Mark Joseph steers an award-winning path to Yellow Cab's second century
By By Candy Thomson and The Baltimore Sun
Oct 26, 2012 | 12:14 PM
Yellow Cab, which has operated in the Baltimore area since 1909, has been named taxi operator of the year by the industry's trade group, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association.
Behind the wheel is Mark Joseph, a graduate of American University in Washington, who began his career at Yellow Cab in 1976 and was president and CEO for 20 years. When Connex North America acquired Yellow Transportation in 2001, Joseph rose through the executive ranks to become president and chief operating officer of Connex, now Veolia Transportation, and vice chairman and CEO of Veolia. The Bethesda resident serves on the executive committee of Veolia Transport, the Paris-based parent company.
What got you interested in getting people from here to there?
Even though I was originally drafted into the family business after my grandfather died and my father was running his law publishing practice, I became very interested in the challenge and opportunity of moving people and growing a business and being part of the city's renaissance.
What are the challenges in providing services in the city and Baltimore County?
The initial challenge when I started in the late '70s was recognizing that we had two customers: one in the front seat — the driver — and, one in the back seat — the rider. My job was and is to make sure that both are well served.
The city had fallen on hard times and so had the business. But working with Mayor [William Donald] Schaefer and believing in his vision that we could change the city and build a tourism and convention business, we saw the opportunity to be partners with the city and grow our business.
Many modes of transportation — from airlines to low-cost buses —are looking for a leg up, whether it is providing WiFi or some kind of upscale entertainment. Granted, taxi rides are much shorter. What kinds of innovations and changes have you seen in your industry over the years?
One of our biggest initiatives was to be very involved in the community by creating programs that would improve the overall environment in the city. For instance, we created Taxis on Patrol with drivers reporting crimes in progress on their two-way radios. We started this program in the late '70s. And we also joined the board of Metro Crime Stoppers at that time.
We developed Sober Ride to keep drunk drivers off the streets by providing free taxicab transportation during the holidays. This program began in the early '80s.
We developed health care transportation for elderly, poor and disabled people. This program began in the mid-80s. We joined the boards of local community HMOs and pioneered one of the first paratransit services in the United States to provide transportation for preventative care, as well as outpatient services. We developed an ambulance business and joined the board of Maryland Shock Trauma [Center] to innovate the field in private ambulance transportation and provide service to all of the major hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This was in the late '80s.
We developed limousine, school bus and motor coach transportation, including doing transportation for the Baltimore Ravens.
As an early adapter of technology, including post-World War II deployment of two-way radios, we were among the first to deploy mobile data terminals with GPS navigation to dispatch taxicabs via computer.
Today, we are founders and partners in TaxiMagic, the most popular taxi app for smartphones in the country. We are the owners of SuperShuttle in 35 airports across the country. And we developed the first urban auto mall in the nation at Howard and 21st streets.
How do you know if you, as a manager, are doing a good job? How do you know if your company is doing a good job?
Our growth and longevity proves a high degree of customer satisfaction with both our external and internal customers, as well as having a business with a strong reputation for integrity and customer service. Less than 1 percent of all companies survive 50 years in business, and in 2009 we celebrated our 100th year in business.
We were the first taxicab company to integrate in Baltimore, both by hiring women and black drivers at a time when the city was highly segregated. We benefited from strong leadership, and a desire to help others and to positively influence the community. That is our greatest success.
Those of us outside the business want to know — are there any parts of the TV show "Taxi" that ring true? Any of the characters?
In the early years, when I first started in the business, much more so than today, many small cab company garages looked like the one in the TV show, and we have many interesting characters who are attracted to the business because of the freedom to own their own business and be their own boss.