Executive Suite: Matt Silver, Hicksville
Between customers buying limousine packages to tour New York City's holiday lights and booking rides so they don't have to drive on New Year's Eve, December is one of Matt Silver's busiest months. It ranks right alongside the wedding month of June for Hicksville-based Ultimate Class Limousine and Ground Transportation Worldwide.
Silver, 51, had the drive of an entrepreneur early on, starting when he was 12 and raised about $1,500 by organizing a block carnival for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
He started his company in his basement and grew it to a 15,000-square-foot showroom with 22 vehicles. Along with winery outings and custom "back to the good old days" tours that revisit places of personal meaning for individuals, the company provides concierge service including high-end restaurant reservations and event tickets. And through membership in the international limousine association, Ultimate Class can arrange car service practically anywhere in the world.
How is your industry changing?
The trend is going away from limousines to SUVs and buses and vans. In 2012, two of the major limousine manufacturers in the country went bankrupt . . . It's about the image the limousine is projecting. Executives aren't looking to display themselves in a limousine. Whereas the limousine is an upscale, extravagant image, the SUV is a comfortable, functional and efficient image.
Where do people go for your "back to the good old days" tours?
They get the family together in a limo or a van or a bus and go back to the neighborhood where they grew up. They're able to show them, 'This is where I went to school. This is where I hung out. This is where I had my first kiss.' And usually the family loves it. Then they go for a nice lunch or dinner and it's a great gift for someone because it's all about memories -- as opposed to a set of pajamas.
How do you select the right staff?
We'll interview for a chauffeur position up to 20 people before we possibly find one. We do our own background checks and will not give a license to someone who has felony convictions . . . [then] there's a tremendous training program. There's driving, personality, how to deal with different individuals, behavior modification, proper way to dress. . . I train my drivers to listen, not to speak. And they're always 15 minutes early.
What should people be aware of?
There are many companies out there operating out of a house and anyone could be driving. They're not licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. It's something that the public needs to know. They need to ask certain questions. It's like hiring a contractor. You wouldn't just hire a contractor because he says 'I'll do the house, I'll do the kitchen for $5,000' and everybody else was $15,000. There's got to be a reason. They're not paying workman's compensation insurance. The drivers are not properly licensed. How are the vehicles maintained? . . . You're planning this beautiful evening, including the limousine or a bus because you want to have a great time, not because you want to be sitting on the side of the road looking at a broken-down vehicle.
What are some keys to handling people who maybe can't handle their liquor?
It's important to be smart and plan ahead. My chauffeurs carry plastic bags . . . and I think it's also important to monitor the individuals.You're the president of three charitable boards and are involved in 27. How do you choose them?I look at how they're rated as far as ratio of dollars that are taken in and dollars that are spent on administrative needs and salaries. You also co-founded Long Island Fight for Charity. What happens if someone gets hurt during the boxing match?No one gets hurt. Safety is our number one issue and they operate it through USA Boxing, which is an organization that makes sure that everything operates on the up and up, and safety is their main concern also. There are real refs, real timekeepers. It's a real amazing event . . . We've raised close to $1 million.