Tim Crockett was sitting in traffic in New York when he decided he’d had enough. The businessman was tired of arriving in new cities blind, never knowing whom to trust for his transport needs. On this particular occasion, his chauffeur-driven car had arrived late. To add insult to injury, it was also dirty. “I could do better than this,” he thought.
It was the early 1990s, in the days before search engines and online reviews. Like other business travelers, Crockett was used to relying on hotel concierges for recommendations, who sometimes pocket commissions from companies they recommend. That or random ads in the Yellow Pages. There had to be a better way.
By the mid-’90s, he had set up AirComm Chauffeured Services, a one-stop shop providing consumers with direct access to reliable chauffeur-driven cars in major cities across the United States. From the outset, he aimed to be as light as possible, opting to work with existing services rather than buying his own fleet and hiring chauffeurs. “We decided we didn’t need to own a fleet,” said Crockett.
Launching the network required meticulous preparation. Selecting the country’s top markets by airport volume, Crockett set out to research possible partners. “There was no Internet back then to check out services. We were constantly struggling with microfiche,” he said. Providers were vetted on criteria such as the state of their cars, training given to chauffeurs, proximity to airports and insurance coverage. Once selected, they were supplied with custom-designed terminals for sending and receiving information–in those days, via excruciatingly slow modem connection.
The arrival of high-speed Internet brought more competition. “Suddenly, all companies were global providers,” said Crockett. AirComm already had a head start. Soon it had moved on from the simple business of linking consumers with companies to the rather more complex challenge of providing chauffeur-driven transport for major events such as sports tournaments and political conventions. Today, it works with big names like General Electric and NBC, as well as a host of government agencies.
In 2006, the company made its first foray abroad, providing transport for NBC’s hospitality program at the Turin Winter Olympics. “It was a major event,” said Crockett. “We did our own investigations, went out there and looked for vendors.” During the selection phase, AirComm had to apply official guidelines imposed by the International Olympic Committee on vehicles. The company would go on to repeat the exercise at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 and the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.
Next up is the London Olympics this summer. Preparation is intense, extending as far as dry runs with chauffeurs to ensure every inch of the pre-planned routes is covered. Chauffeurs are also being trained to recognize passengers with flashcard exercises. Nothing is being left to chance. In the event things go belly up, swift action is required. “For example, if a vehicle [breaks down], how proactive are you in finding an alternative?” said Crockett, who monitors developments closely from his Chicago headquarters.
The company is now present in 30 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Africa might be next, with a contract in Nairobi currently under discussion. Crockett makes it all seem straightforward, but the road hasn’t always been smooth. His advice to entrepreneurs venturing out? Stay the course when things get difficult. “Sometimes things might seem a little uphill. Continue on your direction,” he said. “If you feel you have the right product, don’t let the road blocks get you down. You have to rise above the obstructions.”