In Memoriam: Robert Smalley, Former Hertz CEO and Founder of Cruise America

Robert A. Smalley was a great businessman, a devoted family man, a natural born leader, as well as a humble and highly admired gentleman. He had an amazing career, was self-made and had many successes. Smalley was born in Detroit, Mich. on Oct. 18, 1923. As a child his family relocated to his adopted hometown of Miami, Fla.

Smalley began his early auto rental career in the mid-1930s helping out his grandfather at his fledgling car rental agency on Miami Beach. Bob's grandfather was Frank Couture who migrated from Michigan to Florida in the 1920s with the intention of starting up a "U-Drive-lt" auto rental business. Soon after arriving in Miami Beach, he opened "Couture Motor Company" and began renting cars. Miami was a new and booming tourist town which saw growth fueled by attracting winter visitors from the north.

After serving his country in the United States Navy during WW II, Smalley returned to Miami in 1945. There, he went back to work for his grandfather renting cars to Miami's expanding tourist base. Soon after, in 1950, Smalley and his brother Earl bought the auto rental company from their grandfather and immediately renamed the company "Couture Rent A Car" to better describe its primary focus.

From their home base in Miami Beach, the brothers rapidly expanded the company by opening new locations all over Florida and the Caribbean. The company quickly became the nation's third largest car rental firm. Along the way, the upstart company caught the eye of the Hertz Corp. At that time, Hertz was the world's largest rental car company.

In 1958 "Couture Rent A Car" was acquired and merged with The Hertz Corp. Smalley hired on with Hertz and moved his family to corporate headquarters in Chicago, Ill.

After stints in various areas within Hertz, Smalley joined the international division. Rising to division president, he led the rapid growth of Hertz International in the early 1960s. The expansion turned Hertz into an international car rental powerhouse and global brand name.

In the early 1960s, Hertz relocated its headquarters to New York City as it continued to expand. Smalley’s rise within the organization continued until he was named to the top slot: President and CEO of Hertz Corp. in August 1968.

After 13 years with Hertz and 11 in New York, Smalley longed to return to his hometown in Miami. In late 1971, he took early retirement from Hertz and returned to South Florida where he would launch his next dream, a national RV rental company. He returned to a "family owned" business model.

In 1972, Smalley launched Cruise America with his two sons, Robert, Jr. and Randy. He succeeded once again. Today, celebrating its 40th anniversary, Smalley's "Cruise America" is the world's largest and most successful RV rental firm. The company operates a fleet of more than 4,000 motorhomes, rented locally and one-way, from some 130 locations across the lower 48 States, Alaska and Canada. The company is still in family hands to this day.

Smalley was one of America's great post-war, home grown, self-taught entrepreneurs. He had many lifetime friends all over the world, both professional and personal. Most of all, he possessed a tremendous natural business acumen. That talent and his unrelenting positive spirit made him a winner all his life.

Bob Smalley was one of those rare and truly great men who will be missed by all who knew him.

Comments

  1. RebeccaMast [ May 30, 2012 @ 11:39AM ]

    Great story and greatly admired by all. Thanks for sharing. Love to wonderful family.

  2. Ed Ray [ June 1, 2012 @ 07:45AM ]

    So sorry to hear of Bob's passing. A great person and one of the best Winnebago Dealers I ever had the privilege of working with..I am even more sorry to find he lived in my backdoor in Hendersonville where my son lives and did not know of Bobs living there...Hope to meet with family there on Monday

  3. Bob Frost [ July 8, 2012 @ 01:19AM ]

    I worked for Bob Smalley as GM of Hertz Bahamas. Under his guidance I then started Hertz in Israelin the mid 60"s before becoming GM in the UK. Bob was a fine leader and I thank him for his absolute support for his managers and for his friendship.

  4. George Rodriguez [ September 19, 2012 @ 12:39PM ]

    I had the pleasure of working with the "American Land Cruisers" that Bob Smalley Sr. founded after Hertz with his sons located off US1 in South Miami. Later as we grew they built a facility next to the Palmetto Expressway. Truly wonderful people. Mr.Smalley may you RIP and my condolences to Bob Jr. and Randy.

  5. sidney johnson [ March 10, 2014 @ 12:04PM ]

    I was fortunate to meet Mr Smalley a few years back in Key Largo he was a very down to earth man sorry to hear about his passing. He was a great guy he will be missed.

  6. Gilbert [ March 15, 2015 @ 07:30PM ]

    I just founf a Couture Motor Corp. brochure in Habana Cuba! Gilbert from Montréal Québec.

  7. sally dillon [ May 30, 2015 @ 07:40AM ]

    Gilbert - if you still have it, our family would treasure it! You could send it to R Smalley Jr., Cruise America, 11 West Hampton Ave, Mesa AZ 85210. If not, no worries, but please let me know where you saw it in case I am ever in Havana; I will look for it!

  8. Jane [ May 30, 2015 @ 05:54PM ]

    Wonderful article, thanks for sharing it.

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