Jack Crawford Taylor, Founder of Enterprise Rent a Car, Dies at 94

Jack Crawford Taylor, Founder of Enterprise Rent a Car, Dies at 94

Jack Taylor who started his tiny car rental company and built it into the largest in the world, died on Friday July 2nd in St. Louis at age 94. The company that he started in 1957 in Missouri, Enterprise Holdings Inc, now owns Alamo Rent a Car, Enterprise Rent a Car and National Car Rental.

Many outside the US may not have heard of Enterprise Rent a Car. When I moved to Maine in 2006 I was surprised at the sheer size and brand awareness that Enterprise commanded. When I met people and they asked what I did, my usual response was that I worked for a car rental company. Expecting follow up questions like "Oh, Avis or Hertz?" I found that 9 out of 10 people would say "Oh Enterprise?", a brand which at the time I knew very little about. 

Taylor, a decorated US Navy WWII fighter pilot, started the company in the lower level of a Cadillac dealership where he worked as a salesman. Over the next few decades he transformed the car rental market by focusing on "home city" locations. By renting cars from convenient suburban locations he grew this previously non-existent market segment into one that is today as large or larger than the airport market.

In 2007, Enterprise Holdings Inc was set up after the company acquired the Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental brands to further expand into the airport market where those companies were already well represented.

Today, Enterprise Holdings which offers car rental and car sharing services as well as commercial truck rental, corporate fleet management and retail car sales is the largest car rental company in the world. With US$19.4 billion in revenues in 2015, it is the largest based on combined revenue, fleet size and employees. It's one of the largest private companies in the US and if it were public, would rank at 153 on the Fortune 500 list and places near the top in the travel industry ahead of many airlines, cruise lines, hotel groups and online travel agents.

Taylor was the first of two children born to Melbourne Martling Taylor and Dorothy Crawford Taylor on April 14, 1922 in St. Louis, Missouri.

He graduated from Clayton High School and briefly attended Westminster College in Fulton MO and Washington University in St Louis MO before dropping out to enlist in the US Navy following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII.

He served from 1942-1947 as an F6F Hellcat fighter pilot, seeing service in the Pacific flying from the decks of aircraft carriers USS Essex and USS Enterprise for which he later named his company. As a member of Carrier Air Group 15 under the top Navy ace of all time, Commander David McCampbell, he was twice decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and also received the Navy Air Medal. His unit suffered more than 50% casualties during his time in the service.

Years later he reflected on how his time in the US Navy had prepared him for business:

After landing a Hellcat on the pitching deck of a carrier, or watching enemy tracer bullets stream past your canopy, somehow the risk of starting up my own company didn't seem all that big a deal.

Jack Taylor

Returning to St. Louis after the war, he founded and ran a package delivery business before taking a sales position at Lindburg Cadillac in 1948. It was here that, in partnership with the Lindburg family, he founded Executive Leasing with 7 cars, the company that would later become Enterprise Rent a Car. The price back then was $5 per day plus 5c per mile.

Taylor was the first to recognize the market potential in providing car rental services in neighborhoods where people lived and worked. He saw the need of those who wanted an extra car for the weekend, or for out of town guests and kids home from college and for replacement cars while the family car was in the shop. He was the pioneer of this "insurance replacement" car rental segment, one that is the backbone of many car rental companies of today.

After expanding throughout the US and dominating this "local market" for decades, the acquisition of the Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental brands in 2007 facilitated moving into the airport market traditionally dominated by the likes of Avis and Hertz. The brands also introduced the company to the franchise model providing pre-existing exposure to markets outside the US.

In 2015, the Enterprise Rent a Car brand was rapidly expanded internationally via franchising and now has a presence throughout most of Europe. In addition, Enterprise CarShare was expanded to 35 US states, Canada and the UK.

Today under the 3 brands combined, Enterprise Holdings employs over 91,000 people running more than 9,000 airport and neighborhood locations in over 80 countries. The company owns the largest fleet of vehicles in the world, more than 1.7 million.

The company has long been revered for promoting from within. It is well known within the industry that the vast majority of managers in the company have worked their way up from entry level positions like washing cars. This necessarily changed a bit when Alamo and National were acquired due to bringing executives across who were already familiar with the markets and clients of the brands but generally speaking, the family owned and run company still develops their staff and promote from within the vast majority of the time.

Taylor's philosophy became the hallmark of the company. "Take care of your customers and employees first, and the profits will follow."

Throughout his life Taylor was a prolific philanthropist, particularly supportive of initiatives in his local community in St. Louis. Directly and through the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, the charitable arm of the company which he founded, grants totaling hundreds of millions of dollars have been made over the years.

Jack gave quietly and without fanfare. He invested heavily in the community and funded basic services because it was the right thing to do. He desired a great quality of life for as many as possible.

Lesley Hoffarth - President and Executive Director - Forest Park Forever

Some of the more notable contributions made over the years:

  • ​$50 million to provide scholarships for financially disadvantaged students at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • $50 million to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
  • $50 million to the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 50 million trees over 50 years.
  • $35 million to Forest Park Forever for preservation of the home of the 1904 World's Fair and Olympics.
  • $35 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to create the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels​.
  • $30 million to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • $25 million to the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation​.
  • $10 million to the United States Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola Florida.
  • $6 million to the Fisher House Foundation for construction of accommodation for military families during medical treatment in Charleston South Carolina and Portland Oregon.
  • $2 million to the National Urban League.
  • $1 million to support relief efforts in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • $1 million to Friends of the National World War II Memorial in Washington DC.

The term 'Greatest Generation' was coined for men like Jack Taylor. He served his country with distinction in World War II, came back home, raised a talented family and built a world-class organization that has remained family operated, providing jobs for St. Louis and the nation. Jack, Enterprise and his family have reinvested resources for the good of our community, keeping strong and vital some of our most valued institutions. Jack has been a kind and friendly treasure for St. Louis; we are much better because this was his home.

William Danforth - Founding Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis.

Taylor is survived by his son Andrew (Executive Chairman of Enterprise) and daughter Jo Ann Taylor Kindle (President of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation) as well as five granddaughters and 3 great granddaughters.

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