Building a Sustainable and Authentic Family Business for Future Generations with Phyllis, Michael, and Eric Okon

On today’s show, Sharon welcomes Phyllis, Michael, and Eric Okon. The Okon family represents the leadership of The BLS Company, a global ground travel company with offices across the country, from New York City to Los Angeles and almost everywhere in between. As the CEO of BLS, Phyllis founded the company in 1976 with her late husband, Jay David Okon (lovingly known as David), and together they pioneered the chauffeured car service industry.

Phyllis and her two sons, Michael and Eric, are the ideal guests because they exemplify what it means to create a sustainable family business that is moving into its third generation, with more than 12 family members involved. Both Phyllis and David had a vision for the business and they obviously did something right, as both sons were brought up in the industry and are each well positioned for leadership. Michael is a bestselling author with an MBA in business and serves as the president of BLS. Eric serves as the COO and is responsible for worldwide operations and technology initiatives. Michael and Eric also co-host the Okon Brothers Podcast, which has become the voice of the ground travel industry.

Tuning in today, listeners get a peek into the beginnings of The BLS Company, and how things shifted when David passed two years ago. Hear about the influence that the podcast and social media presence has had on the business, how owning the buildings they operate from has helped them weather some storms, and how farming the business out to drivers has allowed for a high level of quality control, as well as the family values and core tenets that make the business appealing to clients and future generations alike. All this and more, so don’t miss this episode!

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Phyllis and her late husband got into the ground travel industry and built BLS.
  • Getting the business off the ground as a small, family-run operation out of New York.
  • The number of limos in BLS’ fleet at the time and the types of customers they were serving.
  • What it was like for the family and the business to lose founder, husband, and father, David.
  • The process of starting up social media accounts and a podcast for the business.
  • The influence that the podcast and social media presence had on the business.
  • Phyllis explains how she built her sons’ confidence and set them up to inherit the business.
  • See what about the business intrigued Michael and Eric – the excitement and prestige of it.
  • How BLS has weathered rough patches – the COVID-19 pandemic included – by owning the buildings they operate from.
  • Common business models in the ground travel industry, and the one that BLS employs.
  • How farming the business to drivers allows BLS to maintain a high level of quality control.
  • Learn what Phyllis’ role looks like day-to-day and how decision making is structured.
  • Which of the other family members are involved in the business and what their roles are.
  • Michael tells a story about his father’s philosophy of “no” and how he and Eric had to learn how to get the “yes” they wanted.
  • The family values that continue to make the business appealing to younger generations.
  • Eric shares one of their core tenets: Treat everybody like their number one client.
  • How Michael and Eric found their place in the business by doing every job.
  • The importance of being true to yourself and forming authentic connections with clients. 
  • What the essence of Michael and Eric’s podcast is and what their aspirations are.
  • Why Michael believes that “success leaves clues” and how he and Eric pick up on those clues through the podcast.
  • Phyllis reflects on what David would be proud of in keeping his dream for the business alive.
  • Eric imparts some final advice for someone hoping to build a generational family business.
  • What’s next for the company and what sets them apart from other chauffeur services.

 

Tweetables:

“We can be the voice of an industry, because there is none. No offense to our industry, they’re like dinosaurs. They don’t reinvent themselves. One thing our mom [and dad] has always taught us: always reinvent yourself.” — @BLSLimo [0:17:47]

“One of our core philosophies is that, whenever we go and open up in a new city, we go and buy the building that we are operating out of. That has, time and time again, bailed us out whenever there has been rough patches.” — @BLSLimo [0:23:54]

“What makes us successful leaders and a successful company [is] that we go out of our way to treat everybody that we meet like our number one client. Whether you work with them side by side, or they work for you, or you work for them, or it’s a family member, or it’s a friend, you give everybody respect, you act professional, and you make them feel good.” — @BLSLimo [0:39:01]

“The company who is the loudest wins. You have to take what makes you unique – not the business – what makes you as a person unique and that’s what you have to use as your platform to grow your business.” — @BLSLimo [0:50:22]

 

Facebook Posts:

“When my father passed away, the three of us sat down and we realized, what are we doing? Are we going to coast? Are we going to keep doing what we’re doing, or do we want to become the biggest and best car service in the world? We decided that we wanted to become the biggest and best car service in the world. That was our journey from 2018 to 2020. We hired sales people. We became public. We released the podcast.” — Michael Okon [0:12:36]

“Everything was intentional. They didn’t just slide in to the business. They went on every business trip with us, from the time Eric was three-months-old, when we first went out there.” — Phyllis Okon [0:20:22]

“We go out of our way to treat everybody that we meet – it doesn’t matter who you are – like our number one client. Whether you work with them side by side, or they work for you, or you work for them, or it’s a family member, or it’s a friend, you give everybody respect, you act professional, and you make them feel good.” — Eric Okon [0:39:05]

“If you’re going to do a family business, include everybody. Give everybody a job, even if they’re not good at it. Praise and inclusion. If you’re not going to make it fun, it’s not going to work.” — Phyllis Okon [0:51:16]

 

Additional Resources:

Phyllis Okon: https://www.linkedin.com/in/phyllis-okon-a0206a186

Michael Okon: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-okon-b02b60162

Eric Okon: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericokon

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/blslimo/

Website: https://blsco.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blslimo

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/blslimo

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BLSLimo

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/okonbros

Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/okon-bros/id1480772880

 

Links Mentioned:

The Great White Hype: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116448/

Gary Vaynerchuk: https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/

Just Ask the Universe: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Ask-Universe-No-Nonsense-Manifesting/dp/061550129X

 

Sharon Spano:

Website: sharonspano.com

Book: thetimemoneybook.com

Events: sharonspano.com/workshops

Contact: sharon@sharonspano.com

Twitter: twitter.com/SharonSpano