Member Spotlight: John Sambdman, Samson Trailways

Date: July 19, 2016

New Leadership Council member aims to fight back against overregulation and unnecessary lawsuits.

Member Spotlight: John Sambdman, Samson Trailways

If John Sambdman were to offer a piece of advice to entrepreneurs, it would be to make sure that their business idea provides a service or product that fills a need. “The better you can serve the needs of your fellow man, the more likely you will succeed in business,” he said.

This has been the foundation for his transportation business’ success. His father started Samson Tours in 1983 when he saw a need for churches to have access to a quality, professionally managed transportation company. They started with one bus, which they parked down the street from their house, and Sambdman earned money by washing it.

In 1996, Samson joined Trailways, the oldest independent bus network in North America, and purchased a school bus company in 1998. The business has grown from one bus to a fleet of 67 vehicles, including luxury motor coaches, luxury mini buses, and yellow school buses. Samson Trailways employs 85 workers and owns a facility where they perform in-house maintenance.

However, the business’ success and growth has also meant an exponential increase in the challenges they face. There are currently 38 different government agencies Samson Trailways must deal with, 10 of which can audit them and shut them down if they are noncompliant with the many changing demands. Most recently, an FDA agent came by to perform a spot inspection with no notice. And even though Samson Trailways has nothing to do with food, drugs, or their transport, the agent insisted the company fell under his jurisdiction because there are bathrooms on the coaches.

Sambdman said his newest challenge has been the increase in lawsuits from former employees for false workers’ compensation and Fair Labor Standards Act claims. When an employee makes a complaint or initiates a lawsuit, he said, they can do so with no evidence of wrongdoing and the employer is assumed guilty unless he can prove his innocence. And even with evidence proving innocence, it’s unlikely for employers to prevail in jury trials, so it’s necessary to settle out of court, which costs tens of thousands of dollars.

“Honestly, given the current litigious and highly regulated environment, I don’t think we could start our company again the way we did in 1983,” Sambdman said. He added that business success requires focusing on customer needs and careful cost controls, but dealing with so many government agencies clouds that focus.

And while Sambdman said Georgia is generally a good place to do business, the Legislature has made several unfavorable law changes that directly impact his business. One is the increased tax on diesel gas from 18.4 cents per gallon to 29.6 cents per gallon. Another is the changed rules on capital equipment purchases. Instead of sales tax on these purchases, which Samson Trailways was exempt from, the new rule imposes a one-time tag tax of 7 percent, which increases the purchase cost of a used, factory-refurbished bus by $22,000 or by $40,000 on a new bus. This money cannot be included in a loan and insurance doesn’t cover it, so it becomes a cash expense. And worse yet, if Sambdman were to sell or trade the bus within two years, the amount of taxes paid upfront are not prorated back to him; the new buyer would have to pay it again.

“Essentially, the state imposed six years of annual tag fees to occur all on the first day of ownership, so if I own it for less than that, our cost of ownership increases,” he said. “This is a cost that is difficult to pass along to my customers, causing a squeeze on my profit margins.”

It’s because of issues like this that Sambdman is looking forward to being part of the NFIB/GA Leadership Council.

“I would like to take a more active role in speaking with the legislators in an attempt to explain to them the negative consequences of their actions and to suggest legislation that increases individual liberty instead of taxing it,” he said.

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