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Success Story: Graziella Zanoletti - Elite Rent-A-Car & Friends Of Humanity - Entrepreneur
Success Story - Graziella Zanoletti -

Graziella Zanoletti

Elite Rent-A-Car & Friends Of Humanity

Italian-born Graziella Zanoletti started her luxury car hire and chauffeur service company Elite Rent-a-Car in 1987 and has built it today to a €20 million business, spanning seven countries, with sales representatives in five additional countries and authorized partnerships in both the UK and US.

In 2003-2004, her accomplishments gained her the Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year award. In 2006 she was invited to the first Business Community Roundtable against Human Trafficking, and to the World Economic Forum's Davos meeting.

Graziella communicates with her emotions and leads by example. This sense of responsibility has led her to long term engagements in supporting various projects around the world, and to the creation of Friends of Humanity, a not for profit company active worldwide in the following areas: education, health, environment, micro-credit and human rights.

She says: "I am convinced that a positive attitude can change the world. I believe in women of the past and women of the future. Our mothers were there to protect our homes. We are here today to prepare our daughters who will change the world".

Expat Women's Interview with Graziella
Expat Women: Graziella, please walk us how you came to be living in Switzerland and what motivated you to start Elite Rent-a-Car?

Graziella: It's simple: I came to live in Switzerland because of my future husband, who I met on a sailing boat at the Club Mediterranée in Sardinia. I founded Elite motivated by my deep desire to offer my daughter, Taraka, a better education and future. I didn't have much choice but to take some risks.
Expat Women: Your business is now very well-established, which is a credit to your commitment and longevity. What was it like in the early years?
Graziella: It was very much a man's world: "What does she pretend to do, this pretty blonde lady with cars?" So I had to prove that a blonde could have both a brain and the capacity to handle cars and clients. I also got "Let me invite you to dinner to teach you how men do business" - by men who just wanted to date me. That aside, men can be very supportive when they recognize a hard-working woman. I have been very lucky to have met wonderful human beings in my business, mostly male.
Expat Women:What were some of the specific obstacles that you needed to overcome and did you ever think about giving up?
Graziella: One obstacle was finding financial support from the banks and leasing companies to buy the cars. But again, I did meet nice men who were ready to believe in my determination and in the project. I could not afford to think about giving up because my daughter was my star, my stability and the thought of her was always my best support.
Expat Women: Elite Rent-a-Car has become synonymous not only with luxury cars, but with the latest models available on the market - before anybody else has them - delivered anywhere, any time of the day or night, as per the client's wishes. What has been your secret to creating successful alliances and delivering customer service beyond expectations?
Graziella: Consistency in the service provided. Availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Attention to customer needs. Listening to the market whispers to always surprise my clients with new models. The right team who can understand your philosophy and who are always ready to please the customer. We don't only promise an ultimate service, we deliver. Transparency in all of our processes. Today, I think that our commitment to social responsibility also pleases our customers. Credibility in the industry: 21 years of luxury services.
Expat Women:In May 2007, you created Friends of Humanity (FOH), a Geneva-based non-profit organization. Can you please share with us the mission and work of FOH, as well as what makes it unique?
Graziella: Our mission is "Improve the life" at all levels. We support or create projects where we can see a measurable positive impact on the community and on the nature. We are different because we aim to create around FOH a group of small- and medium-sized companies ready to do good, but who have no time to do it. We provide administration support and the follow up of their projects to avoid fragmentation in the field.
Expat Women: Do you have any ‘good news' stories for us from the work of Friends of Humanity?
Graziella: One of the most important projects of FOH is the Helpline to assist victims of human trafficking. The first victim we assisted was from Jamaica and after her we called the project "Gwaan Livity", which in Creole means "go ahead to a happy life". She is living now protected in a shelter and will be legally assisted before going back home.

Others that come to mind are:

  • An Elite indigenous soccer team in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon where we built a school: the pride to see that adults and children were attending the classes all together.

  • Inspiring Nuns met in nunneries in Tibet: they pray, eat and sleep very few hours (on the same seat all their life) but their eyes are sparkling with joy and contentment.

  • A Vietnamese girl, Phuong, whom we helped to have her school degree at the Business School in Switzerland, today is one of the top executives of a bank in Hanoi.
  • Expat Women: Graziella, thank you most sincerely for your time. May you and your organizations continue to inspire and ‘make a difference' to women worldwide.
    Graziella: What is the most important is FAITH in the Universe. He will never let you.down. Love and thanks, Graziella.
    January 2009
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