U.S limo industry mourns loss of popular figure

The American limousine industry was in shock recently as word spread from coast-to-coast that Dean Schuler, a fixture in the industry for three decades, died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

In the days since, operators, industry vendors, publishers and chauffeurs are still reeling from the tragic news. Schuler was a legend in the chauffeured transportation industry who left behind some big shoes.

The Man He Was

Known to all he met as a kind gentleman with a passion for the industry, 57-year-old Schuler was many things to many people. The best word to describe Schuler relative to the industry is involved.

Schuler was a member of the TLPA (Taxi, Limousine & Para-transit Association), Meeting Planners International, International Special Events Society, New Business Travel Association, Airport Ground Transportation Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Greater New Orleans Tourist Commission, and the National Limousine Association. He is a former board member of the latter. He founded the New Orleans Livery Association. He was awarded Operator of the Year by Limousine Digest magazine in 2007 and the TLPA in 2009. Schuler was a speaker, moderator, presenter and panel member at many industry shows. He was a frequent contributor to online industry forums. He was someone that would send fellow operators information every day that was relative to their market or of interest. He was someone that would teach you all he knew if you were willing to listen.

On the personal side, Schuler was once married, and divorced in 1999. He took that part of his life hard but managed to get through it with the help of his longtime friend, Robert Logan. He would return the favor to Logan later in life. Fellow Louisiana operator Wade Randolph of Riverside Limousines in Baton Rouge also considered Schuler a close friend of 25 years who spoke by phone nearly daily. “I will surely miss him,” Randolph says. Jerry Thomas of Primetime Limousine and Sedans in Raleigh, N.C. calls Schuler “A legend and a pioneer of the industry.”

Getting in the Business

Schuler’s original life plans included working in psychology. It was this pursuit that first introduced him to his future business partner, Ed Sakakeeny, a fellow student at Missouri State University. The friendship was born through mischief as Sakakeeny was the manager of the cafeteria and Schuler, who then sported an “afro” hair-cut, thought it was funny to start massive food fights. Sakakeeny said Schuler would be the first to duck and ask, “Who started it?” but always helped clean up the mess as well. It was this and other college antics that created a lasting friendship in the early 1970s. On a side note, Schuler was seen with hair growing on his familiar bald head at the recent industry trade show in Atlantic City, N.J. His staff members say that Schuler felt a tall, bald man received more attention of TSA agents at the airport so he decided to allow his hair to grow.

Upon graduation with a Bachelor’s degree, Schuler would attend post-graduate school at Sonoma State in Sonoma California obtaining a Master’s degree in psychology in 1977. It was during this time that Schuler first took a job as a chauffeur on weekends to earn cash. What started out as a fun job would soon overshadow his psychology work as he decided he did not care for the institutional environment. As luck would have it, Sakakeeny had opened Touch of Class Limousine in New Orleans. Schuler had a penchant for hitchhiking and would periodically hitchhike from California to New Orleans and just show up at Sakakeeny’s doorstep. When his visit was over, Sakakeeny would drop him off at an onramp to Interstate 10 where Schuler would thumb his way back to California. In 1983 he decided to stay in New Orleans and took a job working for Sakakeeny. In 1985 Schuler returned to California to work for others in the industry gaining knowledge of every facet of the business. Touch of Class was sold in 1989 temporarily ending Sakakeeny’s industry involvement. That is until Schuler showed up again in 1991 and proposed he and Skakeeny start a new limousine service together and name it after his newly created magazine column, Signature Livery featured in the newly created Limousine Digest Magazine.

Learning and Sharing

“There are few limousine business people in history that have made such a significant impact upon our industry as Dean. The greatest lesson Dean taught was to never stop learning and remain a student of the trade of livery, always. This lesson I will never forget nor never will I believe there is nothing left to learn. — Matt Harrison, industry consultant

While Schuler was widely known as a teacher and mentor, he also had a huge appetite for information, statistics and operational procedures of others. He would frequently call upon me to ask how we handled certain aspects of our business. I was so honored to have someone I considered my own personal mentor to want to stay current with trends. He attended many state and regional association meetings in his quest to learn, stay current, and contribute his knowledge. He was always eager to lend a hand to anyone that asked and to give you his opinions whether you asked or not.

Schuler found a mentor in Maury Sutton, publisher of LCT Magazine from 1986 to 1990. Sutton found a writer in Schuler. Schuler was a voracious reader and memorized statistics and people at will. He memorized every key executive of Carey International and what cities they worked in before a lunch with Carey management. He was a contributing editor under the reins of Sutton and spent the past 20 years as a writer and consultant for Limousine Digest Magazine.

There are so many people that Schuler shared his knowledge with including Jared Scott of Platinum Limousines in Nashville, Tenn. “We are all lucky to have had many great discussions with him,” Scott says. Tim Wiegman of Boulevard Limousine in Kansas City spent time with Schuler recently and says, “I was fortunate enough to meet Dean last week. He enjoyed life, limousines, and sharing. His lessons shall live on forever and will help many succeed.”

Beginning of Signature Livery

In 1991, Dean and his longtime college buddy, Sakakeeny, would launch Signature Livery. The company was invited to become a Carey franchise in 1994. When the company began, Schuler was sending out letters to the handful of networks that existed in the early 1990s seeking to become an affiliate in the New Orleans area. He had initially decided to skip asking the world’s largest and oldest network, Carey International, for work. Two years later, Carey would ask him to become a franchisee. Signature would cement themselves as a solid business partner and even provide employees to manage large scale events such as the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Visitor and Mentor

“He definitely was a pleasure to be around and passionate about his craft … around here (LimousinesOnline forum), his passion, contributions, knowledge, and humorous rantings will be sorely missed. I use many “Schulerisms” still to this day. Some spirited Shulerisms that immediately come to mind: civilians, sharecroppers, malfeasance, “the Redondo Beach school of numbers,” are just some things we all have loved over the years” — Michael Composto, Founder, LimousinesOnline Forum

Schuler and his brother Jim would visit me in my hometown of Bakersfield, Calif. Dean loved a community charity event I am involved with and strongly encouraged my charity work in the community telling me that it would drum up new business while serving a personal cause. He taught me the intrinsic marketing value of work within the community. He would peruse the phonebook on each visit scouring limousine service ads and telling me which ones were a threat to and which were “civilians merely trying to make a buck.” He would walk my operations making me cringe that he was going to see my “white cars,” with clear disdain. He would talk to our chauffeurs as if they were his best friend and compliment everything they did. My self-esteem would be so high when Schuler left my town that I would have to be reeled in from the positive attitude he inflicted not only upon me but upon my staff as well. Dean would frequently call me to “check-in” with me as he called it and other times he would call me to rebuke me or give his opinion to me on a matter whether I wanted to hear it or not. I was never left wondering where he stood on an issue or what his opinion was on a subject. Many visitors of the LimousinesOnline operators forum were quickly put in their place with terms and phrases recently dubbed “Schulerisms” by forum founder, Michael Composto. Forum moderator Walter “Gunny” Kozak said Schuler would probably like that legacy on a forum he contributed to nearly daily, sometimes sparring with Kozak and myself and sometimes praising us. He was always honest and forthright in his thoughts and comments.

Dave Merrill, a Michigan transportation consultant says, “The industry has lost a great man. Thanks for all you have taught me Dean and putting me in my place from time to time.” Josh Roman of Heaven on Wheels in Dallas, Texas was another student of Schuler’s and says, “His expertise and mentoring in the business will be truly missed but was a blessing for many.” Mike Denning of Elegant Limousine in Palm Coast, Florida says, “A true professional will be missed. Thank you Dean for the years of wisdom and respected comments.”

The Host

My wife and I had an opportunity to visit Dean in his hometown. He set up our hotel room for us at the swank Crown Plaza right on Bourbon Street. He took us to a Restaurant called Tujagues near Jackson Square where Schuler was treated like a rock star. We were shown to a private dining room and visited by the owner and chef. We were given a tour including a private balcony and took photos behind the bar as if we were serving ourselves. It was obvious the owners and staff loved Schuler. He took us to an oyster bar where he taught us all about the art of consuming oysters and good cocktails. Of course all of our transportation was handled as well.

The Final Hours

At about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, longtime general manager Amy Abadie went to Schuler’s home after he had called his office to report feeling ill. Abadie called 911. Sakakeeny was also on his way but diverted to the hospital learning that Schuler had suffered a massive heart attack in front of his home in the ambulance. By the time he arrived at the hospital, it was too late. Schuler had passed away due to a torn aorta caused by high-blood pressure. There was nothing that could have been done to save his life, and according to medical experts, death is nearly instant in such cases. Hours earlier, he had sent me an e-mail requesting information on non-emergency medical transportation. He said he was helping a fellow Carey operator and remembered some of my work on the subject. That was Dean. Always helping someone.

What’s Next for Signature Livery?

Sakakeeny said, “We will continue to build the company as Dean would have expected.” “The entire company is in disbelief and there is a very melancholy feel in the office,” he added. In a prepared statement from Signature Livery/Carey New Orleans, the company states: “Carey New Orleans has experienced a great loss of both a founding partner and a dear friend. Dean was a mentor not only to his staff but to other operators who also looked to him for guidance. We recognize the entire limousine industry shares in this dramatic loss but Dean’s legacy will live on through his contributions made here at Carey New Orleans as well as throughout the transportation industry.”

“On behalf of the staff at LCT Magazine, I wish to express my condolences to Dean’s family, his staff, his clients and his industry peers. Dean lived and breathed this business and had a true servant’s heart…always there to be of help. He will be missed.” — Sara Eastwood-McLean, publisher of LCT Magazine

“Dean was a massive supporter of The Chauffeur magazine ever since 2003. He was always one of our first readers to comment and give feedback on articles and industry topics. It was obvious Dean was a very big part of the chauffeur community in the U.S, and will be extremely missed.” Paul Gibson, thechauffeur.com

Thanks to Jim Luff and LCT Mag, for allowing us to publish this article.

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