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A home run in truck leasing

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 2, 1988


John Simourian is a man who long ago boiled his life down to three ardent hopes: to play professional baseball, to run a trucking company - and to keep the business in the family. Since hopes for a professional baseball career went by the boards nearly three decades ago, the love of Mr. Simourian's life has been the business that bears his mother's name - Lily.

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Trucking, it seems, has always been a family affair for Simourian, a native of Watertown, Mass., who founded and built Lily Truck Leasing into the largest privately owned truck leasing company in New England.

Despite competing with a host of larger public-leasing companies like Hertz/Penske and Ryder, Simourian has managed to move Lily dramatically forward in recent years, from eight trucks in 1965 to more than 2,700 today. Lily's growth shows how a small private company can create a strategy not only to survive, but to thrive in a changing market.

``They have a tremendous asset that seems to be scarcer and scarcer these days called employee loyalty,'' says Christopher Hart, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School. Mr. Hart has been a consultant to the company.

Hart says Simourian has convinced his employees that it is important to ``sweat the details.'' This philosophy, he says, is pervasive within the company, but not in the usual sense of the ``take-charge entrepreneur who makes all the decisions.'' Instead, Simourian has shown that he can delegate authority, Hart says. It has enabled the company to grow across New England without diluting a reputation for service with quality, he says.

During the last decade, the trend toward nationwide truck leasing has gained momentum. Retail and manufacturing companies, large and small, have realized it is cheaper to leave the complexities of fleet truck maintenance and paper work to specialists. The result: a boom in truck leasing that has also produced an industry with profit margins so tight that only strong management and the very best service ensure survival.

``The way we compete is by tailoring our service to the customer and by being a quality company,'' says Simourian, who pioneered radio-dispatched road-repair crews.

The company supplies round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week service; replacement vehicles; extra trucks for seasonal needs; and computerized reports that allow customers to analyze truck performance and productivity. In short, Lily backs up promises with action that has earned the company a 98 percent lease renewal record in recent years.

Lily customers include names like Gillette, Coca-Cola, Brigham's, H.P. Hood, and Zayre.

``One of Lily's major attributes is their ability to provide us with flexibility,'' says Thomas Maguire, Gillette's logistics manager.

Another customer Lily gained by expanding operations was Sterling Engineered Products, an Auburn, Maine, manufacturer of specialized plastic products.

``It is now up to Lily to be sure the trucks leave on time, deliver on time, and to handle everything in between,'' says Peter Green, Sterling's group transportation manager.

Lily replaced Sterling's private fleet operations with a dedicated contract program, allowing managers to focus on the production and marketing of Sterling products.