Willie Cook , VP of Operations for  DTS Transportation

Willie Cook, VP of Operations for DTS Transportation

SPENCERVILLE, Md. — In a client-centric, high-touch industry like luxury ground transportation, companies need to be making decisions with customers in mind. Willie Cook, VP of Operations for DTS Transportation, says his business has shifted more to group transportation over the past few years thanks to seeing, understanding, and reacting to the demand instead of staying put.

Fleet At The Ready

DTS has a robust fleet of 40 vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, and a few eight- passenger stretch limos. They have also recently started leaning heavy on the bus side, with Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, minibuses, and motorcoaches.

Their transition into group moves was customer driven. “It was a combination of timing and opportunity. We saw what our customers’ needs were and tried to focus our vehicle purchases around those needs. Becoming as Uber-proof as possible is important to us. You can’t live with blinders on and reject reality.”

Although the company doesn’t do much on the retail side, they do get the occasional request for engagements, weddings, funerals, or proms. “We still want to be the one-stop-shop for any of our client’s needs,” he says.

Building Back Up

The company was started in 1999 by Dinesh Ganganna under the name Deluxe Transportation. A friend of industry consultant and former editor Tom Mazza, Ganganna died in a car accident in 2007. He was the sole proprietor of the company, and his wife Mary decided to start anew as DTS Transportation in 2009.

“Nothing was handed to her,” Cook says. “We had to go out and solidify accounts by knocking on doors. When the face of the company dies, clients tend to run because they don’t want to deal with instability. That’s why we focused on the relationship side of running the business, not just the transactional.” That is true for DTS to this day, especially in a world run by impersonal technology and apps. “We want to understand who the people we are dealing with are. We go out on site with them so they can put faces to names.”

Before getting into the luxury transportation business, the industry wasn’t on Cook’s radar. He, like many who weren’t brought up in the business, got involved because he felt he could add value to the industry coming in from the outside.

“Some people just fall into it, and in that moment, you either love or hate it. There is no grey. It’s going to break the ones that don’t have a passion for it and make the ones that do.”

Constantly Learning

Cook has been in the business for nearly 20 years and learns a lesson every day. “I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is you can’t go chasing the dollar. Some of the worst decisions I’ve made have been me just running after money. You must take the time to think about if it’s a good fit for your businesses, plays to your strengths and capabilities, and aligns with your core values. Focus on the things that will bring you joy, and the money will come if you are doing things right and working ethically.”

He also recommends surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, and to respect people’s ideas regardless of title. “You can’t let ego get in the way of doing what’s best for the business.”

That clearly must be working. He says the biggest success the company has is stability and growth. DTS doesn’t have a high turnover rate, and it’s because they find value in the individual growth of their employees.

Although they are shifting to work on larger group moves with CDL vehicles like motorcoaches, they don’t want to leave non-CDL chauffeurs in the dust. “We are looking for ways to reinvigorate the smaller vehicle side of the business for them, like cross training in sales, dispatch, and non-CDL shuttle contracts. It’s not for everybody, and we don’t want to force people to become CDL drivers if they aren’t comfortable with it.”

To prepare for the future, Cook says his team is staying on top of tech developments, particularly driverless cars. “We want to consider and forecast what the impact of self-driving cars will be on all aspects of our business, so we are talking about it early so it doesn’t catch us when it’s too late.”

Originally posted on LCT Magazine