With enough motivation, strength, and skills, women entrepreneurs can break into male-dominated industries and finally take a leadership role. This is what Kristina Bouweiri did when she became the sole owner of Reston Limousine. She narrates to Jen Du Plessis how a simple company that initially offers shuttle contracts grew in scale and revenue to become the largest luxury transportation provider in Washington DC. She also explains how she continues to run the business in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic despite lower revenues, smaller size, and reduced workforce. Furthermore, Kristina talks about their philanthropic work, focusing on helping women and children.
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The True Strength Of Women Entrepreneurs With Kristina Bouweiri
I have a special guest. I’ve known Kristina Bouweiri for several years. We’ve been around in the same space. She is in my hometown. You are going to be so surprised at what she has accomplished. The glass ceilings that she has exceeded past are crazy amounts. I can’t wait to dive in but first, let me tell all of you about her. She is the President, CEO and the sole owner of the Washington DC metropolitan area’s largest luxury transportation provider. She has a fleet of beautiful limos. She is innovative in her business. I can’t wait to ask questions about this, especially about her strategies over the last few decades. She does wedding transportation. She has expanded the business into government contracts, group transportation, shuttle contracts, and for those of us in the area, her signature wine tours that we see all over the place in our beautiful Washington DC area wine country.
She implements the latest technology trends, which I’m excited to talk to you about because we have a tsunami of tech that’s coming in. I want to see how that applies to your business. She’s an early adopter of social media as a limousine service. She leveraged her international network to launch the company’s global services, which provides worldwide transportation through a vetted affiliate network. One of the best things about Kristina is she is actively involved in our community. She is one of the top community leaders, civic organizations, philanthropic things. Every time I turn around, she’s there. She’s on the cover of a local magazine.If you want to improve your standard of living, you have to be a lifelong learner and be open to new ideas. Click To Tweet
She has started something called Sterling Women years ago that we all participate in. She has been named in the Washington Business Journal as one of the 50 Most Powerful and Influential Women in Washington. She supports women entrepreneurs left, right and sideways. She has something called the Virginia Women’s Business Conference, which I’ve been asked to speak at several times. That was a wonderful opportunity. The list goes on and on. I can’t even tell you all the awards. Kristina, thank you so much for coming and joining us. It was hard for us to do this, but we got it done.
Thank you for having me.
I want to start where this started. A lot of times, I tell people, “Tell me your story.” I know there’s something unique about your story that I’ve heard over the years, but I want to hear it from you. How does this beautiful woman get involved in a fleet of limousines? I remember way back when Reston Limousine was starting out. How did this all happen that you got involved in this massive limousine service?
I was born in Japan and I lived overseas my entire childhood as a daughter of US foreign service diplomats. I didn’t live in the US until I was eighteen. I came here for college. I went to George Washington University and got a degree in International Affairs. My plan was to go back to Africa where I had lived for ten years and worked there as a foreign service officer. In my senior year in college, I got an internship at this nonprofit called the Overseas Education Fund. They offered me a job when I graduated. Instead of going back to Africa as a diplomat, I went back to work in Somalia on projects to uplift the status of women. I did that for two years. It was difficult. It was a tough life. I had to pretty much either stay in my office or go to the hotel. I had to buy gas. I drove a four-wheel-drive truck and bought gas on the black market. I had no friends and no one to talk to. I decided that was not the job for me, so I came back to the States.
The only job I could find was a 100% sales commission advertising job. I was cold calling out of the Yellow Pages and I got an appointment with William Bouweiri who owned Reston Limousine. It was at the Reston Town Center. I went to that appointment and I sold him an ad. It took me two months to close that deal. He made me keep coming back. I finally closed the deal. I got the check and he invited me out to dinner. We started dating. We dated for about six months. He said, “Quit your job and come work for me. I can’t afford to pay you, but I’ll pay your bills.” I quit my job. I went to work for William. I was like, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do that? Why aren’t we doing this?” He’s like, “That’s too much.” I said, “I’ll take care of it.” I started buying lists of brides and cold calling brides. Within a year, we’re doing 100 weddings a weekend. This guy knocked on our door and offered us a government contract. We had no idea what it was, but we won. That’s how we got into government contracting.
What do you do with government contracting? Is this when dignitaries come in, your limo goes and picks them up?
No, it was a shuttle bus contract for US Geological Survey. We had two buses going back and forth to DC every day, connecting their Reston facility with their Department of Interior in Washington. Once I won that contract, I thought, “There have to be more of these.” I started researching government contracts. For the next ten years, I won every government contract that I bid on.
Is it because no one is doing it?
They were doing it, but they weren’t providing a good service. I always bought a brand-new bus, filled it with technology, hired a great driver and moved on to my next opportunity. The other great thing about the ‘90s was we had all the dot-coms exploding in Reston. We drove Ted Leonsis to work every day. We drove for Network Solutions, Sprint, MicroStrategy, you name it. If it was a dot-com growing in the ‘90s, we were driving them. We had a contract with the Hyatt Regency Reston. We got lots of leads from there. The company went from $0 to $5 million in the first ten years. That is how I got into the crazy limousine business.
What did it look like when you met William?
He had five cars and he was 100% corporate. He was doing about $200,000 a year in revenue.
What’s your fleet look like now?
We have 250 vehicles. We have 450 employees and $30 million in revenue.
Congratulations. I want to honor you for that and acknowledge that because that’s a huge change in a man’s world. You’ve proven it.
It is a male-dominated industry. We stuck out. I was always the only woman in the room.
The token woman in the room having that conversation with all those people. Let’s talk about breaking through some ceilings. You’ve broken through some financial ceilings and the gender ceiling that was male-dominated. What are some other challenges that you had as you made that transition? The readers are transitioning out of a job, going from being a corporate job into being an entrepreneur, or they’re thinking about having a side hustle. There’s always this fear of making that move. What are some of the other things that you could embark on us that you learned that are lessons that you’d like to share?
In my first ten years in business, I pretty much learned how to do everything by doing it the wrong way the first time. It’s painful, but you do learn. You don’t want to make that same mistake twice. In my second ten years in business, I decided I wanted to educate myself and make myself a better leader. That’s when I joined a mastermind. I joined a business book club. About seven years into that decade, I joined Vistage, which is a CEO membership organization. That was the single best decision I ever made to grow my company. That’s where I learned how to do everything the right way.
The other thing that was helpful was that I have always been a lifelong learner. I have always taken the approach that I know nothing and I can learn and learn. I am always reading and taking classes, seminars, webinars, trying to make myself a better person. That’s important if you want to grow a business. If you want to improve your standard of living, you have to be a lifelong learner and you have to be open to new ideas. Back in the day, I jumped into social media. I played around with it and soon became an expert. I was being asked to speak on panels about social media because I had tried it out.Women are capable way more than they think they are, often caused by a lack of confidence. Click To Tweet
I had some early successes with social media that were fantastic. I don’t know if your audience is mostly women or if it’s men and women. The other thing I noticed with women, and that’s why I started the networking lunch for women, was that women are capable way more than they think they are capable of. I feel that most women lack confidence. By creating this monthly networking lunch for women, I tried to create a community where people can come, feel safe and find whatever they need in the room. If they’re looking for a friend, they’re going to find a friend. If they want someone to help them write a book, it’s in the room. If they want to lose weight or if they want a business coach or if they want a psychiatrist, whatever they want was in the room. What’s different about Sterling Women was that we don’t have membership dues. There is no agenda. The agenda is pure women helping women. I hope that will be my legacy that I started that group. It was successful and it’s still going great.
You were a leader in that. You saw that before it became the whole women movement that’s happened. I don’t even remember when it was that I spoke there. It’s been around for a while. It was so new. It was different to have a group of women. Everybody comes there for different reasons. For me, what I wanted when I came there was I was looking for women who were serious about their business. Some people are just having fun too and that’s okay. For me, it was finding people that were serious about their business because I’m a serious businesswoman. You’re feeling alone and feeling that you don’t have anybody to do this. When you mentioned the mastermind and Vistage, being a life learner is fantastic. I’m that too all the time. We’re always reading and learning, but it doesn’t help if we’re not surrounding ourselves with people that are like that.
We all have these point of views and blind spots that we still can’t see even when we’re learning. It’s like we’re learning and we’re sitting on a little island by ourselves. What’s probably something good is that everybody in a mastermind can tell or see the blind spot that you have. You think you’re going to go down one road and they’re saying, “No, that’s probably not the right road. Let’s make sure you go down the right road.” That’s important. I want to hone in on that and make sure that everyone understands to not do it alone. Whatever mechanism it is, mastermind, coaching or whatever, make sure you don’t go at it alone. That’s probably one of the key factors. What drives you to do what you’re doing now that you stuck with it this long? Is it financial growth? Is it helping your employees? Is it the community? What keeps you going in your business right now?
First of all, when I got into this business and we had five cars, my dream was to have ten. We got to ten and I said to my ex-husband now, “Do you think one day we’ll ever have fifteen cars? That would be amazing.” I never dreamt in a million years that my business would be what it is now. Women are great business owners and leaders especially in the limousine industry where we’re dealing with logistics and changes. It’s like being head of a household where you’re managing multiple issues, changes, schedules and organizing everything. That’s what it’s like in a limousine company. You’ve got all these reservations and all these cars and drivers, and you have to match them all up. There are a lot of changes coming in throughout the day. You have to make a lot of changes and be agile. Women are good at that.
I was born to be in this business. The other nice thing is that my clientele is international. My employees are international. I still feel like I’m in that international world. We can work for the IMF and the World Bank. We have about 50 embassies that use us. That part of the job is fun for me. It’s something that kept growing and growing. The nice thing about having a large business is that you have a team. Even though back in the day, I would answer the phones 24 hours from my house after-hours. Now, I’m pretty much working Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00. That’s a blessing. Why not continue to own this company, grow it as big as it can be and eventually, one day, I will sell it to someone else? I still feel like I want to work for at least 10 or 15 more years. I am a type–A workaholic person. I can’t imagine ever retiring especially since I love what I do.
How did you end up getting the business? Did he not want to go in the direction? As you said, when you first got on, you were like, “Can we do this? Can we do that?” You grow out of that because that does happen. That‘s another book that I’m working on called When Your Wife is Your Boss… No, Really. There are many women. You know some like Cindy Ballenger. You know many people in this area too where the wife is the lead. That was the case with Brian and me in the mortgage space as well, where the wife becomes the lead because we had many ideas and innovation. Some survive and some don’t survive that. There’s such a growth curve that happens with women that sometimes the men feel threatened and left behind. Is that what happened with you in this growth as well?
Our situation was that we worked side by side for ten years. We had five kids during that time. I did sales, marketing and operations. He did the accounting, HR and fleet management. By the time those ten years were up, we had managers doing all of those roles, whereas my role was still vital. I was the project manager for all of our government contracts. It was at that time that we bought the dream house in Leesburg, the 25 acres, 10,000-square foot house. We found out when we were moving in that the school bus did not come to our home. We decided that my husband would stay home with the kids and I would run the business. He was a little burned out anyway and I was not.
I was loving my job. He was ready to take a backseat. We decided as a couple that it was fantastic. One of us could stay home with the kids. That would be great if our children had a stay-at-home parent. We decided that that would be him. That was why I ended up running the business by myself. In the first ten years, I built it to $5 million, the second ten years, I built it to $17 million alone. That’s when I asked for a divorce. What happened was we grew apart. You stop working together and you own a business together. I’ve been an extrovert my whole life. He was an introvert. I love going out to events and networking. He hated it. It got to a point where we decided we were going to end our marriage. I bought him out of the house. I bought him out of the business. I became 100% owner of the business. In the third decade, I grew it to $30 million.
Now we have another decade to go. That’s hopefully what ends up happening. What’s happened during the COVID challenge? How has that impacted you? Take us back in 2020 with all the weddings that stopped, all the travel that stopped. You probably made that pivot as everybody else did. Looking back, I say, “I’m in the best position I ever was.” Tell us what happened with your business during COVID. Did you gobble up any other companies during COVID?
It’s a little too soon to tell on that one, but COVID was scary for us. We had $1 million in cancellations and we had to refund $1 million. Money’s going out of the account quicker than it was coming in. We had to tell our customers, “We cannot refund your money for 30 days.” We had to lay off 300 people and we had to cut our expenses to the bone. I’ll be honest with you, Jen. I did not think for a million years that I was going to get out of it. I was depressed and sad. I thought I was losing this business that I had spent many years building because I didn’t see a way out. When they came up with PPP loans and we were able to get that funding, I said to myself, “I’m not going to lose my business, but I still have a lot of work to do.” What I did was I right-sized the business and spent the following year looking at every single process and policy that we have trying to make the company stronger, better, faster and more efficient.
We pivoted into a lot of different things. We were driving COVID patients. We put in plexiglass dividers in our vehicles to protect drivers. We got the medical-grade PPE. We were driving COVID positive patients to quarantine. We have always done a lot of organ transportation. That has skyrocketed, not due to COVID, but due to increased suicides, which is depressing. We’re driving a lot of pilots for private aviation. We’re driving a lot of people to get COVID testing. We have pivoted into food delivery. It’s been interesting and challenging but exciting. A year later, my company is stronger, faster and better. I don’t have the same revenues, but they will be coming back.
Your profitability is higher though because you cut down all those. I’m curious, how did the first COVID client come about? One night you woke up in the middle of the night like, “I know we can transfer COVID patients.” How did that come about? I know you’re involved with NoVA. Did someone call you and say, “Is that something you could do?” How did that come up?
It was a local jurisdiction that hired us for their jurisdiction to transport people for them. They asked us to do it. It’s interesting because my dispatcher said, “We’re not doing that.” I said, “Yes, we are. You’re not going to decide. We’re going to ask the drivers if they’re willing to do the risk.” I had three drivers who said yes. We started doing it. That piece is profitable. We’re probably charging three times more than we normally would. We give a lot of that to the driver because they’re taking the risk.
It also gets back to the community involvement that you like to help the community. It is an activist piece of the community. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about all of the philanthropic activities that you’re doing now. What is the most passionate project that you’re working on right now? Has it grown or developed and manifested because of COVID, or is it something that you’ve always done and you continue to work on?
In terms of philanthropy, we scaled way back this 2021. We’re not too involved in philanthropy. We do what we can, where we can, but leading up to the pandemic, Reston Limousine has always had a mission to help sick kids. The reason why we did that was because I couldn’t get pregnant for five years and then I was blessed with four healthy children. I wanted to give back. We used to always support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the children in NIH. Any charity that helps sick children, we would always support. We were given a lot of publicity for that which led us to believe that we should expand our giving to any groups that need help. My business is seasonal. We’re busy in spring and fall.
In the winter and summer, when I have vehicles sitting, it’s a great chance to donate them to organizations that need transportation like Wounded Warriors. Every Christmas, we take these seniors to Alexandria to get free dental work. We’ve donated to summer camps for underprivileged kids. My number one passion with philanthropy has to be 100WomenStrong. It is an organization in Loudoun County founded by Karen Schaufeld. Our organization helps women, children, education, health and housing. What I love about that group is that Karen not only is a huge giver to the community, but she has also found a way to attract other people to do the same. We were up to 65 members. That’s $650,000 a year.Wish to be known not as the wealthiest but for being the most philanthropic business. Click To Tweet
You were probably over that. I was asked to apply to that years ago, and now that I’m in a different space, I was saying, “I wonder what’s going on with 100WomenStrong.” I figured we were past that.
We’re at about 65 members. When I joined, we were only at eighteen. I’ve been a member for several years. What I love about that group as well is that those ladies put in the time to figure out where the greatest needs are. They’ve had a huge impact on our community. Loudon County where we live is a wealthy county. We don’t like that because it makes it sound like everything’s perfect here. It’s not. We have homeless people, abused women, homeless children. We have many problems. Our community is expensive to live in. There’s a lot of people that struggle to pay their bills. Even our food pantry cannot keep food on the shelves. The stigma of being the wealthiest is not so great. I told the ladies, I said, “I wish we were known not for being the wealthiest, but for being the most philanthropic. Let’s not have all those problems in our county. Let’s find ways to make it better.”
Did you ever get the chance to meet Frank Shankwitz from Make-A-Wish?
He was a friend of mine. He passed away, not COVID related, thank goodness. I was fortunate enough to be able to be at the premiere of the movie about his life, Wish Man, with him. I got to go to his ranch and have a big barbecue afterwards. It was so fun. He’s been on this show. He was a great man. I love the work that he has always done. He started working with Wounded Warriors. He started moving in that direction and growing that. He‘s somebody that we’re going to miss dearly over this time. What does the future look like for you? You want to continue to grow your business, but what do you see as your future, several years from now, as you continue to break through these ceilings of different things that you’re accomplishing when it comes time to retire?
My goal is to stabilize my business. We’re busy now. We see that we’re going to grow back to that other level pretty quickly, which when you go down and then you grow back quickly, it brings in a lot of additional stress and problems. Much of what we have now is going to be to figure out how to get back to $30 million and more in the least stressful way possible.
It’s a COVID reset. It’s a reset for everybody. Everybody was doing great all across the country and everybody’s doing great. There was no time to what you need to be looking at to go to the next level.
I have the infrastructure and the debt of a $30 million company. Therefore, to be financially stable and for my banks to be happy, I have to get my revenues back up there, which I am sure will happen in the next several months.
With us, most things are happening and were opening back up.
There are so many interesting things going on in my industry. For example, there are driverless buses. There are all sorts of technology that are making it interesting to be in transportation. One of my customers has now asked me, instead of running regular routes around in circles all day long, they’re asking us to provide on-demand service in buses. It’s a university, by the way. It’s exciting to me that a lot of our customers are embracing some of these new technologies. I know that we’ll continue to make my life and my company dynamic and innovative. It’s exciting. There are plenty of opportunities. My goal is to get back to my $30 million and hopefully grow it bigger than that. At some point, I will sell this company. I’m already on one public board. My goal is to be on 2 or 3 public boards and to utilize the network that I’ve spent many years building to create opportunities for other people. I’m looking forward to that. I have five kids. When they start having children, I’m not going to be a super hands-on grandmother, but I will be a hands-on mother.
By that time, you’ll start winding things down and you’ll have that time to be able to do that. What is your greatest strength and gifts that come so easy to you that others are struggling to get?
My greatest strength is adaptability and always staying calm. I have a new CFO. He comes into my office and says, “How do you do this? Every day is different. It’s impossible to forecast. We don’t know when this is going to happen.” I’m like, “This has been my life for many years.” There are ups and downs when you own a business. It’s almost like a roller coaster. The highs are high and the lows are low. I’m used to it. I’m adaptable. I can deal with it. I stay calm. I never let anyone tell me no. If someone says, “You can’t do this.” I’m like, “Watch me. I’ll figure out a way to do it.” I’m blessed with a positive mental attitude. I wake up every day in a good mood and I’m ready for a challenge.
I’m all smiles. I’m writing a book called Tell Me I Can’t and releasing a streaming TV show by the same name, interviewing people that were told they can’t and have broken through that. That’s my whole life too. Anybody who has that situation that’s happened, it’s wonderful to share those types of stories so that we can all believe that we can. Tell me I can’t and I’m going to show you how I’m going to do it. I want to say thank you again for joining us and being part of this show. I wanted to have you on here for a whole year. I finally got your attention, thank goodness for COVID. You will be doing other things, which is fine. It’s so great to see you too because I haven’t seen you for a while.
You’ve been busy travelling.
I’ve been busy too and you’ve been busy. I don’t do much networking locally anymore, I’m too busy. Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to see each other again out in maybe some gala. Maybe at a winery, if I can ever get out to them. I’m usually down at the boat with the wine. We Airbnb our house out here in the summer. We’re on our boat down to the lake house. It was sitting here and I thought, “There’s something I can do here.” Your limos have been to my house picking up the brides. Thank you so much. I’m so inspired by you. I love what you’re doing. I want to acknowledge you and make sure that you know that people like you aren’t a dime a dozen. You come around once in a lifetime. I hope that you realize that. I hope that you see that you are making an impact in the world by creating lots of significance for lots of people. Thank you for gracing us with your presence here.
Thank you so much. I feel the same about you. I’m proud of you.
Thank you very much. Everybody, we’ll catch you next time. Please take a quick minute to scroll down on your phone, give us a five-star rating and give us great reviews. We want to hear what you’ve love to read in the future, what you love about this particular show with Kristina so we can share that with her as well. We’ll catch you next time on the next episode.
- Kristina Bouweiri
- Reston Limousine
- Sterling Women
- Frank Shankwitz – Past episode
About Kristina Bouweiri
President & CEO Kristina Bouweiri is the sole owner of the Washington DC metropolitan area’s largest luxury transportation provider. Thanks to Kristina’s innovative business strategies over the last two decades, Reston Limousine and Travel Service, Inc. has enjoyed continued growth despite regional and national economic downturns. Starting with the diversification into wedding transportation in 1990, Kristina has expanded the business into new market segments such as government contracts and group transportation. Even as shuttle contracts led to exponential growth for the company, Kristina created new markets on the charter side, such as the company’s signature wine tours in what is now billed as DC’s Wine Country.
Bouweiri also has led the company’s commitment to implement the latest in technology trends. The leading private transportation provider in Washington DC when it comes to technology, Reston Limousine utilizes cameras on its bus fleet, GPS in all vehicles, and TrafficLand software to monitor DC area traffic patterns. Kristina also has been an early adopter of social media, from blogging to social sharing sites including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, Instagram, and more. Through LinkedIn, Kristina leveraged her international network to launch the company’s global services, which provides worldwide transportation through a vetted affiliate network.
An active business community leader, Kristina is a board member of influential civic organizations and business publications such as the Inova Loudoun Hospital Foundation, and Enterprising Women magazine, among others. She also is a member of the Dean’s Council of the George Mason School of Business, where she helped launch a Women’s in Business Initiative program to support students, alumnae, and other businesswomen. The Washington Business Journal named Kristina one of the 50 most powerful and influential women in Washington and she has been featured in numerous media and trade publications such as The Washington Post, Washington SmartCEO, and Enterprising Women.
As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Bouweiri has been committed to supporting other women entrepreneurs. She is the founder of the monthly networking luncheon Sterling Women and the annual Virginia Women’s Business Conference – two programs that have helped hundreds of women entrepreneurs and executives achieve their professional goals. She also is an international speaker on topics ranging from business strategy to the use of social media in growing your business, including at the Global Summit of Women in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Her recent awards include George Mason University Outstanding Leadership Award, Heroine of Washington, Washington Business Journal Power 100, and National Operator of the Year.
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