Entrepreneur Q&A: ‘I’m a risk-taker, but I take calculated risks’

Abbass Zadeh, founder of luxury car hire firm AZ Luxe, talks about building his reputation and expanding into jet chartering.

How did AZ Luxe come about?

I formed AZ Luxe in July 2017 after working for a big luxury car hire group.

My previous employer wanted me to set up a division within the company, HR Owen, called VIP Services. I built it up from scratch – no drivers, no cars. I was told it was a blank canvas with a small budget, ‘just go ahead and make it work’. So, I started off with four cars and built it up to 35 cars in two years.

But after a mutual agreement, I left.

What encouraged you to make the change?

They wanted to take HR Owen in a direction that was different from my vision. There was a CEO change as well.

Plus, the number of hours I was putting in at HR Owen came to 16,18, sometimes 20 hours a day. No matter what I did at the end of the month, I made the same amount of money.

I decided to set up my own business instead. It was a bit of a gamble, but I did it.

Now I can reap the rewards and take a lot more money home at the end of the month. I can also make instant decisions and deal with the clientele myself.

Abbass runs a luxury car hire business

What are the key challenges in running the business?

The main challenge is that bigger companies have the financial backing that I don’t have. They’ve been in the industry for ten years or more, so they’ve built their reputation.

AZ Luxe has been running for a year now. Fortunately, I haven’t taken a risk which has ruined my company’s own reputation and the credit that I built up in my previous role.

“What makes you great is to be able to move with the times and deliver what your clientele wants”

HR Owen has been going for 80 years so people know the name but now I’m on my own, I have to get myself out there because people don’t know the brand.

It’s being able to demonstrate that just because you’ve been around for a number of years, it doesn’t make you great. What makes you great is to be able to move with the times and deliver what your clientele wants.

What sacrifices have you made and what fears did you have for the business?

I ended up selling my house and investing the money from the sale into the business.

One of the biggest fears I had was going from a fixed salary every month to not knowing. What I did know is that I had to pay a mortgage, put food on the table for my wife and kid, provide them with clothing, entertainment, holidays.

My previous pay was fixed – you could plan your life. Now I don’t know how much money I’ll earn by the end of the month. At times I’ve had to dip into my savings to make sure the mortgage is paid.

I often thought, ‘Will I be OK? Will my team be OK? Will my family be OK?’

I’m a bit of a risk-taker, but I take calculated risks. Knowing I could make it work, I could build up my customer base and get the right cars.

The reason why I take more risks by adding more cars is that the more I grow, the more opportunity I have to grow the business and grow our database.

What are your ambitions for the business?

I want to continuously grow the business – I started off with three cars, I’ve got ten cars right now.

First we went into chauffeuring, then we went to car hire, now we do chauffeuring, car hire, jet chartering and a full concierge service.

At the moment, I want to sustain the four areas we’ve got.

Abbass has expanded beyond car hire

What’s your approach to hiring staff?

I’ll be looking for someone streetwise who is able to move forward with the times. They’ve got the experience to be able to deliver in the hospitality background.

The cars sell themselves, but can the candidates deliver the service? We’re looking for someone with a sound knowledge of the products who has a good phone manner. They’re not necessarily in the automotive industry but they have been in the hospitality and customer service industry.

I hand-pick the chauffeurs though three different stages. The first thing they do is meet my head of operations and go through licensing paperwork.

If they get the thumbs up, they go on to the head chauffeur. They want to understand what the candidates know about the cars, how to treat a client while they’re in the car and general etiquette points.

Once the head approves, the interviewee comes to me. The main things I look at are how you present yourself and how well-spoken you are. With certain candidates I’ll say I’ve got four or five meetings on a certain day, give them the schedule, and ask them to drive me there. I’ll act as a client and if I feel comfortable with them, I’ll hire them.

What advice do you have for someone who is in a cushy job and wants to go solo?

If you have the passion and have the knowledge for the industry that you’re in, go for it. Do your research, do your planning, be confident in what you do.

There’s no better reward than waking up in the morning and knowing you’re your own boss: what time you’re going to start, what time you’re going to finish. If one part of the business isn’t doing well, you have the power to steer change.

“Being strong doesn’t have to involve thousands of pounds”

Don’t be put off by a knockback either. I’ve had a few from certain people that didn’t want to work with me because they only dealt with me when they knew what the company name was. Now they see what I have and they’re coming back.

Be warned that success does not happen overnight. As long as you build the right network of people around you and understand your vision.

I could go on holiday for two weeks and leave my head of operations and she would run the place just as I do.

Ultimately, you have to be strong enough to take the risk – that comes with confidence too. It doesn’t have to involve thousands of pounds. It could be walking away from the comfort of a secure job to be able to follow a life-long ambition.

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