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Featured Memorial | Warren Avis

Warren Avis Obituary


DETROIT (AP) - Warren Avis, a canny entrepreneur for decades after selling the nation's first car rental business to be located at airports, died Tuesday. He was 92.

The founder of Avis Rent A Car died of natural causes at his farm in Ann Arbor with his wife, Yanna, at his side, the Avis family said in a statement.

A decorated bomber pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, Avis formed his car rental company in 1946 at airports in Miami and Ypsilanti, Michigan, with an investment of $85,000 (euro62,582). He started with two employees and fewer than 200 cars.

Avis said he got the idea for the business when he was a pilot and could not find ground transportation once he arrived at airports.

Avis built what became the world's largest car rental system until it was overtaken by Hertz after years of ferocious competition. Avis sold his interest in the business for $8 million in 1954.

The company now is called Avis Rent A Car System LLC and is part of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Avis Budget Group, Inc.

Later in his career, Avis headed Avis Enterprises, which invested in high-technology electronics companies, mostly in the U.S. Midwest. His other ventures included Avis Sports Inc., which owned wholesale sporting goods businesses in Portland, Oregon, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, and Morehead City, North Carolina.

A Ford Motor Co. dealership in the Detroit suburb of Southfield that preceded the car-rental business still bears his name, while AvisFarms, a pair of office parks in Ann Arbor, were sold in recent years, said Patricia Kalmbach, president of Avis Enterprises.

After selling a Detroit-based manufacturing conglomerate, Avis in 1970 moved to the farm in Ann Arbor, where he would operate his businesses from a converted barn, said Kalmbach, who began with Avis as a bookkeeper in 1981.

With success, Avis befriended famous socialites including actor Cary Grant, hotelier Nicky Hilton and entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.

"Mr. Avis personally, you knew when he walked in the room he was somebody, he had that presence," Kalmbach said. "He was shrewd but he truly believed in the team approach and listening to people at all levels."

Avis was born in Bay City in 1915 and joined the military after graduating from high school. After selling the car-rental giant, Avis began converting rental properties to condominiums. In the 1970s, he founded Behavioral Science Training Laboratories Inc., which focused on human relations in business management.

He would later write seven books, including his 1986 business memoir "Take a Chance to be First," which chronicled the Avis Rent A Car story.

In 2002, Avis helped dedicate an exhibit in his honor at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn.

In addition to his farm, Avis and his wife maintained residences in New York and Acapulco, Mexico, where he enjoyed parasailing and other watersports, Kalmbach said.

"He loved the outdoors," she said. "He liked riding around on the tractor."

Avis is survived his wife of 26 years, and three children and six grandchildren from a previous marriage.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


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