BY SUSAN ROSE
Reza Choudhury was born for logistics‚ which is lucky for him because he happens to enjoy it. As the CEO and owner of London-based Reliance Worldwide‚ he operates in 550 cities globally. Over the last 10 years he has built up a network of affiliates and business partners that provide a truly global service.
From his corporate headquarters in London he currently juggles a full load‚ with his chauffeur service as well as running several other businesses all in logistics—including an international courier service to the Euro Limousine Service he co-founded to provide a voice for smaller‚ family-run chauffeur businesses across Europe. He’s also the father of five daughters ranging in age from 7 to 14. He makes it look easy.
Disciplined‚ smart‚ and mature well beyond his years‚ Choudhury has spent nearly half his life in the field—moving both people through chauffeured transportation and packages through his positions with international logistics companies. All of this experience was ultimately used as the cornerstone of Reliance‚ which he founded in London in 2003.
Choudhury entered the industry at 21 after he was recruited by Mark Haynes of London Chauffeur Services. He had been working for an event ticketing agency that sold tickets to the coach division of the company and Haynes was thoroughly impressed by his work ethic. Choudhury was young and newly married‚ so he jumped at the opportunity for a better paycheck.
It wasn’t love at first sight. “To be honest‚ I wanted to leave six months into the job‚ but my wife convinced me to stick with it‚” Choudhury says. “I was naïve. The opportunity was good and the money was good‚ and I eventually grew to love it.” He says it wasn’t the job‚ but the laid-back attitude in the office that was difficult for him to work with. The culture flew in the face of everything that he had been taught.
Choudhury had spent his teenage years in military schools and later‚ the Air Cadets. He was commanding his own unit at 18. He was also the son of an Asian father who valued hard work and pushed his children to succeed‚ so functioning without structure wasn’t going to work for him. Haynes—recognizing his talent and orderly nature—tasked him with the challenge of organizing the departments.
Haynes became one of his first professional mentors‚ even after London Chauffeur Services was sold a few years later. Choudhury got his first taste of the logistics business‚ which was another of Haynes’ companies‚ in fact his primary service. The company was massive‚ and Choudhury was responsible for accounts totaling $20 million‚ a testament to his leadership abilities.
In 2002‚ Choudhury was recruited by Lenny Santorelli (who turned out to be his next mentor) when he took the job with the London office of Complete Management Services (CMS)‚ a U.S.-based logistics firm. Choudhury took to Lenny immediately. “I loved his look‚” says Choudhury. “He was suave and people listened to him. That’s what I wanted to be.” Working with Santorelli—along with some gentle nudges from his wife‚ Michelle—gave him the confidence to branch out on his own and open Reliance.
Although Reliance is a combination of courier‚ chauffeured‚ and even jet charter services today‚ Choudhury built the company slowly on the foundation of transportation. “In chauffeured services you can start straight away and find accounts almost immediately. With the courier side‚ you need the accounts first in order to get the discounts‚” he says. “I knew that I wanted to do both‚ and I’m happy with growing slowly. I’ll get there‚ little by little‚ as long as we are still growing. I don’t want to be a volume-driven business‚ but a quality-driven business. Each may carry something different‚ but the customer service aspect still remains the same.”
Like many other major cities‚ London’s hotel scene was the place to find high-end clients‚ so it’s where Choudhury started. London is an important cultural center for Europe (some even say it bests New York City) and is home to a vibrant music and theater tradition that brings acts from all over the world to its doors. This hotbed of activity helped Reliance grow organically as customers would pass on recommendations to their peers—often corporate executives‚ entertainers of all stripes‚ and other influential people.
“There was no recession for people like Russian oligarchs who still wanted to maintain their lifestyle‚” he says. “I was fortunate to have people like that as clients. They only go to the best companies that will give them what they want.” Entertainment clients—those in the industry as well as those partaking of the events like concerts‚ games‚ and competitions—rounded out the roster.
One thing he was (and still is) careful to avoid was putting all of his eggs in one basket. He says that he never wants to be in position to lose a major account because of one error. “We’re humans and things can go wrong from time to time‚ so I learned early on to be selective with the clients we work with. We’d never go after the entire company; we prefer to work with a few executives rather than the whole executive leadership for that reason.”
Building a network of affiliates was something that Choudhury wanted to do immediately upon opening the business‚ and he says that he spent most of the first year doing just that. London is a major financial center for Europe‚ not to mention the headquarters of many global companies in a panoply of fields. Over 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an office in the city‚ so the need for international transportation is very urgent.
“Being a global company was an idea I had back when I was working for London Chauffeur Services in 1995‚” he says. “I had the connections‚ and now we send each other business. I also wanted to work with the smaller companies that often get overlooked by the larger networks. If they have the level of service‚ I’m happy to give the little guy a shot.” Later he would found the Euro Limousine Service based on the same ideal.
The Euro Limousine Service (eurolimousine.net) was created out of frustration‚ says Choudhury. He says that the trade shows he attended in the United States often catered only to those companies based there and that they lacked the education and understanding of dealing with global companies. At a time when affiliate business was thriving‚ the larger European companies were pushing the smaller companies out of the affiliate market. “I was frustrated because it wasn’t right‚” he says. “So I decided that I would do the work and empower these local companies. I worked with Karim Maachi of Cardel Global (France) to put together a list of companies. By being part of the Euro Limousine Service‚ we were essentially putting them on the map. We took the guesswork out of it for affiliates in the U.S.‚ and empowered the local‚ family-run companies to sustain their businesses with affiliate work.”
Choudhury’s drive and strength comes from an unlikely source: his family. “My family is my core‚” he says. “They are the most important people in my life. My wife is my best friend‚ and I am so blessed to have five beautiful daughters.”
He once was the typical young hot shot working those grueling 18- to 20-hour days to get ahead‚ a pattern that continued even when he opened his own company. “I knew it was important to show my children the value of working hard‚” he says. Two pivotal moments changed the way he thought about being a businessman: The illness of one of his daughters and the death of his father. Both events helped him strike that coveted balance between family and work that we all crave.
His father’s illness and subsequent death had a large impact on his mindset. “I hardly knew my father growing up because he was always working‚” he says. “I knew he loved me in his own way‚ but I really got to know him after he had a stroke in my late 20s. I learned to understand him‚ why he pushed so hard.” As is tradition‚ when his father died‚ the weight of responsibility fell onto him‚ and he felt an obligation to take care of his mother and younger siblings.
His newborn daughter’s illness about a decade ago—at a critical time when the company was still getting off the ground—left him unable to work for nearly six months while she slowly recovered and grew stronger. The entire extended family rallied around the baby until she was able to leave the hospital and join her twin at home. Today she’s a happy‚ healthy‚ normal 9-year-old girl.
“We can all make money‚ let’s be honest. But what’s important to us? Are we just chasing money missing our families‚ or do we want to raise our children to be the best human beings? I’m trying to do both‚ but they always come first. My family is my wealth‚” he says. There are still long days‚ but he makes it a point to schedule it around family events so that he doesn’t miss his daughters growing up.
The concept of a family is how he chooses to run Reliance as well‚ albeit a well-structured and well-disciplined family. When he was first recruiting for the company‚ he chose the best people he knew to join the organization‚ knowing that he could not offer them what they were worth at the time. “I surround myself with positive people and I never worry that it’s not going to work out‚” he says. “We’re part of a trillion-dollar industry‚ so there is enough for anyone who wants to make money. I believed in everything I did‚ so I told them: ‘I need you here now‚ and I can’t give you what you deserve right this second‚ but in six months I will and more.’ My team is still with me today.”
Distribution Director Karen Thompson was one of the first employees to join Reliance as part of the executive team. Choudhury had worked with Thompson at a previous company‚ and he says that she came over without hesitation‚ without even knowing what she would be paid. Operations Director Michael Griffin-Ahamed‚ who is also his brother-in-law‚ was the youngest member of the management team when he joined at 18 (now 25). Choudhury refers to him as a “mini-me” because they have similar personalities‚ drives‚ and work ethics. Choudhury’s wife Michelle is the company’s CFO‚ but he affectionately refers to her as “The Governor” because she handles all of the accounting and finances. He now has a hand-picked team that includes: John Archer‚ head of sales/contracts; Moksud Miah‚ head of IT development and infrastructure; Ikbal Hussain‚ head of social media and graphic design; and Abul Hasanath‚ head of International couriers.
“They believe we are a good company and that we will take care of them‚ so they take care of us‚” he says. “The team I have in place treats it like their own company‚ and I never have to worry if they’ll get it done. I don’t have to look over my shoulder. They understand the business and step up to do whatever is needed without being asked. With them‚ the company essentially runs itself without me. That’s how I was able to be there for my family.”
He tries to be generous with his team as well‚ often rewarding them for a job well done. But it’s the day-to-day problems where he sees the most anguish. “If my employees are stressing about something‚ then it’s going to impact what they’re doing every day. I can’t have that negativity in my organization. If I see negativity‚ I’m moving away from it. Both Michelle and I will help them with what they need—let’s resolve it and get back to business.” He says that it’s often such a minor fix—like an employee’s car is broken down or they need to care for their child who has a fever—that it’s not worth all the stress they put into it. A car or day off later‚ the crisis is resolved and the employee is back to work without worry hanging over his or her head.
More than anything‚ Choudhury hopes that he inspires his team to be leaders‚ maybe even entrepreneurs in their own right. When he’s home‚ he encourages his daughters to think like entrepreneurs and spends time teaching them about the corporate world. In a way‚ he wants to bring out the best in the people around him.
“I am the role model for the people in my organization. If I conduct myself in a bad way‚ then they will think it is OK to act like that as well. The business is like a family; it has to be structured. People should enjoy what they do‚ and we can also come to work and have a little fun. Yes‚ we all have struggles‚ but in between‚ you have to enjoy the rest including your work. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t like. I want my employees to be as excited about what is happening here as I am‚” he says.
Trusting his team allows Choudhury the time to focus on the important details of the business‚ which includes his chauffeur team. He freely admits that he runs his chauffeur team like a military camp: strict and with unbreakable rules. “I want all of my chauffeurs to become a unit—to look‚ act‚ and think the same when dealing with the same level of clients. I want service to be consistent‚ so the rules have to be exact. You have to deliver what a customer wants.”
As London becomes more and more multicultural—there are now more than 300 languages spoken in the city‚ more than any other city in the world—Choudhury says that he’s facing a new challenge: finding chauffeurs who speak English clearly. He says that chauffeuring used to be considered a good occupation‚ but now it’s falling out of favor as the older generations retire.
As one would expect‚ training is vital to Reliance’s consistency of service‚ and of which Choudhury is a large part. He tries to match the chauffeurs to the clients based on their strengths and skills‚ and he often doesn’t hire a chauffeur unless he is at least 30 years old—or possesses a maturity that is needed to serve his clients. “Not all chauffeurs are capable of driving top-end clients‚” he says. “You have to work with them to suit their personalities. This is where lack of training comes in. True chauffeuring is not just the basics of opening the door and showing up on time—although that is important. It’s all in how he conducts himself in the vehicle. It’s what he does or does not do that’s critical. When all is said and done‚ we have to ensure that both the customer and chauffeur had a good week and that they are the proper fit. And we hear that through client feedback.”
Choudhury knows it’s going well because he’s worked up to the point where business is now coming to him rather than the other way around‚ thanks to great clients who recommend Reliance. “We can chase customers day in and day out‚ write RFPs‚ and bang down doors—and that can work‚ but often you’re chasing a hot lead that runs cold‚ spending a lot of energy to do so. Overall‚ there’s no better feeling than having a client recommend you to someone. That’s the ultimate compliment. That means they value our service. We want that traveling executive‚ the one who goes from city to city to city‚ so then I can give my affiliates some business as well.”
While it may sound unorthodox in the business world—or at least in this industry—Choudhury says that all operators should have the confidence to be able to tell a client no. The traditional thinking is that you never want a client to use another service because they will never come back‚ but Choudhury doesn’t agree. “You will not lose a client to whom you say no because they will respect you for not taking on the business that you can’t properly handle. They don’t want bad service‚ and they already have a small list of alternate providers. They’ll use someone else this time and call you the next time.”
We can all make money‚ let’s be honest. But what’s important to us? Are we just chasing money missing our families‚ or do we want to raise our children to be the best human beings? I’m trying to do both‚ but they always come first.”
– Reza Choudhury, CEO of London based Reliance Worldwide
He also doesn’t fear the app-based companies that are impacting London as much as they are U.S. cities. In fact‚ he thinks fellow operators should be inspired by the technology and create an app for our industry. “There is negative press about [the apps] because it’s a change in the industry‚ and nobody likes change. Does it affect me? Maybe‚ but honestly‚ not as much as we think. Like I said‚ we’re in a trillion dollar industry and not one on-demand company can have all of it‚ not even these new companies. It’s just another choice for consumers. They have their own problems‚ too.”
One aspect of technology that has made Choudhury a convert is social media. He says that he used to joke about people tweeting and wasting time on Facebook‚ but he’s come to realize the power that it can wield. “Social media is king at the moment because you are creating awareness. It’s a place where you can showcase your business‚ like the Louis Vuittons of the world. We can connect with customers and show off our service in a way we never could. I wasn’t a fan before‚ but I am now.”
Reliance recently won several awards‚ including one for marketing through Professional Driver’s QSi Awards. He also believes in transparency and has made it a point to post not only his entire fleet and services on the Reliance website (reliance-grp.com)‚ but also rates. “We’re putting a lot on our website to see what our customers want. Through Google analytics we can see where customers are spending most of their time and what they are looking for. We’ve been gathering data since last year and it’s been phenomenal to see what we need to deliver to our customers. I want to be able to empower our affiliates and reduce the amount of emails and phone calls for questions from their customers‚ which they can easily get on our website.”
Choudhury is currently working on a project that has consumed the better part of four years for the courier side of Reliance. It is his hope that once the technology is completed‚ it will change the face of global logistics for courier services worldwide. “Technology is terribly important for logistics‚ but it’s still so fragmented in the courier world. When we’re done‚ we hope that it will streamline the process‚ without sacrificing customer service.” He says it’s a little too premature to divulge any details but that he’s excited with the progress they are making.
It’s every parents’ dream for their children to have even greater success than they enjoyed‚ and the Choudhurys are no exception. Choudhury says that his daughters—Mia‚ 14; Layla‚ 13; Lily and Ella‚ 9; and Chloe‚ 7—are already inspired by the world around them and may someday follow in their footsteps of owning their own companies. So far he’s not grooming any of them to take over the family business because he wants them to make up their own minds. In the meantime‚ he’s not missing a moment of their youth as they grow into young women. [CD0514]