In 1957, a St. Louis car salesman named Jack Taylor started an auto leasing business with seven vehicles. Today, that company, Enterprise Holdings, has a fleet of 1.7 million automobiles and employs 91,000 people in more than 80 countries and territories, according to a company statement.
Taylor, the founder of Enterprise Holdings, died July 2, following a brief illness. He was 94.
Taylor remained involved in the company, which owns the Alamo Rent A Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental brands, into his 90s. His wealth in 2016 was estimated at $5.3 billion, and his personal philanthropic giving since 1982 reportedly exceeded $860 million.
Kirk Kazanjian has written two books about Enterprise, “Exceeding Customer Expectations” and “Driving Loyalty.” Missouri Business Alert caught up with Kazanjian to discuss the keys to Taylor’s success and the lessons entrepreneurs can take from the Enterprise founder’s career.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Missouri Business Alert: What stands out to you about how Jack Taylor made Enterprise such a successful company?
Kirk Kazanjian: What stands out is the approach Jack took from the start. Most entrepreneurs begin with asking, “How can I make the most money, even if it means compromising service and paying employees less?” To Jack, this was the opposite of how one creates a successful business. He began by offering what his customers wanted, and at a fair price. Then, he provided great service and added value, and rewarded employees for serving both his customers and the company well.
MBA: People who worked with Taylor talk a lot about his vision for Enterprise and his ideas for what his company culture should be like, as well as his philanthropy. What lessons do you think young or aspiring entrepreneurs can take from Taylor?
KK: Young entrepreneurs can take away two big lessons. First, look for opportunities to served untapped needs in a growing area. When Jack started Enterprise, car rental companies were doing brisk business, but they were focused on serving travelers at airports. Jack took a different route. He set his sights on locals needing a vehicle because their own car was in the shop or they didn’t want to put miles on their own set of wheels for a weekend trip. Second, concentrate on delivering a great experience for your customers and employees, not on making the most money. As Jack always said, if you take care of your customers and employees, the profits will naturally follow.
MBA: What about Taylor’s early years? How did he get his start?
KK: Jack started as a used car salesman at a St. Louis Cadillac dealership at the age of 26. He began to notice that customers were often looking for loaners, particularly when their own vehicle was in for service or they were waiting for a new leased car to arrive. When a competing firm opened to offer short-term car leases, Jack sensed opportunity and convinced the owner of the car dealership to let him start a similar service. The rest is history.
His instinct that local residents had a frequent need for short-term rentals proved to be spot on. While all the other car rental companies focused on travelers at airports, Jack concentrated on serving those who needed temporary wheels to drive around town or take short trips. Today, of course, Enterprise is huge at both airports and in the local city locations. But the success was really fueled by serving a different market from the competition early on and meeting a huge untapped need.