The Liberty Gazette
November 18, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Jack left business college at Washington University in St. Louis to join the Navy in 1940. By the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. officially entered WWII, Jack had become a fighter pilot. He heroically flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat from the decks of the USS Essex and the USS Enterprise. The young aviator earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Navy Air Medal. That in itself says enough, but there’s more, which shouldn’t be a surprise because most of the guys who made it that far didn’t stop there.
After the war Jack sold cars – Cadillacs, to be specific. Of course, being a pilot and living in St. Louis, naturally he sold cars for the dealership that carried the Lindberg name.
Listening to customers and analyzing how to best meet their needs, Jack believed that the dealership should be able to rent cars to them when theirs were in the shop for repairs. This was a novel idea at the time and the Lindberg dealership was interested in Jack’s proposal. By then he had worked his way up to Sales Manager, and had been working long enough to have saved some money. He agreed to a 50% pay cut and made a cash investment of $25,000 to own 25% of the new business. To him, it was worth the risk, and thus began the Executive Leasing Company, with an inventory of eight cars.
After more than a decade of success the company expanded beyond St. Louis and as always happens when an idea works, competition began to enter the marketplace. It was that same time when Jack decided to change the name of his company to pay homage to the aircraft carrier upon which he had served, which was his landing strip for the Hellcat.
While his competitors preferred to rent cars at airports to business travelers, Jack concentrated on the hometown market offering home pickup services which led to Enterprise’s now famous slogan, "We’ll Pick You Up".
Mike: Of course we know that Enterprise now offers rentals at airport locations as well, but it seems the company has not forgotten its roots. Often, they are the only game in small towns. People using private aviation often opt for a closer, small airport such as Liberty’s as opposed to the complexity and distance of the larger airports, and it is here where Enterprise reigns.
According to the company, by 1980 the rental fleet that began with eight had grown to 6,000 cars, and to 50,000 by 1989. In 2007, Enterprise purchased National Car Rental and Alamo Rent-A-Car.
Today the company is run by Jack’s son, Andy, a business aviation advocate who often speaks to groups about how corporate aircraft have helped the family business become the world’s largest rental car company. They have two long range Gulfstream aircraft which fly teams of sales and management personnel directly to cities throughout their world-wide network, allowing employees to conduct business in several cities in a single day and return home to be with their families.
Enterprise is an American tale of capitalism that began with a great idea, backed by the hard work and ingenuity of a veteran of the Greatest Generation.