The year was 1978 and this entrepreneur needed to make some extra money while attending Suffolk University in Boston so he used his last $600 and purchased a used limousine. By the time he graduated in 1982 he had 30 cars and was earning over $3M a year in revenue, and he wanted more. So this young entrepreneur researched and found that one of the largest chauffeured limousine companies in the country was operating out of New York City, so he paid them a visit. That’s when he met David Klein, the owner of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation, operating in several major metropolitan cities throughout the country. Klein, impressed with the tenacity and ambition of this young entrepreneur, invited him to be on the Dav El Board of Directors, the youngest at the time at 23 years old. For two years, this entrepreneur spent time building his chauffeured limousine business based in Boston, while also travelling to NYC to learn from his mentor, Klein, who empowered him with knowledge, responsibility, and behind the scenes access to the biggest limousine company in the world. This entrepreneur absorbed every single bit of information he could about scaling a transportation empire.
His name is Scott Solombrino, CEO of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network and Boston Coach, the Boston based chauffeured transportation company that was once owned by Fidelity Investments. In 2013 he sold his own massive transportation empire to Marcou Transportation Group, in a move that would make Solombrino the head of the largest transportation empire in the country. He now oversees 3600 employees and a fleet of more than 2500 vehicles.
At 25 years old, Scott’s mentor, David Klein reached out to him with a proposal to buy Dav El from him. Klein was terminally ill with AIDS, and was offered a massive buy-out from American Express who, at the time, was interested in the transportation business to complement their concierge services. Klein told Solombrino that he was worried that the Dav El name and empire that he created would get rolled into a bigger entity and it would simply die there. However, Klein saw a very different future for Dav El if it landed in the hands of someone with passion, ambition, and the drive to turn Dav El into a transportation legacy, and with that, he sold the business to Solombrino. Klein died shortly after the sale was complete, thirty five years ago, and Solombrino did what he promised to do, continuing the Dav El legacy in chauffeured transportation.
Solombrino is as passionate, tireless, driven, ambitious, and tenacious as he was almost 40 years ago when he bought his first limo with the last $600 he had to his name. His transportation services dominate the markets in every major metropolitan city across the country including Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, LA, and San Diego. Their client list is the who’s who of corporate America, politicians, celebrities, and athletes. He is self-made, extremely humble, and unstoppable, as he continues to grow the business into new markets within the US and all over the globe. I recently sat down to learn everything I could from a business leader who turned $600 into a colossal transportation empire. Here’s what I learned about Scott Solombrino… his success has got everything to do with drive:
Make Your Own Luck: Scott Solombrino says that when it comes to building a business, you must get up every single day with an absolute commitment to making your own luck. When he was nineteen years old, he picked up his first corporate account with Goldman Sachs. A woman who lived three doors down from him worked at the firm so he went and knocked on her door and asked for an appointment with the person who would make the transportation decisions for the company. Solombrino says that back then, just as he does today, if he sniffed out an opportunity he would waste zero time acting on it. He never left the house without business cards and he wasn’t shy about giving them out and asking for business all day every day. Even today, Solombrino spends more than 200 days a year on the road. He travels the country working tirelessly making sure clients feel well taken care of while also seeking out new business opportunities. He says that you cannot depend on employees to do all the work. He says the best companies in the world are led by obsessive leaders who constantly have their feet on the ground doing the same work they ask of the team members. He says he will never stop making his own luck because he doesn’t have the time or fortitude to sit around waiting for the other kind to show up.
Have Purpose: Solombrino says that he is thankful to have found his absolute purpose in life which is building this transportation empire, while adhering to the greatest standards of care for clients. He says that it is purpose that will get you out of bed at 5am anxious for another day of work after a late night at the office. It is purpose that will keep you on the road, fighting for changes in legislation to better protect client safety. It is purpose that will give you the determination to stand up against billion dollar competitors like Uber who he says cheat the system by treating employees like sub-contractors, denying them workman’s comp, and other benefits, while at the same time sacrificing public safety by not requiring strict background checks on their drivers. Solombrino admits that his job has shifted over four decades where back then he spent all of his time managing advertising, employees, fleet maintenance etc, to where he is today, spending a great deal of his time fighting for laws that even the playing field ever since disruptors like Uber and Lyft have changed the dynamics of the business. Solombrino says that if what you do for work doesn’t speak to your heart, your soul, and your entire being then it’s not your purpose, and you will always struggle to have the drive to take your business and life to where it’s capable of going.
It’s Never As Bad As You Think: Solombrino says that there are many ups and downs in business and life. He says that it’s not always fun fighting against mammoth sized empires like Uber, and that he has dealt with the hard times by temporarily focusing on the wins while simultaneously gearing up to get back into battle. Solombrino says that Uber and Lyft came into the market fierce and fast, and decided early on that they wouldn’t play by the same rules as their competitors. Solombrino notes that he has 3600 employees, most of them drivers, and that his company pays the usual state, federal, FICA, Workman’s Comp, as well as other benefits. He says this puts him at a 40% disadvantage over the ride sharing services who should be paying their drivers as employees, but choose not to. Solombrino further stresses that the damage this does is greater than just the disadvantage it places on competitors, but it also places stress on the economy having so many non-employee workers who lower the tax base.Solombrino says that instead of focusing on all the legislation that needs to be changed, he focuses on all the big wins they’ve had along the way. Many states now require Uber to pay commercial tolls, to submit to background checks, and to place identifiers on their vehicles to show what service they drive for. Solombrino says his perspective on business and life changed during 9/11 when he had an entire fleet of cars lined up at Central Park waiting for their Cantor Fitzgerald and Deutsche Bank clients who would never need a return ride home. Solombrino says at the end of the day, whatever you are dealing with, it’s never as bad as you think, and that there are worse things happening in the world. Do what you can do and come back to fight again tomorrow.
Step Down or Step Up: Solombrino says that in the world of competition you will always have two choices. You can step down to someone else’s standard or you can make them step up to yours. This has been the struggle he has faced head on with the major ride sharing services that have disrupted his business for the last five years. Solombrino says that early on, he had to make a choice on how he was going to move forward. One option was that he could step down to their safety and employment standards. In other words, he could choose to no longer require background checks on his drivers, thereby sacrificing the safety of clients for the benefit of profitability. Or he could choose to test IRS rules and their reach by choosing to treat his employees like sub-contractors, as the ride sharing companies often do. Solombrino says that sometimes it looks so easy to just step down to the standards the competition sets, knowing it will save you millions of dollars. But at the end of the day when you are driven by passion and purpose, Solombrino says there’s no choice but to stick to your standards, offering the highest duty of care to your passengers and to your employees, while working passionately to ensure that others do the same. Solombrino says that in his case, stepping down to their standards would have been the easy thing to do, but in his heart he knew that making them step up to his was the right thing.
He is passionate beyond words when it comes to building a transportation empire that accounts for the safety of every passenger. He has carried on the Dav El legacy as a commitment to his mentor, doing so by making his own luck, living his purpose, focusing on the wins, and choosing to never compromise by stepping down. He is Scott Solombrino, and he is all drive.