My wife and I are very blessed and fortunate. Our enterprises have afforded us the opportunity to travel rather extensively, compared to our compatriots, mostly in the US and North America – and, to a degree most others have not, across much of Europe and even much of Australia: New South Wales, Canberra, Victoria, South Austrailia … and even Western Australia, which even most Ozzies have not seen..
Renting a car for most or part of the trip is often part of the overall calculus, including the financial aspect. Yes, non-automotive transport is often efficient and quaint – whether by buses or various types of train – and we have certainly made use of that opportunity. But there’s nothing like the good ol’ American feel of independence and flexibility you get from a car. The call of the open road, where you can get to really out-of-the-way places on your own schedule. And to have travel flexibility and independence. Pull over to take in a seductive, attractive random hamlet, or a park, or scenic overlook, or ancient castle.
One thing that has struck us is the variability in car rental costs. Particularly at airports. Prices can be eye-watering. Especially at airports like Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Holy cow! The special add-on fees and taxes there are often more than the raw cost of renting the car!!
This is, I reckon, largely the result of two major factors. First, there’s the cost to the car rental company for space at, or near, an airport; it’s often quite high. Airports are usually run by local Port Authorities, Transit Authorities and/or host municipalities. They charge very high rates for space because … well, because they can. It’s part of why a sandwich, a coffee or a beer in an airport is so expensive. Companies must pass this cost along. No sense being in business if you cannot make money.
The second is the almost unavoidable urge to make someone else pay for your own needs. Need money? Easy: just charge special fees and taxes to out-of-town visitors. The same occurs in another hospitality industry: Hotels. Let’s have “Joe from Colorado” pay for our fill-in-the blank need (roads, water treatment, schools, ramps, lights).
One way to see a lot of the world without a lot of extra fees and surcharges is to join the military. Especially the US Navy. Most sailors get to see quite a lot of the world, even if it is often by peering over endless seas.
My father-in-law was a Navy man during World War II. Radioman, 3rd class. He indeed got to see much of the world as a young man, from the Mediterranean to the far-flung atolls of the Pacific. He also got to see and experience Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. A regret we descendants all have is that we didn’t encourage him to talk more about this. But he just never seemed to want to be open about it, … and we respected him, keeping a safe distance from the topic, only probing once in a while. He always stayed guarded and reticent on the topic of war experiences. That’s a trait that many of that Greatest Generation Era shared. So many memories – not just Pearl, but things like seeing the bloodied Marines come back from Saipan and Tarawa – would lie largely suppressed for decades, until his final years. Unfortunately, that’s just as his mind began to cloud. We cherish the few stories and memories we could get from him.
Well then. Join the Navy. See the world. Jack C Taylor, of St Louis, Missouri, was just such a fellow. In 1942 he quit his enrollment at Washington University (in neighboring Clayton, abutting St Louis’s western boundary) and got himself into the Navy, where he became a fighter pilot – flying Grumman F6F Hellcat Fighters off the decks of aircraft carriers.
Assigned to the USS Essex in 1943, Taylor participated in many confrontations, including dogfights. Most notably is the famous and crucial battle of Leyte Gulf in late October 1944. There, his squadron provided daring and critical strafing cover for torpedo bombers, all targeted toward sinking the Japan’s Imperial Super Battleship: the Musashi.
Taylor also flew sorties as the Essex supported attacks and victories at Guam, Wake Island, Peleliu, among others. Credited with only two confirmed “kills” himself, Taylor is not an Ace. However, he was wingman on many “kills” – including during the Marianas Turkey Shoot. So, his military decorations – including two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air medal – were well earned.
Shortly after Leyte, the Essex put into port in the Caroline Islands (Ulithi Atoll). She was simply short on supplies, having been at sea and in battle for four months (heck of a way to “see the world”).
Taylor was moved over to the carrier USS Enterprise. [Speaking of Pearl Harbor and Infamy: The US Navy was extremely fortunate that the USS Enterprise, along with the two other operational Pacific Fleet carriers – the USS Lexington and the Saratoga – were not in port when the Japanese arrived at dawn that fateful December Sunday morning].
Taylor stayed with the Enterprise for most of the rest of the war. The focus of the fighters’ value changed, as the Japanese turned more and more toward use of the Kamikaze. The Enterprise itself, in fact, took several Kamikaze hits … can’t shoot them all down. Along the way the Enterprise supported many coordinated Naval efforts, from Luzon to Iwo Jima.
A genuine decorated war hero, Taylor returned to St Louis and tried to pick up his civilian life. A natural adventurer ( … adventurer? Well, he did land fighter planes on the decks of aircraft carriers as they pitched and rolled upon the open sea) he started his own business from scratch: a delivery company. Too early for the needs we now see fulfilled by Ubereats, Grubhub and DHL, he then moved over to selling cars, Cadillacs mostly.
Successful at that, he planted the idea to the car dealer (Lindburg Cadillac) to get into the car leasing business. That is: leasing really nice cars to business executives. His employer agreed. In exchange, Taylor took a 50 percent pay cut and dumped $25,000 of his own money to bootstrap the operation. He ran the business out of the dealership, still selling cars on the side. He expanded over a few years to three locations in the Saint Louis area. The company was called Executive Leasing.
The quality of cars was good, the clientele loyal, and Taylor ran a tight financial ship. The company was making money within a few years; Taylor was soon the primary owner and principal. Customers began pestering him to rent them cars for short periods of time. This is not something he wanted to do; he had a very simple business model that he was not eager to relinquish (leasing to executives for 2-3 years); it was stable and making profits. The pestering continued: short-term rentals. After a few years, he relented. He would add short-term car rentals alongside his long-term lease business.
Taylor and Executive Leasing began the short-term car rentals business in 1963. Within a year the rental business grew to be much larger than the leasing business. One reason is that Taylor creatively partnered with auto insurance companies. When clients needed a rental (because of repairs needed after a crash) Taylor would rent them quality cars at low rates. His business boomed. He had outlets not just in St Louis, but now in several other cities.
It grew wildly, mostly by word of mouth and Taylor’s growing network of connections.
It was time to face the truth, something Taylor had denied from the beginning: he was in the car rental business, not the leasing business. And he had a new improvised business model that was simple and efficient: small rental sites scattered around cities. And mostly not at airports.
The company couldn’t be called The Executive Leasing Company anymore. What should the company be called now? He reached into his past and pulled up the glory of the USS Enterprise.
And that’s how the vast Enterprise Car Rental company got its name. The overwhelming majority of its sites are off-airport. All across America, over 10,000 of them … tucked into business parks and strip malls and low-cost locations in neighborhoods of medium to large sized cities.
Mr. Taylor was very enterprising. He went coast-to-coast. He expanded into Canada and Europe. Enterprise acquired National and Alamo car rentals. It became a huge enterprise, and remains so to this day. It is usually ranked #1 among car rental companies for volume and quality. [Ref here]
We have rented off-airport cars in Canterbury (UK), Freiburg, Landau and Munich (Ger), Wollongong (Aus) and, yes, even in Saint Louis, Missouri (actually Clayton, the original and current hometown of Enterprise Car Rentals). Most of those are quite convenient, as you can usually take public transport to near the rental site from the airport or train station. If not, Enterprise will usually drop the car off — if you are within 5 miles or so. And pick the car up when you are done!
Since these are not at airports, not only are the surcharges and extra fees quite low to non-existent, but they also usually also have lower drop fees; which is great if you want to end your car rental adventures in a different city than where you start.
Honesty here: Although many of these off-airport experiences were with Enterprise, some were through EuropeCar, which seems to have a similar business model, and the same logo colors: Green and White. [I know we used EuropeCar in Saint-Lô, Normandy, and Landau (twice). BTW, The folks at the Enterprise in Canterbury were just lovely; on that trip I dropped the car far away: in Edinburgh.]
Taylor and Enterprise were very generous with their fortune. By himself, and through the Enterprise Foundation (his company’s charitable arm), he donated several hundred million dollars to philanthropic causes. Geographically, these recipients and donations were widespread, going into the communities where his neighborhood rental offices were located, often to provide assistance to underserved children.
He also donated very generously in the St Louis area. He donated millions and millions to the St Louis Philharmonic, to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and to local youth organizations and colleges. [Including Rankin College, where our dear friend Max Storm taught for almost three decades]
Jack Taylor ended up having a wonderful and successful life by any measure. His enterprises were successful, and he left us and his family with terrific stories. We and future generations will have at least two more reasons to remember him. (1) The US Navy has just completed the Jack C Taylor Conference Center, at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis (a truly beautiful campus in a beautiful city). And (2) the Missouri Botanical Gardens in his hometown of Saint Louis is currently building a new visitor center, to be named for Mr. Taylor.
Jack C Taylor passed on in 2016, aged 94. Thanks for all you did, sir.
To you readers: Be well. Live and love large.
Joe Girard © 2021
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