Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Women's Peer Group Takes on the Status Quo

It is no mystery that the luxury ground transportation business is, like countless others, a male-dominated industry.  However, the business world is changing exponentially, and the opportunities for women and minority owners and operators are increasing every day. Although the workplace has become progressively more fair and diverse over the years, there are still challenges to overcome, and glass ceilings to break through.

What’s the best way to break through a glass ceiling? Being a superhero, of course. And that’s essentially the mission of Driving Results’ peer group called Women on the Move: to create a supportive community where elite women can join forces, triumph over the status quo, and emerge united as industry superheroes.



No matter what gender you are, the two most important criteria for achieving success in business are being a visionary, and being fearless. That’s what Lenore D’Anzieri believes, and as leader and co-founder of Women on the Move, she creates the agenda for each of the group’s quarterly meetings with these criteria in mind.

“Business owners,” she says, “myself included, can often fall into a silo, and what I mean by that is it can be difficult to look at things from a peripheral point of view. If all you can see is up, then you can’t see anything going on around you…and people tend to become fearful at that point.”

One of the primary goals of Women on the Move, says D’Anzieri, is to help its members dig themselves out of silo thinking, and empower them to get back the confidence that got them started in the business to begin with. The method? Fostering a strong support network by providing a forum in which these female executives can regularly learn, share and bond with one another, and perhaps most importantly, have some fun along the way.

Women on the Move all started one day, says D’Anzieri, when Arthur Messina of Create-A-Card reached out to encourage her to participate in putting this group together, and ultimately lead it. “It’s a great opportunity for women in the industry,” she recalls Messina saying to her, “who want to get together to talk about their plans, their struggles, and their successes, and there’s a definite need out there for it.”

The group meets once per quarter in a variety of locations across the country, and membership consists of up to 20 women who either own or represent a ground transportation company. More importantly, the group strives to remain exclusive to women who are true leaders, risk takers, forward thinkers, mentors and learners. Scheduled at each meeting are a variety of activities, including topical round table discussions, training sessions, and educational seminars, often conducted by expert guest speakers. The group is also committed to participating in a number of charity events, and always balances out the education with a fun, team-building exercise, as well as plenty of time to communicate with each other in a relaxed and unstructured forum. The group’s members agree, the benefits of Women on the Move regarding the enrichment of both themselves and their businesses, have been remarkable.

“Who stands out to me as our first success story,” D’Anzieri recalls, “is Melissa Thornton of LSW Chauffeured Transportation,” who has been a member since Women on the Move’s inaugural meeting two years ago. “Melissa was the perfect candidate to join the group. She self-admittedly didn’t like to be in the limelight, kept a low profile and grew her business organically through her expertise, her knowledge and her skill sets alone. Since joining the group, she’s been really coming to the forefront and is now recognized by so many more people as a leader in the industry.”

Admittedly, Thornton was initially hesitant to join Women on the Move. “It was a tough time of the year, but I gave it a lot of thought, and said, ‘you know what, I’m just going to do it.’ I really needed to expand my circle, get out of my office and learn from others, and I think being able to learn in the comfort of women is what made the group most attractive to me.” The rewards of being part of the group, she reports, have turned out to be “absolutely amazing.”

Thornton applauds the quality education she has received from Women on the Move seminars, which have covered topics ranging from sales to finance, from reducing operating costs to refining procedures. Perhaps the most important lesson learned, Thornton says, was simply learning how important her role is at the top—how her own attitude is instrumental in creating company culture. “It’s so important how we represent ourselves at the top,” she says, “especially running a man’s business, to be quite frank. It’s very difficult to be a woman at the top when 99% of the work force is male. It’s tough, and we have to learn how to navigate through it.”

Since taking the reins of her parents’ company in 2008, Thornton cites one of her greatest challenges as simply not having all the answers about how to best solve the unforeseen obstacles all CEOs encounter. Being part of an environment where she not only has access to the advice of those more experienced than she, but feels comfortable and encouraged enough to ask for it, is what she says has been the most beneficial reward to her professional growth. “Not only have I learned a tremendous amount,” she says, “but I have also forged friendships and bonds with these ladies that I plan on maintaining for a lifetime.” She is especially grateful for her relationship with Barbara Chirico of Gem Limousine, who she regards as a valuable mentor, an “industry great” and “a second mom.”

In addition to Chirico, the group membership roster boasts a number of notable women in the industry, including Kristina Bouweiri of Reston Limousine, Carrie Peele of Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation, and Driving Results’ own Jen Brugliera.

“When they put this group together,” says Bouweiri, “I immediately jumped on board.” One of the main reasons she joined was to get more involved in the industry, and she says the group has really helped make that happen for her. In addition, she says it has been “a fantastic learning opportunity,” because despite representing the largest company in the group, Bouweiri has “learned something from every single woman in the group.” No matter the size of the company each member hails from, she says, “there’s always something you can learn about how other people are running their businesses.”

Bouweiri also praises the learning opportunities provided by the group’s educational seminars, citing Andi Gray of Strategy Leaders Inc. as a guest speaker she particularly enjoyed, who led a group exercise called The Owners Game, which “was almost like playing Monopoly.” Group members were broken up into teams, and competed in a game simulating the trials and tribulations of owning a company. “When I played that game,” says Bouweiri, “I learned a lot, and I thought, Wow, I wish I played this game 15 years ago! I would have had a better understanding about owning a company, building equity, and putting myself in a position where maybe one day I would want to sell my company.”

One insight Bouweiri was able to draw from playing The Owners Game resulted from her reflecting on the time when she first got into the ground transportation business, back when she “never thought in a million years” Reston Limo would grow to the size that it is today. Because many things she knows today she never would have considered when the business was just starting out, Bouweiri concludes the value of peer groups to be incredible for people who are just joining the industry. “I just feel that peer groups,” she says, “whether they are inside or outside the industry, are a really important place for an entrepreneur to be.”

Likewise, Carrie Peele of Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation fondly recalls The Owners Game as being “an eye opener” to the fact that no matter how experienced you may be, there is always something new to learn about the luxury ground transportation business. “I thought I rocked at that game,” she remembers, “but I sucked!”

“Very adaptive,” is how Peele characterizes her fellow Women on the Move members, “so when they bring knowledgeable people in to teach us in these seminars,” she says, “we are like sponges.” Being true to her claim, however, Peele and her peers are ready to shift gears after each meeting’s seminar, because what follows is always a fun, team-building exercise. One that really took Peele out of her comfort zone was a scavenger hunt. “Our team kicked their other team’s butt,” she proudly remembers. “We were done 45 minutes early with our tasks, and it was a fun test of our ability to work together.”

Peele, like many of her cohorts, has been a member of Women on the Move since its inception, and having identified the need for such a group beforehand, was thrilled to discover that something like it was being created. “I had actually asked several women at the time if they wanted to get together as a mentoring group,” she recalls. “Even though some of us had multi-million dollar businesses, it’s always good to get a fresh opinion, since nobody ever actually ‘wrote the book’—although Tom Mazza certainly tried.” The group that resulted is clearly beloved by all involved, and so is its leader. “Lenore,” says Peele, “is a genius. To take 14 or 15 women who have very strong personalities requires a woman such as her to control the group—because I’ll tell you, we’re a handful.”

D’Anzieri finds a lot of value in team building exercises, and acknowledges that although fun is certainly important, the activities she selects for the group always have a purpose. “The purpose,” she says, “is obviously a little bit of relaxation and laughs, but more importantly, we try to choose activities that take our members out of their comfort zones, to help them get rid of fear.” One characterizing example of this type of activity is when D’Anzieri rented a small plane for the group at a meeting in Canada, and while some of the members were “really petrified,” they conquered their fears, got on the plane, and ended up loving the ride. “So we try to get them back to thinking, I’m an entrepreneur! I’m going to take a risk! I’m not afraid of anything! We also try to build a little friendly competition to enhance the members’ relationships with each other, like we did with the scavenger hunt at our last meeting.”

While Women on the Move’s quarterly meetings may be structured around seminars and activities, both D’Anzieri and Jen Brugliera—also a member since the group’s inception and now a co-facilitator—emphasize that it is really the discussions that take place going to and from these activities where a lot of the real learning takes place. “In my entire careeer participating in events like this,” says D’Anzieri, “this is the first time I’ve seen so much business talk when we are outside the business realm.”

“I think the focus of this peer group,” says Brugliera, “is the learning that goes on amongst the members. A lot of our members have grown so substantially in the last two years because of what they’ve gained just from being able to network and trust each other. We facilitate these meetings, and we set the agendas, and we bring in educators, but at the same time there’s a lot that goes on between the members themselves, and in that regard, I personally have seen a lot of the members grow.” In particular, Brugliera applauds Andrea Saathoff of Charlottesville’s Albemarle Limousine, who has seen substantial growth in the last 2 years of her operation.

Because Women on the Move’s success is only measurable by the success of its members, its exclusivity is essential to what makes it work. To ensure every member gets the most out of each meeting, membership is capped at 20, but there are still some spaces available. “If we continue on the path of providing the opportunities to create this unified group of women business owners,” says D’Anzieri, “then we’ll be doing our job.”

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Written by Adam Leitenberger
Associate Editor & Digital Media Manager
adam@limodigest.com

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