Steven E. Gross, a Thrifty franchise owner, died on Jan. 14 in Oceanside, Calif.
Born on Aug. 1, 1958 in Newburgh, N.Y., Gross started working in the transportation industry at a young age. He held the position of vice president at his family’s business, Gross Limousine Service.
In 1982, Gross moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., where he served as owner of Travel Car, Ltd. Following ownership of this Payless Car Rental franchise, he purchased a Thrifty Car Rental location at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). He served as CEO until his retirement in 2004.
Jennie Thomas, who worked with Gross at Thrifty LAX for 10 years, refers to him “as one of a kind.”
“Steve was the best owner you could ask for,” says Thomas. “He empowered his people to run the operation as it was their own. We emphasized customer service while maximizing sales and treated employees as the greatest assets. We had a great incentive program to keep the front line motivated and rewarded managers for hard work and dedication. Steve will be deeply missed.”
Lori Tennant of TSD considered him a longtime friend of over 30 years.
“I first met Steve in 1985 when my father Jim Tennant and I owned the Payless franchise in San Francisco,” says Lori. “We became fast friends and enjoyed many wonderful adventures, both for business (we both went on to buy Thrifty operations) and pleasure. Steve was a great influence in my life. He was a brilliant mind — one of the best car rental minds I have ever known — and he taught me so much. I still can’t believe he is gone. Way too young and way too special to be taken so soon.”
“We ran our separate Payless businesses but cooperated very well,” says Jim Tennant of The Tennant Group. “Although we had a head start, Steve quickly caught up and passed us in fleet size, revenue and profitability. He was one of the smartest and most focused car rental people that I have ever known. Steve was a close friend and a wonderful, generous and talented person, and I am lucky to have known him.”
Gross was one of Ziad Khoury’s first clients at Frontline Performance Group. Gross wasn’t just a client; Khoury refers to him as a “lifetime friend and cheerleader.”
“His energy, enthusiasm, optimism and positive outlook were absolutely infectious,” says Khoury. “He was a charismatic, charming and an incredibly smart operator. May you rest in peace; you will be sorely missed my friend.”
Gross was active in his community and supported nonprofits like the Golden West Chapter of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). He enjoyed skiing, sailing, tennis, traveling, golf and racing cars.
“Steve was the Brad Pitt of the car rental industry,” says Ty Bobit, president and CEO of Bobit Business Media. “No one looked better than he did in his sparkling white tennis shoes and million dollar smile. I sponsored Steve into the Young Presidents’ Organization. There were many characters in YPO but none the size of Steve. He knew how to laugh and enjoy life, and he also had a great sense of business acumen, including the ability to call BS on people. Most importantly, though, Steve was one of the most giving people I’ve ever met.”
Gross is survived by his children (Missy and Justin), mother Jeanne, brother and sister-in-law (Brian and Frances), sister and brother-in-law (Sue and Dan) and niece and nephew (Laura and Zach).
A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday March 12 at the Redondo Beach Elks Lodge. Another memorial service will be held in Steve’s hometown of Marlboro, N.Y., in April.
A GoFundMe page has been started to support his children, including their health and education.
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