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.

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