Amen of the Week:
“The people who are the most successful are the ones who listen most closely to the customer. We follow the two ears, one mouth rule here.”
- Andy Taylor, Exec. Chrmn, former CEO of Enterprise Rent-a-Car
(and son of founder Jack Taylor)
This past year I’ve been on a kick of reading autobiographies by founders of great businesses. It has been an eye-opening break from my earlier diet of investing & finance books, and I’ve resolved to stay on this path. One of the first I chose to read was Exceeding Customer Expectations by Kirk Kazanjian. (While not an autobiography, it’s as close as we’ve got for Enterprise’s founder Jack Taylor and his son Andy. They opened their doors to Kazanijian and gave him full access to write their story.)
For the past couple of decades I’ve been a loyal customer of Enterprise Rent-a-Car. The relationship started out simply because I was a cheapskate. I was fresh out of college on a tight budget and was simply looking for the cheapest car I could rent. They offered to come pick me up. One of my first impressions was that its employees dressed and behaved as professionally as my colleagues at Merrill Lynch (where I worked at the time). I distinctly remember wondering how a car rental company could attract such high caliber employees. They were so polite, so genuinely eager to please. As I began traveling more and experimenting with Enterprise locations all over the country, as well as with various competitors’ locations, it really sunk in that Enterprise had the best people and offered among the lowest prices in whatever city I was in -- even overseas.
The older I get, the more impressed I am with truly great leadership. Mantras and platitudes are easy, but execution is damn hard. How did Enterprise build such a strong, consistent culture across so many locations staffed with so many people? How did Jack and Andy Taylor replicate their values into a team of managers, who in turn instilled these values in their new hires? How did they breathe life into this organization and teach it to keep breathing on its own?
Today it’s easy for us to be impressed with new, disruptive technology companies. Uber is truly a gift to humankind and deserves all the attention it gets for improving our lives with its “zero-to-one” innovation. Yet, Enterprise is also a disruptor and innovator. It just took a slower, lower key path, quietly accomplishing this feat over decades. So let us be sure that we remember to honor those entrepreneurs who have steadfastly built great enterprises over many years. They too have enriched the lives of customers and employees.
Companies like this don’t happen by accident. They require a committed leader with a long-term orientation and an ownership mentality. Often, that is a founder, someone driven by a sense of purpose other than goosing the stock above his options strike price. There are, of course, non-founder CEO’s who think and act like owners but they’re the exception, at least based on my own observations over the years. For those of us old enough to have grown up thinking McDonalds was the most magical place on the planet, we know that its star has faded steadily ever since founder Ray Kroc retired in 1974. Today McDonalds is getting its lunch eaten by the likes of Chipotle (which is still run by founder Steve Ells).
Enterprise has remained a private company, but fortunately, there are over 300 publicly traded US-based companies that are run by founders. If you’d like to receive a list of these companies, please feel free to email me.
Yours in the Field,
Frank Byrd, CFA
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