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Some Thoughts on Michael LaPlaca

Those in the auto rental industry are, by now, aware of Michael LaPlaca’s untimely passing. For those in other areas of the automotive and fleet industries who read this blog, you may not have known him, so let me tell you briefly who he was: Michael LaPlaca was “the” auto rental industry’s lawyer for many, many years. He was a counselor to hundreds of auto rental operators, a trusted authority on auto rental law, a business advisor, an advocate for the industry, a voice of logic and reason and wisdom, a steady hand.

What follows is a freeform stream of remembrances and random thoughts, much of which didn’t quite fit into the retrospective article I’m working on for Auto Rental News on Michael’s life and career. Really, how does anyone’s life fit in three pages in a magazine?

Michael dispensed mountains of legal advice over the years. He got paid for a lot of it, hopefully most, though if he had charged for all the free advice he gave he probably could’ve built the Taj Mahal. But this conveyance of knowledge was never a burden for Michael. He genuinely enjoyed helping people.

Just one of Michael’s legacies will be his work on crafting the rental agreement, the governing document in the rental transaction. Michael authored just about all of the rental agreements used by any car rental company outside of the majors. When you look back on a life, most don’t reflect on the things that didn’t happen. But the careers of lawyers should in large part be defined by their ability to protect their clients from legal action. You can be sure that Michael’s rental agreements were scrutinized continually by a bunch of litigious-minded lawyers, and set back down, perhaps in a huff, as they discovered there wouldn’t be any loopholes in there to build some case.

You could say Michael was an ironical lawyer. He was non-litigious and non-confrontational. There is the threat of legal action and then there is a sensible resolution to a problem. He chose the latter. He didn’t count every comma in an email and charge you for it. And he abhorred legalese. “He was an emphatically intelligent guy,” says Noah Lehmann-Haupt of Gotham Dream Cars, a client and mentee. And yet, “I’ve never seen him speak down to a person or speak in anger to a person,” says Lee Workman, who was hired by LaPlaca in his early corporate days.

Michael truly enjoyed his work and wanted to work until the day he died (which he just about succeeded in doing, by the way). But he knew how to relax and enjoy himself. “He had work-life balance way before there was such a phrase,” his wife Bonnie says.

Michael had been a season ticket holder for the Washington Redskins, and he was also a hockey fan. Bonnie recounted that Michael brought her to almost all of the Washington Capitals home hockey games during their first five years of living in D.C. A Georgetown graduate, he loved his Hoyas basketball and would take clients to games.

Michael seemed to get his hands into a lot of stuff, from early on. He played basketball in high school and was a drummer in a band through to his college years. He loved golf, but not only that; he made his own golf clubs and had the equipment to do it.

He was a foodie and a great cook; the genesis of this might’ve been when as a child he was tasked with “starting dinner” when he came home from school. Not only did he start dinner, he ended up creating the whole meal, says Bonnie. He carried the title of family chef into his married years, doing all the cooking, from family meals to entertaining, in a variety of cuisines. He loved crabs and crab cakes and a good bottle of red wine.

He was an avid reader of all kinds, from “airport novels” to the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and Wine Spectator. He dressed well, and made sure to be in one of his elegant suits at even more informal affairs. This seemed to belie his eternal easygoing nature.

Michael loved cars. He had many, and a variety of types, including a Trans Am, a 92 Ford Thunderbird, a two-door Mercedes coupe, BMWs, two Mazda Miatas and even that boxy little Scion xB, to name just a few. It had been said that Michael had a lead foot, which Bonnie contests. “I can’t say he collected speeding tickets,” she says, “but he liked cars with spunk. He hated automatics. He liked to drive sticks.”

Bonnie remembers the car he courted her with, a big yellow Lincoln convertible. “He’d drive at night from Washington DC to New York with the top down to pick me up in it,” she says.

Michael and his wife Bonnie enjoy a meal at one of their favorite San Francisco restaurants.
Michael and his wife Bonnie enjoy a meal at one of their favorite San Francisco restaurants.

(Michael met Bonnie at Hertz in the 70s, though he left Hertz before they started dating. He asked her to lunch, but his work got in the way that day. So he asked her to dinner instead. “Dinner, that’s different,” thought Bonnie. Yes it is, as the guys reading this will attest. They were married for 37 years.)

CONTINUED:  Some Thoughts on Michael LaPlaca
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  1. Sid Kenmir [ February 13, 2012 @ 10:35AM ]

    I first met Michael at the ACRA Convention in New Orleans in 1989, I attended his seminar and realy enjoyed it.

    I have attended his seminars every year since 1989.

    Most of the Canadian Rental Agreement form used by almost all of the Canadian Independant Rental Operators contain a lot of Michael LaPlaca's clauses.

    I will miss seeing and talking to Michael at the Car Rental Show in March of 2012 in Las Vegas.

    Rest In Peace Michael.

    Sid Kenmir.

  2. Neil Abrams [ February 15, 2012 @ 12:45PM ]

    I had been traveling out of the country on business for the past 3 weeks only to learn of Mike's passing on my return - and I was deeply saddened. While I knew Mike had some physical issues over the years, I hadn't heard of any current problems that would have taken his life so soon. There aren't many of us on the profesional services side of the rental business who have fought the wars for and with rental operators for as long as Mike and I have done. And interestingly, our roots in the industry began at Hertz at the about the same time. Throughout the ensuing decades, and as our firms grew up on a parappel course, I found Mike to be gracious, intelligent, a committed counsellor to his clients, and a friend and supporter of the rental community. Most importantly, he was honest and he could be trusted. A good man has left the building...and he will be missed. My sincerest condolensces to his family, friends, and colleagues.

  3. Fred Steffan [ February 16, 2012 @ 05:10PM ]

    I was very sorry to hear about Michael. I really enjoyed his annual talks at the car rental show, and he was an amazing source for valuable legal information on the car rental industry. Rest in peace, Michael, and my condolences to your family. You were a pleasure to work with and you will be missed.

  4. Ray Huffstutter [ February 29, 2012 @ 10:36AM ]

    Michael's passing is sad news. I had tremendous respect for Michael, personally and professionally. His sessions at the Car Rental Show were a must-attend.

  5. Sharky Laguana [ March 6, 2012 @ 10:45AM ]

    A good chunk of everything I know about the rental business can be traced back to Michael's excellent advice. A beautiful man who did amazing things for the independents, and his lectures at CRS were spell binding. We lost a powerful advocate, and he was a great friend. I will miss him dearly.

  6. Amy LaPlaca [ January 29, 2013 @ 05:17PM ]

    Mike was a father to three children. A grandfather and a great grandfather. He will be missed by his family and will be remembered throughout the generations. As his granddaughter I will miss him dearly and will remember and pass on all that he taught me

  7. samuel [ March 30, 2013 @ 02:30AM ]

    You have shared interesting article with us, many thanks for sharing the information about Michael LaPlaca nice to know about him, thanks again for sharing.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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