Monday, September 21, 2020
The co-chairs of the CD/NLA Show Education Committee might’ve been appointed to the committee earlier this year, but they’re no strangers to taking a proactive role in delivering timely, practical classroom content to the industry. Tracy Raimer of Windy City Limousine & Bus spent the past two years on the committee’s previous incarnation while Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Worldwide not only is a longtime session moderator but also was an instrumental force behind CD’s pre-partnership Education Committee. And they both have extensive experience as presidents of their regional associations, with Raimer heading the Illinois Limousine & Bus Association and Sharenow at the helm of the Limousine Association of New Jersey.

They recently took some time from their schedules—which includes researching educational topics and participating in the committee’s frequent and active conference calls when they’re not busy running their own businesses—to chat with CD about how an idea turns into a session, how their experiences have influenced their approach to education, and why it’s important for every operator to be a lifelong student of the industry.

Q and A Tracy Raimer and Jason SharenowTracy Raimer Chauffeur Driven: So what does the Show Education Committee do?
Tracy Raimer: It’s our job to educate the industry. I got this from George Jacobs: Every operator we can educate, show new ways of doing business, or just enlighten with ideas they haven’t thought of yet improves our industry as a whole. When you look at your fellow operators not as competitors but instead as representatives of our industry, you realize that they’re representing all of us. If I’m working with a competitor’s account, that previous interaction they had with a chauffeured transportation company reflects back on everyone. So the more we can educate and the more that the Show Education Committee can showcase how to operate a legitimate business on a professional level helps us all.

Jason Sharenow: We look for opportunities to create and produce quality educational content that an operator can bring back to their company while demonstrating best practices on multiple levels, whether it’s sales, operational, technological, personnel—every facet of running your business.

CD: What do you feel is the most important function of the committee?
JS: It’s about keeping content relevant based on current situations by really knowing what’s immediate and developing in the marketplace right now—like the ins and outs of the bus and motorcoach side. Ten years ago, the show floor was all stretch limousines and sedans; now it’s primarily buses and motorcoaches, so we’ve had to develop content for that side of the business: DOT regulations, ELDs, and marketing motorcoaches and minibuses. We use what we know to deliver timely content.

TR: It is making sure we stay abreast of what everyone is talking about and the challenges they’re facing right now, and just being in the know. Part of that is being active in local associations, listening to what other operators are talking about, and even watching Facebook—which can show you what matters to different operators, what they’re focused on, and where their minds are. I am in favor of Facebook and how it has changed our industry. Of course you’re going to see a lot that doesn’t apply to you but it’s the same thing if you go to a show: During four days of walking into all kinds of conversations, some just aren’t for you—or you can walk into a conversation where you ultimately learn something. The difference is that Facebook gives you daily conversations that can offer extremely valuable information.

By attending events like MPI and bus industry shows and putting yourself out there as an operator at other events in the travel sector, you learn what’s coming down the pike. Just having a little glimpse into that, we’re able to bring that insight to our shows as best as we can because tomorrow is an unknown for everyone. Events in vertical markets help you have a better vision for the future so you can bring that back to our industry in the form of education.

Q and A Tracy Raimer and Jason SharenowJason Sharenow CD: How does a proposed topic turn into a show session?
JS: It’s very organized and a true team effort. The committee of about a dozen people all power the ideas behind the content. We start out with a list of about 30 ideas and whittle it down by committee vote—and everyone on the committee has an equal vote.

TR: The operators on the committee are from different parts of the country and even the world, so I find it interesting to understand everyone’s reasons why they feel strongly about certain topics.

JS: If one person feels absolutely adamant about something, it carries a lot of weight with the committee. For example, if I know someone truly isn’t an authority on a topic and they’ve been proposed to speak on it, I’m going to say so—we all do, and that feedback goes a long way. It is truly a democratic process where everybody has a chance to voice their opinions.

CD: How have your experiences shaped how you approach education?
TR: Kathy [Kahne, president of Windy City Limousine & Bus] and I have this discussion often, and it’s about accepting that you just don’t know everything. Even if it’s a topic I feel I’m strong in, I can always take away one nugget or be reminded of something I forgot as my company grew—it’s like, “Oh my gosh, when I had 10 cars, I used to do that! We need to bring that back because it works.” I still feel like a brand-new operator when I look at an event’s agenda: I want to learn as much as I possibly can! Now, being on the Show Education Committee, it’s the same way: It’s asking how do we make sure that we develop content that applies to the one-car, the 10-car, the 50-car operators so there’s something for everyone.

JS: I look to inspire. We can’t educate and reach everyone in a four-day show, even if we ran 10 hours of content every day. But what we try to do is inspire people to take nuggets here and there and then go back to their offices and really think about them. We want people to say, “I got this one particular thing out of the show that I want to implement in my business.”

Even while I moderate sessions and as co-chair of the committee, I still learn something from the speakers, the panels, and even the audience questions. That is the most important part: Finding those things that make us say, “Yeah, this will be good for everyone to hear.”

Tracy, much like myself, didn’t come into the industry by walking into a 50- or 100-car operation. We both were once small operators, we’ve been down in the trenches with everyone else. We understand that mindset and can communicate on the level of small operators because we’ve been there.

TR: When someone has one car, they’re still chauffeuring, they’re growing their company; you’ll often hear them say that they can’t attend an association meeting because they need to drive—and I get it! I was there. And I’m able to be the cheerleader urging them to let someone else handle that ride because I know if they attend this two-hour meeting, they’ll learn more there than they would behind the wheel—so isn’t it worth farming out just one trip? I can confidently make that argument because I was there. And I bring that mentality to my role on the committee, too.

CD: How do you emphasize the importance of education, even when operators feel they don’t need it?
TR: If you’re not attending the seminars, where’s your ROI? What do you expect to get from the show besides networking? I think our educational topics and speakers are just phenomenal—how can you not take back some information that will increase your efficiency as an operator, improve your company, or just make you a better owner? Some operators think they can show up, be introduced to so and so, and go right into “OK, I’ve met you—can you start sending me work now?” And knowing that it doesn’t work that way is where the education comes in: It’s not just operations, it’s also understanding skills like learning how to present yourself professionally and how you earn someone’s work by understanding the importance of relationships.

JS: Being a moderator, I can practically count the heads in a room. And I see people like George Jacobs and Rob Alexander right there in the sessions—these guys could say that they don’t have to be in the audience because they’re hugely successful. I hold them up as an example that even if you’re successful, no matter who you are, there’s always something you can learn at every show.

CD: What kind of challenges do you face in crafting industry education?
TR: We do face some challenges when it comes to speakers, like finding people who can speak with expertise on a topic—but they also have to be comfortable speaking to a large audience. And then when we look for speakers beyond our industry, you risk having the audience say, “They don’t understand what we go through, so their advice doesn’t work for us.” So we try to find speakers within our industry so that argument becomes null and void; however, that limits us. Realistically, all businesses are all alike: You’re selling either services or products, you run into the same issues, and have the same successes. Speakers from other industries give us different ways of thinking when we’re always talking with industry peers.

JS: The speaker aspect is a huge challenge: It’s all about finding the right speaker who has the authority, the respect, the right skills, and the right fit for that particular session. I think the CD/NLA partnership is going to help us produce world-class education that’s the best the industry has ever seen, and we’re fortunate to have the NLA’s pool of talent broaden our horizons in terms of potential speakers. We’re still always looking for outside-the-industry speakers—and I do think many of the attendees really appreciate that. They like seeing people they haven’t seen before. It’s exciting to listen to new people with fresh information.

CD: What are the rewards of co-chairing the Show Education Committee?
TR: I want to give back and help other operators the same way I was mentored when I was starting out. There were so many operators who took the time to answer my questions or showed me how they did something, what worked for them, what didn’t. I’ve always been amazed at how generous our industry is with advice, and I want to do the same.
Raimer and Sharenow both agree that the Show ­Education ­Committee is a true team ­effort that relies on the strength, input, and passion of the entire committee:

Matt Assolin of Nikko’s Worldwide
Alan Candeub of Park Avenue ­Limousine
Ken Carter of ­Aadvanced Limousine Services
Colin Devine of Devine’s Worldwide
Kim J. Dolniak of BEST ­Transportation
Sami Elotmani of Destination MCO
Robyn Goldenberg of Strategy Leaders
Andy Hernandez of CTA Worldwide
Douglas Schwartz of Executive Ground Transportation
Scott Woodruff of Majestic Limo & Coach
JS: I’ve been at the top, I’ve been bankrupt, and I’ve been at every point in between—and I learned things the painful way until I started learning from the sessions at the shows and from Tom Mazza, who I always say is my greatest mentor of my professional career. I feel like co-chairing this committee is an opportunity to share my life experiences and professional experiences to give back, educate, and inspire. Being on the Show Education Committee is an opportunity for us to give back to the industry, and I want to inspire people to do better, to learn, to engage.

CD: How does education ultimately make the entire industry better?
TR: It makes us smarter employers. It helps us learn how to provide an atmosphere that people want to come to work in. I think that’s absolutely huge. The more employees you have, the better you can perform your services and sell your services because, without your employees, you don’t have anything. It also can teach operators how to represent our industry professionally and respectfully when you’re out there selling your services—because that reflects on all of us.

JS: I think education gives the industry an opportunity to peer through the looking glass and see how others see us. Education gets everyone thinking and talking about the ideas that will move the industry forward. It’s those ongoing discussions about solutions and ideas and best practices that keep moving the industry ahead, and they all start with education.    [CD1219]