He was a student at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis when it happened. Pearl Harbor. America was drawn into World War II. He enlisted in the Navy where he became a decorated pilot. Flying F6F Helcat fighter jets from aircraft carriers in the Pacific, he earned the Navy air medal and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
After the war he returned to St. Louis where, in time, he started to work for Lindburg Cadillac. He rose to sales manager and in 1957 he approached the owner with the idea of starting a leasing business at the dealership. For a $25,000 investment and a 50% pay cut Jack Taylor became a part owner of Executive Leasing Company which boasted seven cars. By 1962, the car rental business captured his attention – and his imagination.
Taylor determined that there was an opportunity for business in neighborhoods rather than the airports that virtually all other companies focused on. Two concepts helped shape the business. The first was to call on local body shops where people would be likely to rent cars while theirs was being serviced or repaired. That idea was soon expanded to include insurance companies and a vibrant business niche had been discovered.
By 1969, Taylor had changed the company’s name and expanded outside of St. Louis. A manager in Florida had begun to feature a service of providing transportation to the rental office. That was the second concept which differentiated the company and launched the slogan “We’ll pick you up.” This began a simple, yet brilliant practice – providing transportation to people in need of renting a car to have transportation.
From the very beginning, Jack Taylor saw the commitment and passion from the employees at the leasing company. They wanted to provide the best service possible. That attitude fit perfectly with a core philosophy which Taylor instilled throughout the entire organization – exceed customer expectations. A line continuously espoused by the former fighter pilot was this – “Take care of your customers and your employees first, and the profits will follow.” Taylor was not surprised in the least when that is exactly what happened.
His company continued to grow – and grow. By 1992 the company’s over 10,000 employees had generated annual revenue in excess of $1 billion. The company expanded internationally – into Canada in 1993 and England the following year. By the turn of the century they had over 4,000 worldwide locations and over a half million vehicles.
Today the company is led by Jack’s son Andrew Taylor. It is easily the largest rental car company in North America with annual revenues in excess of $16 billion, over 78,000 employees, 6000+ worldwide locations and if a public company it would be in the Fortune 500. The company that began with seven cars now has over 1.4 million vehicles in its fleet. These accomplishments, while almost unfathomable, are not what constitute a fearless brand. This success has become a reality because the Taylor family built Enterprise Rent-A-Car to be a fearless brand.
Fearless brands consistently exceed the expectations of their customers – and employees.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car is an incredible story of entrepreneurial success. The name Executive Leasing needed to be changed for business considerations. It was then that Taylor chose the name Enterprise in honor of one of the aircraft carriers he flew from during the war. The company was founded on an idea which seemed to have potential and definitely had a degree of risk – but not enough risk to be a deterrent to a former fighter jet pilot – nor to an entrepreneur. The business concept addressed a market need not previously identified – neighborhood car rentals. The result was the creation of a powerful network of local offices – each with a staff of enthusiastic, entrepreneurially-minded employees.
The underlying key to success however, is directly attributable to Enterprise’s commitment to customer service. The book, “Exceeding Customer Expectations – The Story of Enterprise Rent-A-Car” was released on the occasion of the company’s fiftieth anniversary. In it, bestselling author Kirk Kazanjian outlines Enterprise’s approach and commitment to creating lifetime customers.
Taylor further explained the importance of customer satisfaction this way – “Your best customers are your competition’s best prospects.” Every business wants to keep its best customers. Enterprise wants to maintain all of its customers. To that end, they have developed a way to measure customer service satisfaction known as the Enterprise Service Quality index (ESQi). The key to this survey is summed up in the words ‘completely satisfied’. Branches are ranked on the results. Employee compensation is tied to this rating.
Enterprise values its employees as evidenced by their commitment to hiring from within. Make no mistake, working for Enterprise can be quite demanding. Everyone comes up through the ranks beginning with washing cars – even Andy Taylor. Employees are indoctrinated into what’s called the Enterprise Way, which combines philosophy and processes designed to ensure that they consistently exceed customer expectations.
There is a great deal to learn from Enterprise as you continue to build your own fearless brand.
Deliver distinct value – Enterprise created a unique niche in the rental car market by focusing on neighborhood business. They made the conscious decision not to compete directly with their competitions’ existing business.
Think like your customers – Enterprise discovered that people in need of renting a car likely needed transportation to do so. “We will pick you up.” To this day that’s a significant customer benefit. What would your customers and prospects implement if they ran your business? Determine how your unique value can create a distinct point of difference in the market. What is it about your brand that better meets your customers’ needs?
“Take care of your customers and your employees first, and the profits will follow.” – I certainly cannot better communicate this concept. One resource which builds on this philosophy in a powerful and effective way is the book The Go-Giver. I urge you to read – or re-read – the book.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car started as one man’s idea in the basement of a Cadillac dealer in St. Louis – and is still headquartered there. It’s grown into an international leader in its industry and now includes both the National and Alamo rental car brands. Enterprise was built into a fearless brand by identifying a need and then focusing on filling that need in an exceptional manner. That approach will work for your brand as well. That’s a promise.