In the heart of America, a nomad’s journey to an empire
A 14-acre compound hums with activity in Indianapolis, the unlikely epicenter of a transportation empire known as Royal Transportation. At its helm is Issaq Awale, a man whose nomadic journey across continents led him to create Indiana’s third-largest private car service company.
Born in the rural village of Ceelgaal, nestled within Somalia’s Hiiraan region, Awale carries with him the gritty determination of his early years. There’s a certain inexplicable poetry to Awale’s tale. Born a nomad, he’s spent a lifetime in motion. But unlike his ancestors, whose journeys were dictated by the shifting sands and seasons, Awale has been guided by a relentless pursuit of a better life, which has led him across no fewer than 15 nations. He worked in the military in Saudi Arabia, cleaned toilets in an Indian mosque, and eventually set his sights on the United States.
His American Dream unfolded from the driver’s seat of a Seattle taxi, a humble beginning that bore no indication of the business empire to come. Yet, with four children and an escalating cost of living, Awale journeyed once more to Indianapolis, a city offering an affordable life and, unbeknownst to him, the foundation for his entrepreneurial aspirations.
Awale, with his characteristic openness, would be the first to tell you that the journey hasn’t always been smooth. “Three months into the business, I made only seven dollars in earnings,” Awale recalls. Yet, he was undeterred, his single town car becoming a familiar sight in the gleaming lobbies of downtown hotels as he patiently built his client base. From such humble beginnings, Awale’s venture morphed into a behemoth, with earnings touching half a million dollars monthly.
His fleet of 86 vehicles – from stylish town cars to hefty coaches – ply the streets, attracting a roster of clients that include celebrities like Michael J. Fox and business magnates such as Virgin’s Richard Branson. Even politicians, from former Vice President Mike Pence to President Joe Biden, have been chauffeured in Royal Transportation’s luxurious confines.
Royal Transportation’s compound isn’t just a base of operations. It’s a microcosm of the community Awale left behind, home to a workforce that includes many fellow Somalis. Awale’s commitment to his employees extends beyond employment – he has created a home for them within the compound, complete with a proudly hoisted Somali flag.
The compound houses more than human resources; it boasts a state-of-the-art garage for maintaining the fleet. This $1 million investment allows the company to service its vehicles in-house, a quantum leap from the arduous process of shipping them to Chicago and waiting weeks for repairs.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs reflects his own life ethos. “Carve out your path, chart your journey carefully, and brace yourself for any obstacles. Constantly set goals and chase them relentlessly, and always uphold your integrity,” Awale says.
Among the scores of vehicles he owns, one holds a special place in Awale’s heart: a Chevrolet Caprice, bought at a police auction for $900. It was his first car in America and remains a symbol of his journey. “When I feel the pull of nostalgia, I drive this car. I hope one day to drive it on the roads of Ceel Gaal, my birthplace,” he muses.
Issaq Awale’s narrative is more than an entrepreneurial success story; it is a testament to the resilience of the nomadic spirit and the enduring allure of the American dream. From a Somali village to the helm of a thriving transportation enterprise, his trajectory embodies a simple but powerful message: “If a humble nomad like me can achieve this,” he states, “then anyone, given the right mindset and willpower, can do so.”
Awale carries with him a firm belief in the power of unity and the sense of responsibility to his roots. Despite his American success, his ties to Somalia remain strong. Through his philanthropic efforts, he continues to contribute to the development of Beledweyne through the construction of roads and regular aid for the less fortunate, embodying his credo: “Being Somali is something you’re born into, not something you become.”
As the sun sets on Indianapolis, casting long shadows on the bustling compound of Royal Transportation, Awale still radiates an insatiable drive. Whether investing in new buses or scheduling appointments two years in advance, he continues to infuse the company with his nomadic spirit of constant motion.
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