Warren Avis: Off to the Big Rental-Car Counter in the Sky

April 25, 2007
How many folks can you come up with who truly changed the world, especially in modern times? Okay, there are the politicians and the generals, a few scientists and authors. We’ll give you Steve Jobs, perhaps, but certainly not Madonna or Paris Hilton, sorry.

Then there’s Warren Avis. Warren who? Oh, that Avis, as in rent-a-cars, a business his name is pretty close to synonymous with, unless you’re a diehard Hertz fan. An unlikely entrepreneur, Warren Avis changed the way the world travels, all because he got stuck at an airport one day, soon after returning from World War II, where he served as a pilot.

Sadly, Warren Avis has gone to that big rental counter in the sky. He died in his Ann Arbor, Michigan home, on Tuesday, at the age of 92.

Sure, you could find a few places to rent a car before Avis came along, but it was clearly hit-or-miss and you never knew if the car would make it to your destination. So, in 1947, the then-32-year-old veteran pulled together $10,000 and opened up his first two Avis Rent-a-Car offices, at the old Willow Run Airport, in suburban Detroit, and at Miami International Airport, then a sleepy little winter vacation destination. It didn’t take long for others to copy the code and the company Warren Avis founded soon settled in as the perennial also-ran, a position it heralded with its long-running, “We’re number two. We try harder,” ad campaign.

Avis himself tried a lot of things, over the years. He was long one of Ford Motor Co.’s biggest dealers. He ran a farm in the college town of Ann Arbor. He became a successful real estate developer. And he churned out seven books, including his autobiography, Take a Chance to be First.

“His hobby was business,” Patricia Kalmbach, president of Avis Enterprises, tells the Detroit Free Press, “making the deal. He loved the deal.”

Warren Avis: His idea led to airport rental car firms --Detroit Free Press

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