Trevor Franklin: The Innovation Interview

Trevor Franklin, President & CEO of MTC Limousine & Corporate Coach, Inc. shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation are impacting the transportation business.

Since the founding of MTC in 1985, Trevor Franklin has provided leadership and motivation to an organization of increasing size and complexity. With his partner, Jim Rubin, Trevor took a start-up with one car to a company to a multi-location operation with more than 150 vehicles.

Demanding the highest levels of quality and customer service, Trevor has set high standards for each of MTC’s staff of more than 250. These standards have resulted in substantial growth and the maintenance of long-term client relationships with many of the largest corporate clients in the New York Metropolitan area market and the development of an extensive international affiliate network.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Defining “innovation”, especially in the executive chauffeured services business can be a challenge. Ask ten ground transportation providers to define innovation and I am pretty sure that you will end up with ten different answers.

Many would define innovation as a process or method that creates and delivers value in the form of a new solution. All well and good, but where does the innovation, never mind the solution, come from? People.

So for me, innovation is much less about the process and more about connecting the right people together to create new market value. People drive the process, whether it is applied to client services, employee relations or our financial performance.

If you can’t put a great team together with great ideas, you are never going to be able to develop the process, much less the solution, which, when all is said and done, is what allows us to adapt, disrupt ourselves, and continue to succeed in a very competitive marketplace.

The innovation process is what drives new service offerings, new ways to reduce costs, new ways to increase revenues – the emphasis is on “new”. and perhaps even on our ability to recreate ourselves to meet market demands.

As far as what it means to me, the phrase “innovate or die” sums it up best. In any business, especially a service business like ours, we simply can’t cling to old strategies and hope for the best. To be competitive and profitable, we have to constantly recreate ourselves to meet market demands that are constantly changing.

In other words, we have to be innovative in how we think, how we do what we do, how we take care of our customers and, of course, how we squeeze every dollar to improve our margins.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

The short answer is “every industry”. Technology companies are probably the most visible of the innovators, but at the same time, the most visible of companies that fail to innovate and lose market share and/or go out of business.

From my point of view, because I run the company I do, it is clear to me that service companies in any industry must be innovative to survive. If we don’t innovate, we are not delivering increasing value to our clients. If we don’t constantly improve on our value proposition, we lose our competitive advantage; worse, we will get left behind.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

I was a professional soccer player so I received a lot of advice from a lot of great people, particularly some very good coaches. It all came down to the same thing: teamwork. I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “none of us is as good as all of us” was delivered and received.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I don’t like to look backward, so I will tell you that I don’t know – yet. “Achievement” is not a destination, just part of the journey to whatever your end game is. Accomplishments happen in my life fairly frequently – otherwise, I wouldn’t be very productive or motivated to set goals, much less get out of bed in the morning.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Physical.

You were a professional football (soccer) player before you founded MTC Limousine. What lessons did you learn on the football field that have had the greatest and most lasting impact on how you conduct business at MTC Limousine?

Easy question – goes back to the best advice I have ever received: teamwork. At MTC Limousine, we are a true team and have worked hard to eliminate the silo’s that inhibit creativity and innovation. I’m simply the team captain.

Since MTC Limousine was founded in 1985 you have witnessed several changes and emerging trends in technology. How has the latest mobile trend impacted your business model and what are you doing to prepare for future technological innovations?

The “mobile trend”, from our customers’ perspective, has not yet had tremendous impact, but it is certainly just over the horizon. As people get more and more used to using mobile devices to plan other aspects of their business travel, the more impact mobile apps will have on both MTC and the industry in general.

Mobile apps have, however, had tremendous impact on how the company operates. Today, a dispatcher and chauffeur may not speak to each other all day – all of the information that a chauffeur needs to make a pick-up at the right place and at the right time is transmitted directly to their smartphones, along with directions and passenger preferences. When they finish the job, the information flows back to our back office for billing.

Technological innovation is what has made MTC the company it is today. We embraced, and continue to embrace, emerging technologies to help us work smarter and deliver a better service to our customers.

The company has invested millions in technology in every aspect of our business, from the electronic transmission of jobs to chauffeurs, streamlined and paperless transactions, to faster processing time of client purchases and providing our corporate buyers the information they need to make informed decisions on their spending.

You have put an aggressive sustainability plan in place to reduce vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2016. Impressive. What technologies are you utilizing to meet this goal?

First of all, we can manage what we can’t measure, so we have helped build one of the most sophisticated emission reporting systems in existence. We can tell a client what their “carbon footprint” is down to every mile they have traveled with us.

I mentioned that we have streamlined accounting and dispatching so that we are almost 100% paperless in the office and in the services we deliver.

GPS has been a tremendous help in ensuring that our idle time is at the lowest level practical and that the routes our chauffeurs are taking are the most efficient – both in terms of time and miles.

The most important “technology”, is of course, the vehicles we use. Close to 75% of our fleet will be hybrid vehicles within the next few months. Our goal is 100% by the end of 2013. Those vehicles that aren’t yet hybrid (motor coaches and vans) are the most fuel efficient possible – for example, our Sprinter vans average 28 mpgs. With 10 people in the van, it is a very, very fuel efficient option for our customers.

Our technology include Ride-Sharing and Shuttle programs that allow our corporate and meeting planning customers the ability to group passengers so that the number of vehicles and trips required to move their employees is reduced substantially.

One of the greatest drivers of better mileage and a corresponding reduction in emissions is driver behavior. MTC has an online eco-driver training program that has resulted in a 25% reduction in emissions simply by changing driver behavior.

And of course, all of our marketing and sales materials are electronic and/or printed on recycled paper.

What impact, if any, is Uber having on your business?

Uber is certainly poised to be extremely disruptive to our industry as we know it today. Uber has not, fortunately, had any real impact on our business because the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission will not allow them to operate in New York City.

However, the Uber business model: connecting passengers with cars through an app, is the “disrupter” not Uber itself. Uber has taken what might be described as “anti-fleet” position and everyone in the industry wonders why a passenger would get into a car that they know nothing about. Does the vehicle have insurance, does the driver actually have a license? The questions are many.

However, mobile apps for customers will, most certainly, have an impact on our business. Again, because we are committed to new technologies, we will be launching our own app in the first quarter of 2013.

Built by the same company that has pushed the Uber-competitive TaxiMagic product into the marketplace, the MTC application will provide customers with the same convenience but, most importantly, combines that convenience with safety and reliability of MTC Limousine.

When we met in December 2011 it was abundantly clear that you have a deep sense of pride in MTC’s customer service and this is very clearly illustrated in the way that you conduct business. How do you ensure that all of your drivers and affiliates demonstrate the same level of customer service?

If you read of our responses to “Requests for Proposals” our answer to this question is some 20 pages long, and much too technical to go into here. What I will say is that MTC leverages our technology, industry knowledge and strong management team to manage the quality control processes and procedures that we have in place to ensure that we are always exceeding expectations.

Our international network of affiliates has been in place for at least 15 years, and it is not easy to pass our vetting process.

Whether we are sending our passengers to Athens, Georgia or Athens, Greece we know that our partners meet all of our requirements, including safety and sustainability.

The bottom-line is that we are only as good as “the last ride” and we MUST deliver quality and a value proposition that is replicated over and over and over again. To do this, we have the best team in the business managing the best suppliers in each market.

Danilo Miguel: The Innovation Interview

Danilo Miguel, General Manager of Il Corso in New York City shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation are impacting the restaurant business.

Prior to commencing his career in the restaurant business, Danilo worked as a High School and College teacher in Brazil until 1999. In January 2000, he moved to New York, NY to study computer design.

In 2002 he attended sommelier and cooking school prior to joining Il Corso in March of 2003 as a manager. During this time he also managed two other restaurants within the same company: La Vineria and La Locanda dei Vini, both located in New York City.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation for me is a process of taking an original idea and working with it to create something better or more useful. I don’t believe that it should be applied to everything.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Older industries definitely need to embrace innovation to succeed. In the hospitality business, innovation has to be applied gradually. Things such as a seated dinner with friends and family have not been significantly changed for centuries. Any sudden change in this process would be difficult to be accepted.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

The best piece of advice that I have learned over the years is to not make quick judgments of  a customer regarding appearance and behavior. It is necessary to figure it out the wants and needs of a customer and how to successfully adapt to each individual patron.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement would be working in an Italian restaurant for the past 12 years while not being Italian nor having any knowledge of the restaurant business and to be able to manage successfully.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

I prefer digital. In today’s world it is much more convenient and precise especially when reading about contemporary news.

What impact have services such as OpenTable had on the business?

Services such as open table make a business more organized and help to better promote and expose the business to new customers, locals, and even foreign customers.

Have you ever thought about eliminating paper menus and creating interactive food and wine menus that would allow you to offer a highly interactive experience for the customer?

Even though I am constantly upgrading my own technology, I strongly disagree with the use of digital menus. I believe the dining experience should be a human interaction. It’s important to have a knowledgeable and well trained server to help guide a customer to an enjoyable dining experience.

The customer service provided at the restaurant is unparalleled. Each guest is warmly welcomed and all repeat diners are treated like family. Was this a conscious decision?

No, it was actually the complete opposite. It was unnatural for the staff to behave differently. We are lucky to have a team that didn’t need to fake their feelings for the customers.

In an age where people are fascinated by molecular gastronomy and other gastronomic trends, the cuisine at Il Corso remains very much true to itself and to Italian cuisine. Do you ever feel pressured to keep up with trends?

We do not feel the pressure because we know our limitations and abilities not only of our business, but also our customers. Starting a new trend such as molecular gastronomy could be very risky with the kind of clientele who we attract.

Companies such as Google, eBay and Square are changing the payments world. Is Il Corso currently experimenting with NFC, PayPal or Square technologies? If so, what are your thoughts on these new payment options?

I understand and even use these payment options in different businesses, but I  do not believe that its suits the restaurant in today’s world.

Angie Clavijo: The Innovation Interview

Angie Clavijo Begazo, General Manager of the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel in Aguas Calientes, Peru shares her thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation is impacting the hotel business.

Prior to joining her family’s business, Angie studied Portuguese, Italian, English, French and German languages to better understand and communicate with her guests. She furthered her studies at by studying gastronomy at Le Cordon Bleu Perú.

The Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel opened on August 29, 2007 and is owned and operated by the Clavijo Begazo family. Today the hotel is the only Five-Star Hotel in town of Machu Picchu.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation means changing the way we are conducting business creatively and with processes or technologies in accordance with our guest’s needs.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

I think all the industries need to embrace cutting edge technology so that we can quicken the pace of our processes.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

To utilize internet media to properly promote our hotel. Its been amazing for us to witness how many people use the internet to search for new destinations locations to experience new cultures.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Our greatest achievement has been to be acknowledged as the best hotel 2 years in a row on Tripadvisor for Machu Picchu and the associated excellence certificate that we were awarded. To be granted this wonderful recognition from our guests is a great achievement.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital as it is the most environmentally sound option and helps us to conserve our planet’s vital resources. We are very proud to be a partner of The Rainforest Alliance.

What impact does social media and TripAdvisor have on your business?

It has a great impact on our business. As a result of excellent social media reviews, as those listed on TripAdvisor, we have been fortunate to connect with new guests and to expand our existing client base.

Do you feel that internet should be free to guests? There seems to be a shift happening with this amenity in several hotels as consumers prefer to have this fee built into the cost of the room rate.

We definitely feel that it should be a free amenity for our guests and it is complimentary at our hotel.

Any plans to offer mobile check in? Or do you feel that this will depersonalize the guest experience?

I do not feel that it depersonalizes the guest’s experience because we always have someone who contacts the guest when the reservation is made and greets them upon arrival.

What new technologies have exhibited the greatest impact on your business and best enhance your guest’s experience?

The internet has been a great promotional tool for our hotel as it allows guests to become familiar with our property, Macchu Picchu, and to be able to see beautiful photos of the hotel.

When we visited the hotel in August 2009 we were very impressed with your family’s incredible attention to detail and customer service. How are you able to maintain this high degree of service year after year?

We are in touch of every detail of the service that we provide to our guests. We are constantly speaking with our guests regarding their experiences and welcome their suggestions. In addition, we  frequent the property often so that our valued employees are always in touch with us to ensure the best customer service possible.

Henri Richter-Werner: The Innovation Interview

Henri Richter-Werner is the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Connor. Connor is the World’s Finest Engraver and Stationer and is available exclusively on ConnorNYC.com and at Barneys New York.

Prior to co-founding Connor with Justin Felber, Henri conceptualized and developed advertising campaigns for such distinguished brands as Loro Piana, Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers and Mrs. John L. Strong while serving as Creative Director.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation to me means delivering a product 100 times quicker and 100 times better and inventing new products while doing it.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Fuel, Transportation and Recycling. We are 500 years behind in comparison with other inventions.

What is the best piece of advice you have given and received?

Don’t listen to other people. Go with your instincts.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Escaping from a communist country as a 21 year old with $20 without the ability to speak English and making a great life for myself in America. In addition to starting Connor, a true luxury brand, from scratch on a piece of paper and making the brand known with certain demographics all over the world.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Today, in 2012 I still have to say both.

How are communications going to change in 5, 10 and 20 years?

I think gradually they will become another voice and vision. We will have the ability to communicate and see everything without carrying anything. Google Glass is the Edison’s light bulb of it – already.

Brulte & Company is advising Connor on their Luxury Communications App for the iPad. The app will change the way consumers communicate with one another. Do you care to share details?

Connor will primarily enable people to add aesthetics and visual communications based on proper etiquette and creativity to interact. The infant will eventually grow up into something as broad as Facebook,Twitter, and Pinterest all combined because of its core complexity.

What new technologies are you currently experimenting with at the moment? Will you ever abandon your Blackberry for an iPhone?

Unless Blackberry comes out with something contemporary soon, yes I will definitely migrate to a 21st century device.

Today nothing is quite as special and memorable as a receiving a handwritten note in the mail. What is your inspiration when you are designing a new Connor card?

I was born as an individual who always happened to stand out. I apply that formula to everything daily. A hand written note is the most individual, personal tool to touch someone and get noticed and always will be. It also helps to burn calories if you can write at all.

Tell us about the history of Connor and why hand engraved stationery is a lost art.

It’s in the business plan.

Ermes De Megni: The Innovation Interview

Mr. Ermes De Megni, General Manager of Hotel Splendido & Splendido Mare by Orient Express in Portofino, Italy shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation is impacting the hotel business.

Prior to commencing his career in the hotel business, Mr. De Megni earned a degree at the Ecole d’Hotellerie in Abano Terme, Italy followed by a masters degree from Luiss University in Rome in Hotel Management and Yeald Management.

After completing his studies, Mr. De Megni worked all over Europe as a Front Office Employee and in the Sales & Marketing Department at such distinguished hotels as The Westbury Hotel and Claridge Hotel in London, UK, Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Munich, Germany and the Grand Hotel Paris, France. While Mr. De Megni lived and worked in Germany and France he learned to speak German and French.

To improve his competences and desire to speak fluent English, Mr. De Megni moved to the United States to work in Sales & Marketing at the Mayfair Hotel in New York City and then as Assistant to the Food & Beverage Director at the Boca Raton Hotel & Club in Boca Raton, FL. His time in the States was followed by an eastern work experience at the Amanpuri Resort in Phuket, Thailand as a Food & Beverage Consultant.

When Mr. De Megni joined Hotel Splendido he began as a front office employee and worked his way up to General Manager, a position he has held since 2009.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation means to me, speaking of course, of our Hotel, keeping the traditional Italian standards of hospitality, using new technologies without altering the ‘historical’ flair of our house. Tradition goes hand in hand with innovation.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Speaking of the hotel business, I would say that innovation is needed particularly to speed up the reservation methods even though what we should not do is depersonalising the booking process.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

What I recommend to anyone of the staff is to be himself, honest, and respectful. The best advice received is to transmit the passion I have for my job to my team.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

This is difficult to answer. I could mention more than one, but probably the fact that our guests come back  year after year and we see their children grow up and then marry. The high fidelity to our house clearly indicates that our efforts to offer excellent service is in the right direction.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both: physical for the library at home or at the hotel. Have you ever noticed that every book has its own distinct ”smell” ? Digital for travelers-how can we quit reading?

Mr. Philip Mengel, the Interim CEO of Orient-Express has gone through great effort to protect and enhance the Orient-Express brand since he was named to the position on May 15, 2012. What inspiration and advice have you received from Mr. Mengel?

I have received the advice to keep working like we do everyday always showing clients the fondness that we all have for our work.

What new technologies have exhibited the greatest impact on your business and best enhance your guest’s experience?

The Internet, Social Networks and the iPhone.

When we visited the hotel in July of 2010 we were impressed that the hotel offered complimentary wi-fi service. When and why did you start offering complimentary wi-fi to hotel guests?

It has been offered since 2003 in order to optimize the service for our guests.

Any plans to offer mobile check in? Or do you feel that this will depersonalize the guest experience?

In accordance with Italian Law we must require travel documents upon arrival. In the near future we will offer a mobile check-in service for the documents, but the warm welcome of our guests at the Front Desk and the personal escort will remain the same.

Guests return year after year as is commemorated in the Golden Book and the staff’s attention to detail is extraordinary. In fact, a staff member rescued us with an impromptu lesson on how to drive stick shift after we were became stuck on one of the famous winding roads of Portofino. How are you able to maintain this high degree of service year after year?

At the beginning of the season we conduct internal training sessions for all staff, both junior and senior. In addition, the wisdom shared from our invaluable department heads and all senior staff members who have been working at the Splendido for many years.