Like any prudent CEO, Jeff Nyikos planned for unexpected disruptions to business and recessions.
But the brightest and most successful business leaders or Wharton School graduates couldn’t have prepared him or tens of thousands of other business owners and executives for the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus.
Nyikos leads the Valhalla-based Leros Point to Point, Westchester’s largest private ground transportation company. His decision to lay off all but 30 of his roughly 300 drivers by Mar. 20 was an example of the dire predicament his firm and thousands of other business owners small and large are facing.
“You can have all the disaster economy plans, and you plan for downturns and recessions and things of that nature,” Nyikos said, “but you could never plan for anything that’s taking place here over the last two weeks. I don’t care what business you’re in. So, we’re doing whatever we can. We’re in survival mode at this point.”
As late as Mar. 18, Leros was still doing some corporate shuttles and other black-car runs for major Westchester corporations. But over the past two weeks business has fallen 90 percent, Nyikos said, as government leaders shutdown the economy and urge people to stay home. In that time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued executive orders mandating that only essential businesses remain open, eliminating much of the commuting workforce and the need for transportation, which is deemed essential.
Runs to the metropolitan area airports have dwindled and downtowns that had been bustling with evening activity from the restaurant crowds have been reduced to ghost towns by nightfall.
Nyikos said Leros does work with some corporations that have disaster recovery sites in the county, plus he’s been reaching out to hospitals throughout Westchester in hopes of recovering a small amount of business to transport healthcare workers.
“My friend has a company that places nurses, so we’re talking about possibly providing transportation, if not (last) week than (this) week, to nurses either going to work or from work and maybe late at night because you don’t want to take public transportation with no one on the trains at night, ” Nyikos said.
As circumstances were unfolding a couple of weeks ago, there had been some calls from families that wanted their older parents to stay with them in their homes in Westchester, Rockland, Connecticut or New Jersey, he said.
Other attempts to find work have included reaching out to organizations to make deliveries of essential items to local seniors.
Nyikos said the most difficult aspect was telling the overwhelming number of his drivers that he had to send them home.
He’s not certain how long he can continue to operate even with 10 percent of his drivers. If there was zero revenue being generated, Leros could last two to three months, Nyikos said.
The hope is that the company’s lenders and Ford Motor Co. won’t ask for their scheduled payments until there’s a modicum of business. Until then, Nyikos has been busy searching for loans and assistance.
A major challenge for Nyikos is keeping his remaining drivers safe from the coronavirus. Each driver pilots the same car, they wear gloves and after a passenger is dropped off the back seat is wiped down.
While most of the drivers have only two or three calls a day now, there is still significant danger. However, few drivers wanted give up their livelihood.
“We told these guys they don’t have to work,” Nyikos said. “We gave every driver the option of going on unemployment and when things come back, we’ll bring you back. We gave everyone that option. I can’t make a guy not work.”
Nyikos, like his employees, is hoping he can survive.
“The game plan is to ride this out and hopefully we get through the virus and at that point we’re hoping to get some assistance,” he said. “We’re not looking for a handout, but basically some long-term loan that will allow us to operate and then allow us to bring these people back.”