People - September 2006

You can drive his six-figure cars for five figures a year
by Chris Richter

For Tom Pollan, owning a 2003 Ferrari 575 Maranello wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. The $240,000 car demanded costly insurance and lots of maintenance. When he went to a shopping center, he parked at the far edge of the lot to avoid dings. “I found I wasn’t enjoying that car, and I wasn’t driving it very much. I’d go out in the garage and get in the old standby.”

He put only about 400 miles on the Ferrari in six months and then tried to sell it back to the dealer. That’s when he discovered reverse sticker shock. He learned that high-end cars depreciate about 15% a year.

Pollan kept the Ferrari. Still, he wondered if he could find a way for car enthusiasts to drive some of the world’s most advanced and expensive automobiles without the problems and worries of ownership. He knew of private clubs that gave their members access to restored classic cars. But the ones that turned his head were new, fast and glamorous.

His answer is Charlotte-based Privatus Ltd., which he founded last year. The company sells two-year memberships for $65,000, plus a $7,500 annual fee. Members can drive Privatus’ high-end automobiles for 50 days a year. They can choose the Ferrari that bedeviled Pollan or two cars that each cost more than $160,000 — a 2005 Ferrari F430 and a 2006 Aston Martin DB9. Privatus, which Pollan plans to expand to 50 members by next year, handles maintenance, insurance and storage.

Pollan, 48, caught the speed bug while growing up in Houston, where he raced motorcycles as a teenager. He earned a bachelor’s in finance and accounting from the University of Texas in 1982 and went to work for Chicago-based Arthur Andersen’s consulting division, which split off as Andersen Consulting in 1989. The next year, he was transferred from Houston to Charlotte, where he helped Bank of America and its predecessors integrate newly acquired businesses. But his love for cars kept growing. He even took race-driving lessons.

In 2004, three years after Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture, he gave up his partnership to look for a new career. Now, he’s focused on Privatus. He intends to buy new cars every two years — giving members dibs on purchasing the old ones — and hopes to build his fleet to 10. He has his eye on expansion to Atlanta, Dallas and West Palm Beach, Fla., but he has no timetable.

Privatus has five employees, but Pollan won’t reveal how many members he has signed up. He’s more forthcoming about the pleasures of exotic cars. There’s the thrill of power and acceleration, of course. But he says just sliding behind the wheel is a rush. “You can’t help but get … a big smile on your face.”