today, and it’s GBTA’s job to provide them with the tools that are necessary to help them execute their expanding roles in their organizations. Anything we can do to make education more relevant and stronger as to help advance their careers should always be our goal.

Third, the allied community, which invests many millions of dollars into GBTA as big and small sponsors, has to feel that they are appreciated. We need to listen and get much more creative in how we provide offerings that they want and need, not what we think they want. The allied community is asking for more opportunities to get a better ROI. My goal—after spending many years on the allied side—is to close that gap. You have to have new and fresh initiatives.

Fourth, GBTA competes with for-profit organizations, so we have to be cognizant of that fact. There are many for-profit institutions out there that are trying to duplicate the success of GBTA, and we have to make sure that we are always doing things better and for a better reason. We have to be nimble and to react quickly, which is really saying something as a massive global operation. Every member of the board and our numerous global committees is a volunteer. We’re a nonprofit that is here to serve its membership and to keep those who volunteer their time coming back year after year. You have to stay competitive.

This is what I’ve faced in my first 30 days. I’ve been told to slow down a bit, but it’s just my nature to keep moving forward and make my mark on things.

CD: How are you learning about the other travel sectors within GBTA?
SS: I have the utmost respect for the chauffeured transportation industry. But when you take over a global organization that represents every aspect of travel, you have to become an expert in a lot of things in a short amount of time. So I’ve put together a rapid response team of people from various industries who are able to quickly work with me if I have a media opportunity or a question. For the next 12 months, part of my role is to learn the other travel verticals including their histories, regulatory conditions, and hot button issues so that GBTA can do a better job in helping to elevate those industries and make them feel that they have the best possible representation. Numerous members have offered their assistance, so I have a whole network of people to reach out to. I have a tremendous amount to learn, but I study, I take this position seriously, and I’m not afraid to ask for help.

CD: Once a vocal critic of TNCs, now you are representing an association that includes them. How are you finding that balance?
SS: I have no favoritism toward any group under GBTA because I gave that up when I retired from chauffeured transportation and accepted this position. The TNCs have been nothing but welcoming to me. Sure, they first looked at me with a skeptical eye because I was the guy working all over the country to pass laws to put chauffeured car and TNCs on a level playing field. But I took the position knowing full well that I represented everyone, so neither is under-represented, and I can find pathways to produce better outcomes for everyone. They’re all equal. I feel that I can do more good for chauffeured transportation now that the TNCs are public companies and have to consider the public good in a different way. There are certain issues that are black and white—like duty of care—and some sectors might be better equipped to handle them.

I will say the TNCs have tried really hard in the past year to understand the mainstream issues like duty of care. If they hadn’t succeeded in that extent, they never would have become public companies. There are still plenty of things that could be improved. Right now, chauffeured car absolutely has a disadvantage but I don’t think that will last forever. I can’t speak to the regulatory climate, but I do think there will be a level playing field, at least as it relates to duty of care. It’s a huge issue for the travel industry and travel professionals who need to ensure that their employees are safe and secure every step of the way.

CD: On the flip side, how can chauffeured transportation be better partners with travel professionals and procurement?
SS: Transportation is just one small piece of the global travel industry. Every limousine company needs to be an active member of GBTA—not because I said so, but because of the education and exposure to other travel professionals. This is where operators are networking with the end-users who are and could become their customers, and they need that. These are their clients! They’re missing something that can be valuable to the profitability of their business and to their maturity as an executive, just like many of the most respected operators within chauffeured car have done. Those companies have thrived and have elevated their understanding of the issues they’re facing. You can be a small company and have as much success as a big company; you don’t get drowned out. All you have to do is make one contact—find one new client—and being a member has paid for itself many times over. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to build a new strong group from this industry because I think it’s that important to their long-term success.    [CD0719]