When Fariz Turkmani arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City in 1979, he spoke no English., had no change in his pocket to call a friend and didn’t even know how to dial an American telephone number.
But the kindness of strangers made the difference.
“I put a dollar in my hand and showed people like I had to break it,” recalled Turkmani of that moment. “A janitor at the airport saw me and gave me the change and walked me to the phone.”
Today, Turkmani’s business revolves around taking people to the airport.
Tess Limousine & Airport Services Inc., with an office on the second floor of the Overland Park Marriott hotel, has a 15-vehicle fleet and eight employees who transport customers across the metropolitan area. The fleet includes Lincoln Town Cars, several stretch limousines, small passenger buses and a new Mercedes bus.
“We provide transportation to the airport, group transit to sporting events — anything that has to do with transportation,” Turkmani said.
He said 65 percent of Tess Limo’s business comes from corporate clients, including local offices of J.P. Morgan and Teva Pharmaceuticals. The remainder of business comes from individual clients for airport trips, weddings and proms. Turkmani said everything is done by appointment; charges are per vehicle, not per person.
Turkmani never imagined running a limo and transit company when he began making plans to leave his home in Damascus, Syria, at the age of 21.
“A friend of mine was here and we would write each other, and I expressed a desire to come to the states and he offered help,” Turkmani said. He applied to attend Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., got accepted and moved here.
Q: How did you end up with you own transportation company?
Turkmani’s first full business venture was opening a restaurant in Lenexa, featuring American and Middle Eastern food.
“It was supposed to do well, but unemployment was low and I couldn’t find people to work, so I shut it down,” Turkmani said.
Married and needing to support his family, Turkmani turned to a transportation company and began working as a driver.
“The pay was very bad. … so I decided started to start my business,” he said.
While working for the transportation company, Turkmani shared his dream for his own business with one of his regular riders, the chief executive of an area company.
“He asked me what I was thinking of doing to make ends meet and I said buying my own car and starting my business,” Turkmani said. “He told me, ‘If you do, I will send you all my business,’ and he did and helped me with a few small loans.”
In 1996, Turkmani went into business as Tess Limo, named after his daughter.
“Tess was born in 1996 and right after that I formed the company,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better name.… She’s been my good luck charm.”
Using a credit card to purchase his first car, Turkmani operated from home and used his cell number to book clients. Demand grew quickly; within six months, he added another vehicle and driver. Later he moved offices into the Marriott.
Tess Limo experienced steady growth mainly by word of mouth and going door-to-door at area businesses leaving business cards. Today, Turkmani leaves most of the driving to his employees but will take his turn. His 22-year-old son occasionally helps out.
Q: Is there much competition in your industry?
“Competition is very strong,” Turkmani said. “You have big and small companies and now you have Uber…. It is cutting business for lots of people … (but) Uber cannot provide the kind of first class service we provide.”
“My drivers wear a black suit, white shirt and a tie. We check on the flights ahead of time and make sure our driver is there before they land, I instruct my drivers to be there 10 minutes before the pickup,” he said. “We want to make it as pleasant and easy as possible.”
Q: Now an American citizen, does Turkmani have any advice for other immigrants with dreams of owning a business?
“There is nothing like being your own boss,” he said. “It may not happen as fast you think it should, but if you have the initiative to start your own company, don’t let anyone stop you.”
In a nutshell
COMPANY: Tess Limousine & Airport Services Inc.
ADDRESS: 10800 Metcalf, Overland Park (Inside Marriott, second floor)
WEB SITE: www.tesslimo.com