Doug Falcone, the chief executive officer of Access to Money, likes being on the fast track – whether he's leading his Whippany, N.J.-based ISO or racing a Formula Mazda car at 145 miles per hour.
Access to Money, which has 18 employees in New Jersey, Mississippi, Florida and Nebraska, in 2001 won Triton's Admirals' Club award, an honor the manufacturer presents to its top distributors, and transaction processor Lynk's Top Performer award for three consecutive years. According to Falcone, the company did $15 million in sales in 2001.
Despite a July 14 crash at New York's Watkins Glen International Raceway, in which a slower driver drifted into Falcone's car as it was passing him, sending him into the wall at 100-plus miles an hour and leaving him with an injured shoulder, Falcone finished in the top 10 of the Star Mazda East Series. While his car suffered $15,000 in damages due to the crash, Falcone didn't miss a day of work.
Like many other entrepreneurs, Falcone is a self-taught businessman. After one year majoring in business at the University of Rhode Island in 1978, he went to Vail, Colo., where he worked in a ski resort's kitchen. Though he developed a love of cooking – a hobby he still enjoys – his real motive for kitchen duty was getting in slope time.
"If you worked on the mountain, you couldn't ski during the day," Falcone said. "Working in the kitchen, you could ski until 2 (p.m.) and then work the dinner shift."
In addition to downhill skis, over the years Falcone has indulged his love of speed on motocross bikes, jet skis and shifter karts, culminating in his participation in the Star Mazda Formula Series.
"I'm much more into individual sports than team sports," Falcone said. "I'm pretty competitive with myself."
Falcone has also been a pilot for the past 10 years, and enjoys flying to races and to his shore house in Bricktown, N.J., where he unwinds by "putting a bottle of wine on the table and cooking for friends," he said.
"He's a good cook," said Charles Samons, Access to Money's vice president of sales and marketing, who has enjoyed Falcone's hospitality at the shore several times. Samons also enjoys an occasional round of golf with Falcone.
His game improved after Falcone sent him to a three-day Arnold Palmer Golf Academy. According to Samons, Falcone is quick to reward his employees for jobs well done with such special gestures.
"He knows how to reward you for hard work – both financially and mentally," Samons said. "He actually wanted to send me to racing school because he had such a great time. But I said, 'Doug, have you ever seen any famous Jewish race car drivers?' That's when he decided to send me to golf school instead."
Go east, young man
After the snow melted in Vail, Falcone went to Denver, where he sold Datsuns at an automobile dealership, advancing to used car manager and then finance manager.
His stint at the dealership gave him skills he still uses today, Falcone said, among them building and supervising a sales force, maintaining parts inventories, servicing equipment and obtaining financing. "You got 10 extra deals a month if you knew how to properly prepare a lease application," he said.
After four years in Colorado, Falcone found himself missing family and friends and returned to New Jersey. While he had saved some money, he didn't have enough for his own auto dealership. A restaurant, however, was within his means. So opened the Polo Club in Morristown, N.J.
Doug Falcone unwinds on the race track.
Until the restaurant was established, Falcone wore several hats – including a chef's toque. One of his signature dishes was Chicken Polo, chicken in cream sauce flavored with ham, shallots and several kinds of cheese.
After five years in the restaurant business, Falcone sold the Polo Club and a second eatery called Café Beethoven to establish a company that provided food and vending services for corporate campuses. Falcone still owns 50 percent of that venture, Campus Dining Services of New Jersey.
The move was necessary, Falcone said, to reduce his stress level.
"When you work in the restaurant business, it's like dog years. Five years in the restaurant business is like 25 years anywhere else," he said. "You work more regular hours on a corporate campus. You won't get rich, but you won't lose your ass either."
I'll take Manhattan
After his interest in ATMs was triggered by a machine he saw at a trade show, he founded Access to Money in January of 1995. While trying to break into the lucrative Manhattan market, his biggest challenge was overcoming the skepticism of business owners.
"It was slow in the early days. You'd wear the leather off your shoes six days a week," Falcone said. "Nobody really knew anything about ATMs or trusted anyone in the business. You had to tell the whole story of what an ATM was and how it worked."
Falcone's first customer, Naugh Deli in midtown Manhattan, was pivotal. "We had a great relationship," he recalled. "I serviced the hell out of the guy. After all, he was my only customer. Then I was able to use him as a reference, and he got me over the hump."
The deli proprietor is still a customer of Falcone's – now with an additional three ATMs under Access to Money's management.
Forming solid relationships is a Falcone trademark – in both his professional and personal lives.
Troy Jaros, vice president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Lease Consultants, has worked with Falcone since 1996 – and has been friends with him for most of that time.
"Doug runs his business the right way," Jaros said. "He's committed to forming long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Because we see eye to eye on business, we've become friends too."
Jaros added, "We just like hanging out. You know someone is a good friend when you just spend time together with no real plans."
"I like to form true partnerships," Falcone said. "This industry is too small. If you treat somebody the wrong way, chances are it's going to come full circle and you'll find yourself back at their door some time."
Falcone's philosophy seems to serve him well at a time when the retail ATM business is consolidating. Falcone has purchased two small ATM portfolios in as many years. Yet Access for Money is not for sale, he said, noting that he is optimistic that business will remain strong for the next one to three years.
"I'm 43 years old, and I'm not looking to start all over again," he said. "I've been in other businesses that have been profitable. But I've never been in a business that was this challenging, or this fun."
Divorced for eight years, Falcone said he is "holding out for the right person," much as he held out for the right job. "I know what I'm looking for, but I'm enjoying my life the way it is right now."