Pamela M. Nicholson is a busy woman.
She was executive vice president and COO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation’s largest car rental company, when the Taylor family purchased the National and Alamo brands in February 2007. In August 2008 she assumed the position of president, while retaining her role as Enterprise’s chief operating officer and as a member of the board of directors of Crawford Group, Enterprise’s parent company.
How Busy Is She Now?
She runs Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, Alamo Rent-A-Car and Enterprise Commercial Trucks. Add Enterprise Car Sales, the second largest used car dealer in America, with 170 branches and sales of 70,000 used cars a year. Throw in Enterprise Fleet Management, which funds about 190,000 vehicles, and you get the picture about just how busy she is.
Nicholson, 48, succeeds Donald L. Ross, who will continue as vice chairman of the company and its board of directors. She is only the fourth person to hold the office in Enterprise’s 51-year history and only the second executive outside the Taylor family to serve as the company’s president, following founder Jack C. Taylor and his sons, Andy and Ross.
If you ask Nicholson how she does it, she’ll credit the organization and say she is surrounded by great people. “Our promote-from-within policy drives people to do the right thing, and we pay on performance, which drives the right behavior,” she says. “When they’re promoted from within they’re here for the long term. There are many in [Enterprise’s] corporate management who have been with us for 20 to 25 years.”
Nicholson herself is the poster child for Enterprise’s promote-from-within performance culture.
Nicholson began her career with Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1981 as a management trainee in St. Louis. Within nine months she was promoted to assistant branch manager, and within a year she accepted a position in the company’s recently opened and fast-growing Southern California group.
“When I first got to Southern California, we were brand new,” she says. “The market didn’t even know who Enterprise was. We helped grow it from scratch with a young new team of people. We had a blast doing it.”
Throughout the next 12 years, Nicholson was promoted through the ranks to regional vice president, one of the top positions in Southern California. During that period, the Southern California group grew from 1,000 to more than 27,000 cars in its fleet, and today is the company’s largest operating group.
In 1994, Nicholson returned to her hometown of St. Louis to become a corporate vice president at Enterprise’s worldwide headquarters, overseeing 10 operating groups in the U.S. In this position she was instrumental in establishing the first national preferred provider rental agreements between Enterprise and many of the top auto manufacturers.
“When I came from California to corporate 14 years ago, there wasn’t the endorsement from the manufacturer level to the dealerships to use us on the service drive,” Nicholson says. “I started from scratch working with the fleet folks to sell the idea that if they endorsed us, they would be getting the best service in the industry.”
In 1997, Nicholson was promoted to the top job with Enterprise’s New York group, the company’s second-largest operating group. The group more than doubled its profitability under her tenure.
She was promoted in 1999 back to St. Louis as senior vice president, North American operations for Enterprise, then chief operating officer in 2003 and president in 2008.
In the span of her career to date, Enterprise grew from a 20,000-vehicle fleet and less than $100 million in annual revenue into the largest car rental company in North America, with $12 billion in total annual revenue.
The primary driver of that revenue growth has been Enterprise’s development of the insurance replacement business and home city market. Nicholson was a key player in jumpstarting that business, which grew from $3 billion in revenues industry-wide 16 years ago to more than $10 billion today.
Now, in steering the biggest ship in the industry, Nicholson has some pretty big tasks on her to-do list.