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Waiting for a `bears' market: Pearson transportation is riding high thanks to NFL contract. (Making It).

In 1998, Timothy Pearson, then the owner of a small janitorial services company, took a taxi home. The driver, he says, was smoking and the cab wasn't well maintained, making the journey an unpleasant one. That ride turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Believing he could do a better job, Pearson folded his small company and took out a bank loan for the $15,000 purchase of his first commercial vehicle and formed Courtesy Vans. A scant four years later and his company, Pearson Transportation Inc., is on the road to success. With 2001 revenues exceeding $200,000 and minimum revenue projections of $5.5 million for 2002--thanks to a contract with the NFL's Chicago Bears worth some $5 million over the course of the 2002-2003 football season--Pearson is looking to, build the Champaign, Illinois-based firm into a success. With four full-time employees and 22 vehicles, the 32-year-old Pearson hopes to build a ground transportation empire.

In 1999, Pearson landed a contract with Willard Airport worth $175,000 a year to shuttle students and faculty from the airport to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, increasing his fleet from one van to four.

But the turning point for Pearson would come courtesy of the Chicago Bears when the decision was made to renovate Soldier Field. The team's management decided to hold their home games at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois. "I just wanted to get a piece of that pie," says Pearson. "City officials did their survey and decided that the Bears would bring $36 million to $50 million in revenues just for being there those few months, and I decided I wanted my 10%."

Ironically, it was the Bears who sought out Pearson. In his Courtesy Vans days, he shuttled members of the Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Rams to their annual scrimmage at the University of Illinois. During that period, he got to know James Irsay, the owner and CEO of the Colts, who recommended him to the Bears franchise. "Somehow my name got into the mix," Pearson chuckled.

Pearson then set up a meeting with Bears management, presenting a video proposal on how he could transport thousands of Bears fans over 100 miles for the 10 home games scheduled while Soldier Field's $587 million face-lift was under way. The end result: Pearson was awarded the contract, which he values at $5 million to $10 million over the course of the football season. To accomplish this, he is contracting up to 400 buses to shuttle up to 35,000 fans for the two hour trip to Champaign from Chicago-land at a fee of $36 per person.

Pearson appears to be on his way to forming an empire. Pearson Transportation serves as a holding company for his other operations: Fans Express, the shuttle service for the Chicago Bears; Campus Taxi, which operates on university campuses; and Airport Express, the renamed Courtesy Vans. His future goals include expanding his business and eventually becoming a transportation franchiser.

With that lucrative contract in place, Pearson is no doubt looking forward to the kickoff of the season. "This is something that's never been done as far as I know, so I want to do it"

Pearson Transportation, 1512 West Anthony Dr., Champaign, Illinois 61821; 217-359-5541;
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Author:Hughes, Alan
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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