Hani Banoub first arrived in Tampa Bay as a teenager to attend the University of South Florida. A few years earlier, his father came here to establish USF's School of Public Health. Hani said he started doing business internationally at a young age, including exporting cars and boats to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A few years after graduating from USF in civil engineering, he went to work for DAF Netherlands, a company that manufactures and exports commercial vehicles and parts and he was tasked to increase market share in Africa and the Middle East. He'd then work for Mitsui & Co. to develop new business in the Middle East, and later joined Energy Allied International, where he was a consultant developing new business for select oil and gas, engineering and construction companies on major infrastructure projects globally. He spent 14 years there. Its consultants had a close relationship with Exxon Mobil and when it needed transportation services, that exposed Hani to that business. When he got sick of traveling, he became an entrepreneur. In 2013, he merged his Advantage Limousine with Ambassador Limousine to create Ambassador Group of North America. Now, the company specializes in corporate and group ground transportation and has a large fleet of luxury buses and executive vans. The business has taken some hits in recent years, especially from ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, Hani said. Also, a few years ago, his company lost one of its anchor accounts, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (he is in litigation over it). That forced the company to downsize and start diversifying, he said.
Ambassador was always a really strong corporate service provider. So they had corporate accounts for Tech Data, Morgan & Morgan, and Smith & Nephew and they were doing all their executive transportation. Advantage was more of a retail company, doing weddings and bachelor parties and nights out. So combining the two, we were the biggest in the area for a long time. Now we have the cream of the crop of retail and corporate business. Everything else tapered off or went to Uber.
We just looked at the usage of the vehicles and utilized the right vehicles more efficiently so we didn't need as many night-out vehicles at one point so we started getting rid of some of the aging units and replacing them with buses. We found a lot of growth in group transportation, especially in Tampa as it's a growing city. We made affiliations with companies in Orlando to help them with the conventions and group transportation. We started reaching out to a lot of the destination management companies and introducing ourselves. At the time of the merger we were very lucky as we had more business than we could handle and were farming it out to other smaller companies locally. Those adjustments came and we were able to roll with the punches, and within two or three years, we started leveling off and continued to be profitable with the adjustments.
I've always had that approach to take it day by day, do the best that I can today and for tomorrow, we'll see what happens. Tomorrow is not promised to anybody. When we least expect it, we'll get a call from a big group coming in, or we'll get some kind of a break to help push us and keep us motivated. I believe that being in the right time and place has alway helped. But of course, working hard and having the right foundation is also important.
How do you want to grow professionally? I want to see us develop guardian programs. I know, for example, from my brother who has three kids and friends who have a lot of kids, they have a tremendous difficulty in managing all their kids activities. I'm looking to establish something where it's a very secure service to pick up the kids and take them to wherever the activities are and that frees up the parents.
What do you remember about your first experience coming to the U.S.? We came very well set up because my father was already here and working so we hit the ground running. I immediately went to college and passed all the exams and English testing and was placed in the college of engineering. In the 1980s, it was a lot different. People didn't know as much as they know now from TV and the internet. So if you told them I was born in Egypt, they would imagine that you were riding camels. It's a lot different in this era of instant information.
By Alexis Muellner
Editor, Tampa Bay Business Journal