Magazine for the professional limousine, charter and tour industry.
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58 LIMOUSINE, CHARTER & TOUR SEPTEMBER 2016 WWW.LCTMAG.COM Presidents Q&A: A Conversation With Rick Versace By Tom Halligan, LCT East Coast editor LCT: When and why did you get started in the business? VERSACE: I started in 1985, and it was kind of a fluke. I worked at night on Wall Street at Kidder Peabody while earning my Bachelor's in finance and invest- ments. When I graduated, they offered me a new position, but the money wasn't what I expected, so I bluffed them and told them I had a much better offer from another firm. Well, I bluffed myself right out of a job. It was just before Christ- mas, so I figured I'd make some money driving for a car service in Bay Ridge Brooklyn until I found a new job. Well the first day I showed up for work, the dispatcher wasn't there. I called the owner and he came around and stuck me behind the desk to dispatch. Even though I didn't have a clue, it wasn't hard to fig- ure out. It was something out of an old movie — pinball machines, slot machines, bookies hanging out — all in a 10' x 15' office on 69th Street and Fourth Avenue. I was anxious to get back to Wall Street, but the owners begged me to stay, so I made them a proposition. I said if I brought sales to a certain number in six months they would have to give me a percent- age ownership in the business. Fast for- ward, I reached the numbers and shortly later bought out most of the remaining partners and later opened offices in Park Slope, Bed Sty, and Staten Island. LCT: How did you first get involved in advocacy for the industry and the FLA? VERSACE: When I lived in New York, I was invited to serve on the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission Livery Advisory Board. I also served as an ad- visor to Mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. I was one of the co-founders of the Livery Owners Coalition of New York, which represented the needs of the industry before the NYC Council. I met a lot of interesting people includ- ing Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as Donald Trump. When my wife Peggy and I moved to Palm Beach with our five kids, it didn't take long for me to get back into the business and join the Florida Limousine Association, which was led by Carla Boraday. LCT: What advice can you give other lead- ers to build a strong statewide association? VERSACE: I have always noticed the most successful companies are involved in their industry associations. Regu- lar communication through email or newsletter is essential, with important updates and useful information. A good board of directors is also vital to make a good association. It can't be about ego, and you cannot judge other people because they don't think the way you do. Emphasize best practices and edu- cational content at your meetings, and INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS I SEPTEMBER 2016 encourage members only to farm out to fellow members. Stay clear of the politics and petty rivalries. LCT: You attend every industry trade show and event — and contribute to ses- sions, panels, etc. What motivates you to give back so much to the industry? VERSACE: You're really only as strong as your industry. Sharing information and techniques helps our fellow operators do better. When they succeed, we all succeed. When you have to farm out a job, you don't want to worry if the operator is up to par. Industry standards mean something now, which is refresh- ing. The industry has come a long way with the help of groups such as the National Limousine Association (NLA) and the Taxi Limousine Paratransit As- sociation (TLPA). The level of profes- sionalism is amazing. Attending trade shows is like getting a master's degree in passenger logistics. These shows are priceless in educational content and networking. I attend as many sessions as possible, and always learn something new and interesting. LCT: What is your advice for the new generation of operators as to why they need to get involved in associations and advocate for the industry? VERSACE: New or old operator, you have made a substantial investment in your business. Your investment consists of time, money, and personal sacrifice; you need to protect that investment. The best way to protect it is to get out there and fight for it. You can't hide in your office and expect someone else to do it for you. You need to get involved. You need to be there, even if you don't say anything your support speaks vol- umes. It's just good business. LCT: So what do you like to do in your downtime (if you have any!)? VERSACE: I love my family, and we are always together, so if you're inviting us over be prepared for 20 people! I love to golf and fish. I am a songwriter and play guitar and piano. When my three girls got married, I sang them each a song I wrote especially for them instead of the standard wedding toast, but I'm not quitting my day job. TOM HALLIGAN is LCT East Coast editor, based in Marlton, N.J. He travels regularly to industry association meetings in the eastern U.S. Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The 30-year industry veteran and Florida Limousine Association president is a leading advocate for the industry and heads up one of the most active limousine industry trade groups. FLA President Rick Versace updates members on TNCs and other issues at the association's May 2016 quarterly meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.