Written by Olivia Putnal Tuesday, July 10 2012
Snapshot: Kristina Bouweiri, CEO of Reston Limousine
Washington, D.C.-based Reston Limousine can thank CEO Kristina Bouweiri for its extreme success and popularity. When founded in 1989, Reston owned five limos. Now, with over 150 vehicles in their fleet, 220 drivers and 39 administrators, their client list has exploded. Bouweiri built her business, along with ex-husband William Bouweiri, to a regionally and nationally recognized limousine service. What was her key to success? Her employees. Bouweiri says, “Over the years, I've learned that empowering our staff to make decisions and to treat the company as if they owned it produces the best outcomes for us.”
Womenetics: When you and your former husband founded Reston Limousine in 1989, who or what was your inspiration for building this company?
Kristina Bouweiri: An unusual twist of fate and an elderly woman from Texas were the launch points for Reston Limousine. An immigrant from Lebanon, my former husband (William Bouweiri) was working in Washington, D.C. as a limousine driver — his first job in the United States. After giving the lady from Texas a three-hour tour of Washington, she presented William with two envelopes — the fare of $172.50 in one and in the other was a $5,000 tip, which he used to start the business. Two years later, I was selling advertising and made a cold call to Reston Limousine. Not long after that, I received an offer to join the company, handling marketing and sales, and as they say, the rest is history.
Womenetics: How did you become president and CEO of the company?
Bouweiri: Things generally have a way of working out for the best. Our new home was under construction and the work was going very slowly — much too slow when you’re living in a hotel with four young children while waiting to move. William began overseeing the construction and performing the duties of a stay-at-home dad, while I took on an expanded role within the company. He said he was “only a phone call away.” I soon found that I really liked running the company and the challenges of growing a business. Our arrangement worked very well, and everyone was happier in our non-traditional roles. Eventually I said, “It’s OK; you don’t need to come back.”
Womenetics: The wedding industry was one of the first sources of business for you. How did you first begin making those connections? How did you secure your first clients?
Bouweiri: We purchased lists of brides from The Knot and made cold calls to sell our limousine services. These lists were also used to contact brides with information on Reston Limousine. At the time, no other transportation companies were marketing to brides, and it was a very effective way to obtain new business.
Womenetics: How did you secure funding when you first began?
Bouweiri: We didn't have a line of credit for the first 10 years that we were in business. We purchased new vehicles only when we had a new contract that we could show to a lender. Little by little the fleet and the business grew.
Womenetics: You grew up overseas with your Foreign Service family. How have your travels and international experiences helped you in the business world?
Bouweiri: My childhood was a gift. I traveled all over the world and learned to live in different cultures. I speak Portuguese, French and Spanish! Moving every three years taught me to be flexible and adaptable. I am well versed in diplomatic protocol, which has helped foster business with the 25 embassy clients we service. Growing up as I did also prepared me to work with multi-national employees and clients. I attended a boarding school in Swaziland, where I was a minority, with the children of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. That experience taught me about inclusiveness — I think my employees like working for me because I try hard to include everyone as a member of our team.
Womenetics: Tell us about business after Sept. 11. You’ve mentioned that was rough — how did you respond to this hardship?
Bouweiri: After Sept. 11, Reston Limousine's revenues were in a free fall. Our vehicles didn’t move, and clients didn't call. However, we did not let anyone go or cut salaries. We worked with our creditors to re-negotiate leases, and we asked to skip payments — gradually business came back and we began rebuilding.
Womenetics: How has social media impacted your business? How did you get started with such platforms as Facebook, Twitter and blogging?
Bouweiri: Social media has had a huge impact and opened our business to an extensive channel of new contacts all over the world. I started a blog in 2005, Facebook in 2007 and Twitter in 2008. I consider myself an early adapter to the benefits of social media, but I don't feel as if I'm an expert, as I've been called!
I just jumped in and embraced the various outlets that were available.
I was asked to speak on social media at the GlobeWomen Summit in China and teach classes on social media. An expert I'm not, but a businesswoman who has tried these outlets and found them to work well for our business, I am.
Womenetics: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Bouweiri: Yes! I wish I knew 20 years ago what I know now. I learned almost everything I know by doing it the wrong way the first time! I would have hired more qualified employees and paid higher salaries earlier. I would have paid more attention to our finances and shaped our business to be less seasonal. And, most likely, I would have reduced our employee base after Sept. 11 to sustain our revenues.
Womenetics: What are the five most important things women entrepreneurs should know?
Bouweiri: Most importantly, that you can do it! Women make great entrepreneurs because we are skilled multi-taskers, adaptable and well versed in juggling many things. I think women need more confidence and need to take more risks. It's OK to be assertive! When we need help in business, we need to ask for it instead of trying to figure it out ourselves. There are great resources available to help entrepreneurs, but you must take advantage of them.
Womenetics: What keeps you going day after day?
Bouweiri: I love what I do, and I am passionate about my business. My focus now is on strategy, vision, high-level networking, learning and personally growing to be a more effective leader.
Womenetics: What was one of your favorite events that your company drove for?
Bouweiri: This may be one of my best “behind-the-scene” stories of the limousine business. A few years ago my sales manager said he’d scheduled a meeting with an embassy for bookings valued at $10,000. When we arrived for the meeting and made introductions, the embassy representatives would only address and look at my sales manager, as dealing with a female CEO was unheard of in their country. He was asked all the questions, and I answered them, and our contract ended up being 10 times the initial estimate.
Our work with the embassy went extremely well I thought, and then we received a call from the embassy for an evening meeting at a hotel in Washington. I thought this was a bit odd and expected complaints and perhaps a refusal to complete payment on the contract. I asked one of our drivers to take us to Washington and took others along with me. We met a representative from the embassy in the lobby, and I was totally shocked when she opened a briefcase and handed me $44,000 in cash for the embassy’s last payment. Fortunately that evening I’d carried a large purse with me!
Womenetics: Tell us, business-wise, what the day after Election Day is like in the Washington, D.C. area.
Bouweiri: Inauguration is a great time for the limousine business. We are sold out for an entire week, and we have many buses booked already for the next inauguration. It's an incredibly busy and hectic time for us but exciting at the same time — a major opportunity to increase our revenues!
Womenetics: What kind of organizations are you a part of and how have they helped your business?
Bouweiri: I am a member of seven chambers of commerce, the National Limousine Association, The Economic Club of Washington, the Loudoun CEO Cabinet, the advisory board of Eagle Bank, Enterprising Women Magazine, Cadre DC and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. I am also a trustee of the Loudoun Education Foundation and a founding member of 100 Women Strong, which supports nonprofit organizations.
Several years ago, I founded Sterling Women, a monthly networking lunch meeting (with a featured presenter) for women in business. Sterling Women helps keep fast-paced business women linked to others and informed. We don't charge dues or ask for other obligations, only the cost of lunch. This group has grown to an attendance of over 100 each month.
Because of my involvement with these organizations, I have met a wide and diverse cross-section of business people that have tripled the size of my business. I am in my office near Dulles on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the remainder of the week I attend meetings and events in DC and the Northern Virginia area, continuing to meet people who direct business to Reston Limousine.
Womenetics: Reston Limousine’s core values are: customer service, safety, employee-centered, diversity and integrity. How were these developed? How do you stand by them?
Bouweiri: Our management team chose our core values in 2006 at the annual holiday party, where we now present an award for each element as well as awards like: team player of the year, charter driver of the year, contract driver of the year and rookie driver of the year. Our values highlight the importance of our clients and our employees. In our business, it is safety and the attitude of our employees and chauffeurs who interact with the clients that keep us in business. I am proud that one of our drivers received a top honor, Chauffeur of the Year, from our national association last year.
Womenetics: When hiring your drivers and staff members, what type of process do they go through?
Bouweiri: We have a rigorous hiring process for drivers and staff members. Drivers must have two years experience driving commercially, and our insurance company must approve their driving record. We have three days of intensive training including on the road diving and dry runs to all of the major airports. Employees also follow a highly selective hiring process — candidates must go through a minimum of four interviews. One with the human resources manager, another with the COO, another with a team of managers, and then the fourth interview includes their direct reports.
In safety rankings, Reston Limousine stands very high. We operate a professional and high-quality organization that is recognized regionally and nationally for our service, and behind this is the quality of our staffers and our comprehensive training practices.
Womenetics: What has been the key to success?
Bouweiri: Hiring the right people and then surrounding yourself with employees who have a diverse array of skills. Over the years, I've learned that empowering our staff to make decisions and to treat the company as if they owned it produces the best outcomes for us.
Womenetics: What do you enjoy doing on the weekends?
Bouweiri: My weekends are spent with my children. We enjoy going to the beach, shopping or watching movies. I have three girls so we spend a lot of time at the mall! My son and I really enjoy playing tennis, and he loves my home-cooked meals.
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Olivia Putnal is a writer and editor in Atlanta. She formerly wrote web articles and blogs for WomansDay.com in the areas of health, fitness, beauty, fashion, entertainment, news and food.