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Grateful Dead fan loves truckin’

Dozens of model tractor-trailers line the walls of Michael Margarone’s office, interspersed with family photos and company plaques and awards, giving visitors a glimpse into the psyche of DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc.’s president.
 
He loves his job.
 
"I enjoy the industry, but more importantly I enjoy the company," Margarone says. "Every day is different, and it is fun to come to work and continue to grow the business."
 
Margarone declined to be specific about revenues but said the company annually posts 8 to 10 percent growth. DeCarolis has some 150 employees at seven locations in Western New York, including roughly 50 in Rochester. It also has a nationwide affiliation with NationaLease, a buying group made up of more than 165 independent businesses and 600 service locations throughout the United States and Canada.
 
DeCarolis specializes in full-service lease, rental and maintenance of trucks, tractors and trailers as well as student transportation. The company operates and maintains some 2,000 vehicles and has a heavy-duty parts division to supply fleets with truck and trailer parts.
 
While DeCarolis competes with national companies such as Ryder System Inc. and Penske Truck Leasing, each with more than 200,000 vehicles nationwide, Margarone says the company continues to grow because of its personalized service and its employees.
 
"I think people like dealing with a local company and local ownership … not being a public company run by shareholders," he says. "I think the big advantage we offer against the nationals is flexibility to our customers and being able to turn on a dime."
 
As one of just a handful of family-owned, local truck leasing companies in a highly competitive market, Margarone says, DeCarolis is here to stay and has no intention of being gobbled up by its national competitors.
 
"I’m not going to say they haven’t called and they don’t look at a company like us, because they do. But our owner, I can clearly say, it’s his life," Margarone says of Chairman Paul DeCarolis. "He enjoys the business. He’s here every day."
 
DeCarolis says he serves as a mentor to the different departments within the company and adds that as long as he is healthy and can be an asset to his business, he intends to keep working.
 
"I work half days," DeCarolis says with a snicker. "It’s either the first 12 or the second 12."
 
DeCarolis’ son Louis has worked for the company some 30 years, while his son John came on board recently. Both sons work less on the corporate side and more on the technology end of the business, DeCarolis says.
 
DeCarolis Truck Rental was founded some 75 years ago when Louis DeCarolis Sr. bought a truck and used it to transport laborers to and from farmers’ fields in the Rochester area. Before long he was being asked to haul produce to processing plants, and in 1938 he created a small carting company called DeCarolis Trucking Co.
 
In the company’s formative years, it specialized in heavy-duty trucking and outside repairs, sometimes renting out its own equipment to customers. Later the firm added a truck terminal and expanded into warehousing in the 1950s.
 
The business grew quickly with the addition of a truck stop, a Diamond Reo truck dealership, a Thermo King Refrigeration franchise, and a rental and leasing company. Louis DeCarolis Sr. died in 1961 and was succeeded by two sons, Louis and Paul.
 
Tragedy struck five years later when Louis was killed in a plane crash. His brother came out of the shop to assume the presidency, continuing his father’s and brother’s progressive thinking and determination to become a leader in transportation services.
 
In 1968 DeCarolis began to phase out much of the sales and outside service business of his company to concentrate exclusively on the rental and full-service leasing side.
 
"From the beginning, Louis DeCarolis Sr. knew that the only way he could support his customers’ needs was by expanding DeCarolis Truck Rental’s multidimensional image with a wide range of products and services," Margarone explains. "Truck leasing, once the domain of giant companies, has become big business for a host of small, regional firms."
 
In recent years, he adds, changes in the industry have spurred the decision to drop internal fleets of trucks in favor of leasing from national and local truck rental companies.
 
"Leasing became an option of enhancing their financial bottom lines by eliminating excessive payroll and business expenses," Margarone says.

Company veteran
Margarone has watched DeCarolis change and grow in his nearly three decades with the firm. He joined the company in 1987 as a lease account manager after a short stint with a national truck rental and leasing company.
 
He served as a branch manager at DeCarolis and in 2001 was named vice president of sales. In 2008 he was named executive vice president, and he took the helm as president in 2009 when then-President Wayne Bowser retired.
 
The transition was not as hard as he initially thought it would be, Margarone says.
 
"I was a little nervous, but I’ve worked for Paul DeCarolis since 1987," he recalls. "We’ve always had a great working relationship. I’ve loved working for him, so it was pretty easy."
 
Margarone describes his own leadership style as hands-on.
 
"I believe you lead by example and always give a clear direction, then surround yourself with people that share the same passion and vision," he says. "I would not ask anyone on our staff to do anything I wouldn’t do."
 
As a junior in high school, Margarone worked at a hardware store in his hometown, Endicott in Broome County. The job gave him insight on customer service and building relationships with customers.
 
"Also, (it) being a small, privately owned store, I could see the challenges and rewards an owner deals with, having the responsibility of running a business," he says.

Ethics and leadership
While he learned a lot from that experience, his work ethic was handed down from his father, Margarone says.
 
"He is the most honest, hardworking man I know. He has character and is committed to integrity," he says. "That gave me the proper foundation to strive to always do the right thing."
 
Glen Moorhouse, lease account manager and onetime DeCarolis customer, says Margarone enjoys his job and works hard at striking a balance between working hard and having fun doing it.
 
"You’ll find Mike in a suit and tie one hour and then he’ll be in a truck, taking it from point A to point B," he says with a laugh.
 
Director of Sales Patrick Herron says employees have fun doing what they do.
 
"It’s terrific fun. It shows in the people. Mike has helped create that," he says. "Mike’s philosophy is we’re going to have fun doing it."
 
Margarone says the best part of his job is having the privilege to lead a group of talented, dedicated people who share the goal of achieving customer satisfaction.
 
"I love to see a plan work," he says.
 
Margarone’s sales background and outgoing personality mean he can do without the paper pushing and being tied to a desk, he adds.
 
"There are stats and reports that need to be reviewed daily, but I like to be out in the shops and in front of customers," he says.
 
DeCarolis notes that Margarone’s management style complements his own well.
 
"He’s very strong on sales and the operation side," he says. "He’s a good people person. He does an excellent job for the company and our customers."
 
Margarone calls himself competitive and goal-oriented but says his biggest weakness is impatience.
 
"I am results-driven but understand the challenges that our staff face to meet our objectives," he adds.
 
Goals for the company include continuing to refine its programs, looking for opportunities in new markets that fit DeCarolis’ business model, and being the premier transportation solution in its markets.
 
"As fleet maintenance and regulation become more complex, we see this as an opportunity to further grow our lease and contract maintenance business in new markets," Margarone says.
 
Expansion and acquisitions are possibilities, he says, though the company is not actively seeking to add to its portfolio.
 
"We’re always looking at new markets. If it’s the right fit for the company and the customer, it’s something we look at doing," he says.
 
The company’s customers include Big Apple Deli Products Inc., Jacobstein Food Service LLC, RIST Transport Ltd. and C&M Forwarding. DeCarolis offers everything from maintaining trucks to having a full-time safety director to road-testing drivers to completing tax paperwork.
 
What makes DeCarolis successful, Margarone says, is its people, backed by strong technology.
 
"Individually we do not have all the answers, but as a group we can take on anything," Margarone says. "Employees are empowered to make decisions, and giving them that authority allows them to grow and better serve our customers."
 
Longtime friend and customer Jeff Shapiro says the company stands out from its competition because of its leaders.
 
"Mike really just goes out of the way, and that’s what it takes," Shapiro says. "It’s not just about taking care of the customers. It’s making sure that the shop is run the right way, the vehicles are in top-notch condition."
 
Margarone has high integrity and good ethics, Shapiro adds.
 
"I’ve been with Mike and a customer will call. Mike will stop whatever he’s doing to take care of the customer," Shapiro explains. "First and foremost he’s a very customer-focused kind of guy. I think in that business, what it really takes to stand out and stand above the competition is someone that’s going to go out of the way and take care of the customer."
 
Sales Director Herron says DeCarolis tries to keep its department managers involved in all aspects of the company.
 
"Our goal is to build a culture where everyone has importance, everybody has an impact on the success or failure of the company," he says. "We want everybody to know that what they do each day has an impact. Empowering our people is part of that program."
 
Several factors make the company successful, Moorhouse says.
 
"We’re always focused on doing the right thing for the customer. We offer a unique product and service," he says. "We have history and credibility on our side after 75 years."
 
Margarone says the biggest challenge the company faces is recruiting qualified diesel technicians because of an industrywide shortage.
 
"It certainly isn’t glamorous, but you can make a good living," he says of technicians. "As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a good diesel technician, you’re never out of work."
 
Another challenge is meeting the government’s regulations for emissions. While reducing emissions is beneficial for the environment, Margarone says it has put a strain on the industry.
 
"The challenge has been they forced the regulation so fast, as far as the timetable to have that completed to the manufacturers, that there have been maintenance problems plaguing this industry and anybody operating trucks," he explains.
 
That has led to increased costs, both in buying new vehicles-a tractor that was $100,000 five years ago has increased to $130,000 due to government standards-and in maintaining vehicles that were hastily manufactured to meet those standards.
 
"The most expensive truck is the one off the side of the road, for both us and our customers," Margarone says.
 
What makes him want to pull his hair out are the things he cannot control that affect the company.
 
"The biggest is what is going on in Washington and how to navigate in an environment of increased costs and regulation," he says.
 
Margarone says his chief accomplishments are setting goals and expectations and achieving them.
 
"It’s not just growing our company but also developing our people to be the best they can be," he says. "I take great pride in watching them excel."
 
He says the best business advice he can give is not to sweat the small stuff.
 
"You have to manage by the numbers, but if you take care of the customers and your employees, the rest will fall to the bottom line," Margarone adds.

Off the job
Fifty-year-old Margarone lives with his wife of 26 years, Trisha, in Webster. They have two children, Austin, 19, and Amanda, 16. His favorite family memories are their annual spring-break trips.
 
"I have fond memories of spending time watching the kids grow from year to year," he says.
 
Margarone also enjoys boating and traveling in his spare time and is an avid skier.
 
Shapiro vividly recalls skiing trips he has taken with his friend through the years.
 
"Mike is the guy who as soon as the chair opens is out on the slope, who’s out there until the slope closes," he says.
 
Margarone also is a die-hard Grateful Dead fan who has been to more than 100 shows and once dreamed of being either a rock star or a professional athlete.
 
"Not a bad gig, to make money doing something you do in your leisure anyway," he says. "But I can’t sing or play football."

Michael Margarone
Title: President, DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc.
Age: 50
Education: B.S., business management, University of Tampa, 1985
Family: Wife Trisha; son Austin, 19; daughter Amanda, 16
Home: Webster
Hobbies: Grateful Dead, skiing, family
Quote: "Individually we do not have all the answers, but as a group we can take on anything."

8/16/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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