Have you got this car rental thing figured out yet?
If you’re enjoying any success, the right answer is no—change is constant, and new challenges arise almost daily. But you’ve got the computer programs, metrics, tools, support staff and the interconnectivity with fellow operators to meet and solve those challenges.
The industry wasn’t always this way. In an era when power was centralized and the channels of information were few, there was one man who was directly responsible for the business health of many car rental operators. His name was Fred Mudgett.
The Franchise Land Rush
Born May 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., Fred Austin Mudgett lays claim to a footnote in history outside of car rental. As a meteorologist for the Army Air Corps in World War II, he made the call to inform General Eisenhower that the weather was clear for the D-Day Invasion.
Prepare yourselves: The next 50 years is all car rental.
Mudgett’s career began in the bustle of postwar America, when licensees from Hertz and Avis were in a land rush for new territories and Warren Avis was convincing airports they needed rental counters.
That push for growth meant that licensees had just as much, if not more power than their corporate parents. Mudgett learned the business of car rental under the tutelage of Dick Robie, a Hertz licensee in New England who bought Avis’s franchise system from him and moved the Avis corporate headquarters to Boston.
“If you wanted to buy a franchise you’d talk to Fred Mudgett,” recalls Kenneth Wright, an Avis franchisee for 53 years.
Wright met Mudgett at an Avis convention in Boston in 1955. Mudgett ran the meeting, which featured as the keynote speaker George Romney, president of American Motors, future three-time governor of Michigan and father of a young son named Mitt.
Mudgett left the licensee side that year to take a job at the Hertz Corporation in Chicago. In 1960 he was tapped by Bob Smalley to oversee the marketing in Hertz’s nascent International division.