Taxi Mogul and Cardozo Graduate Shares Journey to Success with YU Students
On January 25, students at Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business gathered around a conference table in Belfer Hall for a discussion with Evgeny Freidman, the business mogul who has made hundreds of millions in the taxi industry.
The event, called “Crazy Taxi,” was the first in the Syms Student Council Spotlight Series. The series seeks to introduce students to entrepreneurs from an array of surprising fields and backgrounds. In Freidman’s case, that included immigrating to New York from the Former Soviet Union at the age of five and a rough-and-tumble adolescence that got him kicked out of Skidmore College and working at a local video store in Queens, NY.
“I looked at myself and said, ‘Never again,’ ” said Freidman.
After packing six semesters’ worth of coursework into three, Freidman received his bachelor’s in accounting/business from Skidmore and was accepted to YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he graduated at age 23. As students listened keenly and asked questions, Freidman detailed the beginnings of his business career in venture capital projects in Russia for billionaire Sam Zell and an argument with his father that changed everything.
Freidman’s father, who had been a thermonuclear engineer in Russia, owned a medallion of 60 yellow cabs when he was hospitalized following a heart attack. As his son sat at his bedside, the elder Freidman began to explain the family business in case the worst happened. “But something didn’t sit right with me,” said Freidman. “I’d ask simple questions like, ‘Why does it have to be this way? Isn’t there another way to do it?’ and he’d say, ‘No, this is how it’s done.’ ”
Freidman walked students through the inspired and strategic business decisions which have made him the manager of the largest taxi fleet in New York and revolutionized the taxi industry as a whole. He stressed innovative thinking and discussed basic challenges, such as securing financing, as well as the impact of unique and potentially debilitating crises like the 2008 blackout. “I had 850 taxis and not one of them could fill up their tank,” Freidman said. He’s ready for the next time, though: after the blackout, he bought gas stations and now has a reserve of gas to keep his fleet running no matter what happens.
Today, as principal of Taxi Club Management, Inc., Freidman is worth more than $600 million and has been featured in Crain’s New York “40 Under 40” series.
The evening’s intimate, conversational atmosphere gave students the opportunity to ask Freidman about everything from his logic in bringing hybrid taxis to the industry to insight into the taxi driver workforce. They also debated the pros and cons of expanding Freidman’s business across the country and overseas.
“It’s fascinating,” said Isaac Harari, a sophomore majoring in management. “I’d never have thought it was possible to make that much money in a business like the taxi industry.”
Michael Strauss, associate director of student advising and administration and clinical professor of management at Syms, pointed to Freidman’s high-risk, high-reward philosophy as a thought-provoking aspect of the night’s discussion. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for our students to get hands-on insight into how someone who is entrepreneurially-motivated can start a business and become a multimillionaire at the young age of 42,” he said.
Syms Student Council President Benjamin Blumenthal initially thought to ask Freidman to speak after a taxi driver began telling him and a friend about the steep value of medallions. “We got out, looked at each other and said, ‘We have to learn more about this,” said Blumenthal. Their research led them to Freidman’s story.
Blumenthal is also committed to sharing others like it. He’s hoping that an Israeli venture capitalist will be Syms’ next visitor in the Spotlight series. “There is so much happening on campus this semester,” he said. “From administrators to professors to students, everyone is engaged in furthering our education in any way possible and bringing more opportunities like this to campus.”
Freidman sensed that passion. “I don’t speak often, but I knew that speaking here, in a place where everyone is studying Torah, I’d be working with an intelligent and cerebral audience,” he said. “It is incredible to share something you’re passionate about with students like these, who ask all the right, hard-hitting questions.”