Editor's note: Jack Taylor's age was incorrect in the headline of an earlier version of this story.
Jack Taylor, a Navy pilot in World War II who started a leasing company with just seven cars in a St. Louis Cadillac store and built it into Enterprise Rent-A-Car, one of the biggest buyers and sellers of cars and trucks in the world, died on Saturday. He was 94.
Enterprise said in a statement that Taylor died in St. Louis after a brief illness.
Taylor, benefiting from post-war household growth across America, reshaped the rental car industry from its airport roots, opening outlets in downtowns, suburbs and commercial office hubs with a simple pitch: “We’ll pick you up.”
“If you take care of your customers and employees, the bottom line will take care of itself,” he said often.
Jack Taylor was born on April 14, 1922, in St. Louis. His father, Mel, was a stockbroker. His brother, Paul, a former vice president of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, died in 2012.
Taylor briefly attended Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., and Washington University in St. Louis. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II, Taylor left school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March 1942.
He returned to St. Louis after the war and founded and operated a package delivery business before taking a sales position in 1948 with Lindburg Cadillac.
In partnership with the Lindburg family, Taylor founded Executive Leasing in 1957 on the lower level of the Cadillac dealership in St. Louis.
“You’ve been looking for someone to start the leasing business,” he once told his boss. “I’d like to do it.”
$5 a day, 5 cents a mile
Taylor, with a quarter interest in the venture, and an assistant set up an office separated from the dealership’s noisy parts and service bays. In the early days, Taylor would let the phone ring a few extra times so that potential customers would believe business was robust.
Over time, some leasing customers and owners of Lindburg cars who had brought them in for repairs inquired about short-term rentals.
But Taylor resisted, viewing the rental-car landscape as too competitive, “a big pain,” and a time-consuming distraction for the leasing sales staff. He relented in 1963 and started a sideline rental business with 17 Chevrolets. Taylor charged $5 a day and 5 cents a mile for a rental, The New York Times reported.
Enterprise soon differed from rivals by allowing people to pick up and drop off rented vehicles from non-airport locations -- where they lived and worked -- a practice known today as the “home city” car rental market.
The rental business grew rapidly in large part because of clever ties with insurance companies, where adjusters would offer a rental car, often from Enterprise, instead of cash to a vehicle owner with a claim. The passage of no-fault insurance laws also stoked rental demand by eliminating the hassle of who should pay for repairs after accidents.
In 1995, Enterprise opened its first on-airport rental location at the Denver International Airport.
A callow youth
Taylor piloted Hellcat fighter planes for the Navy during World War II. Twelve years after creating the rental business, he renamed it for the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, one of two flattops he served on in the Pacific theater.
His time in the Navy changed him from “a callow youth into somebody with some intensity,” Taylor told the Missouri History Museum for an article published in 2007. Years later, he said, that after landing a Hellcat on a pitching carrier or watching bullets fly by you, “somehow the risk of starting up my own company didn’t seem all that big a deal.”
Under Taylor's son, Andrew, who succeeded him as CEO in 1991, Enterprise in 2007 acquired National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, combining three of the biggest rental brands in the U.S. under what became Enterprise Holdings Inc. in 2009. Andrew Taylor stepped down as CEO in 2013 and now serves as executive chairman of the company.
Today, Enterprise Holdings has a fleet of over 1.7 million vehicles, 9,000 locations in more than 80 countries and territories, and 91,000 employees.
With a retail automotive division, it is the largest buyer and seller of cars and trucks in the world. In an unusual business practice, it assumes the risk of buying cars and light trucks outright from automakers, instead of leasing and retailing them at attractive no-haggle prices.
It generated annual revenue of $19.4 billion in fiscal 2015 and was the 16th-largest U.S. private company last year, according to Forbes magazine.
“Enterprise sort of grew by itself,” Taylor told Fortune in 2006. “I never thought it would be more than a small-to-medium-sized business. I knew I wanted to live reasonably comfortably and to get a couple of new cars every two or three years, and I thought that if I was really successful, I would have maybe a condominium in Florida and a reasonably nice house here in St. Louis."
The company expanded the Enterprise Rent-A-Car franchise network in 2015 to nearly every European rental market. In addition, Enterprise CarShare expanded operations to more than 35 states, Canada and the U.K.
“My father took a simple idea and created a great company,” Andrew Taylor said in a statement Saturday. “We will honor his memory every day as we live the values he instilled in our company -- taking excellent care of our customers, encouraging and supporting each other and giving back to our communities.”
Taylor's granddaughter, Christine "Chrissy" Taylor, was named COO of the company in February.
Jack Taylor weighed taking the company public but never did.
“We thought about it three or four times,” he told the Missouri History Museum. “There were so many things that came up that they -- the street, Wall Street -- would expect from us, that finally Andy and I one afternoon we were sitting, I said, ‘Andy, why don’t we just bag it?’ And Andy said, ‘Right, let’s bag it.’”
Taylor is survived by his son Andrew and a daughter, Jo Ann Taylor Kindle, president of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.