Enterprise Holdings President and CEO Chrissy Taylor was interviewed by Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) CEO Scott Solombrino as part of GBTA’s Industry Forum Series. The impact COVID-19 has had on travel means the car rental industry must innovate and evolve.
Taylor discusses her expectations for travel trends and the car rental industry’s rebound. She also shares how the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands are innovating and working on updated “low touch” and “no touch” car rental models and are committed to maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness in the car rental industry with the new Complete Clean Pledge.
Chrissy Taylor GBTA Interview Transcript (edited for clarity and brevity)
Scott Solombrino: Hello, my name is Scott Solombrino and I’m the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Business Travel Association, broadcasting to you live from the GBTA Industry Forum Series where we will talk to business travel leaders from across the industry about the effects of corona 19, some of the issues that people are facing in their business, some personal predictions and some understanding of what everybody is going through operating from home. Today, I am so happy to have a longtime friend of the Global Business Travel Association, Chrissy Taylor, the CEO of Enterprise Holdings. Chrissy, welcome!
Chrissy Taylor: Hi, thank you for having me! I really appreciate it.
Scott: Well welcome to my dining room outside of Boston.
Chrissy: Love it, love it.
Scott: I painted the walls just for you. I want them to match Enterprise colors, OK?
Chrissy: Yes, thank you. It’s almost National’s color though.
Scott: National, that’s right. OK, it’s National, I get it. Chrissy, you look great, you’re always smiling, and I’m like you, I’m always trying to find the glass half full as we sit in the middle of a global pandemic, which I didn’t have planned in my schedule, but it’s what we have. Tell me how this is impacting you across all of your various business segments, Chrissy.
Chrissy: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for the question and thank you for having me on today, I really, really appreciate it. We’re a 62-year-old business, we’re a privately held company. I’m the third generation of the family, Taylor family, to work for the business, so we’ve seen a lot of things over time, whether it’s an economic cycle, a natural disaster, 9/11, but nothing could have prepared us for this pandemic and the velocity at which it came. For many of you, you know our business very well. But a third of it is at the airport, and when international flights stopped, domestic travel stopped, it virtually came to a grinding halt, our airport operation also came to a halt. However, the rest of our business, two-thirds of our business is in the home city or the suburban market, which is still severely impacted and backwards. But people are still renting, they want, they need to see family members. They’re frontline healthcare workers, there’s government agencies, and so there is a heartbeat out there and we are renting to them. The breadth and depth of our operation and the scope of what we do is really helping us weather this storm. And our truck rental operation has been really the shining light. Because truck rental and delivery, as we all know, is very popular right now. Our truck rental business continues to gain momentum. We are in it for the long haul like we always have been, and our balance sheet and our great people, our amazing people, are helping us weather this storm. So, it’s been dramatic, to say the least, over the last couple months, but we’re calling it momentum May, we got this thing.
Scott: I love that approach. That is a great term, I’m going to steal it from you, because everybody should have momentum May, it’s positive for everybody in the sector. Tell us some of the stuff and the things you’re doing at Enterprise as you try to manage through the crisis. What are you doing differently?
Chrissy: Our people have been, first of all, phenomenal and they are reacting to the situation and they’ve done it with composure and compassion and empathy and professionalism, so just a shout out and a thank you to all of our frontline employees and all of our leadership team, because we had to respond very, very quickly. The first thing we saw really in February and coming into March globally, is that we’ve got 10,000 locations and that location and that global footprint was just too big. For the health and safety of our employees and the foot traffic, we needed to reduce that and consolidate it. Each market has a hub that they’re working out of to reduce foot traffic and make sure that everyone is following social distancing and being safe. And then along with that, most of the time when you’re renting a car, you’re coming into our location. We can’t do that anymore, and we are now doing curbside. Just like everybody likes curbside picking up dinner, well you can rent a car curbside. That’s been very successful and helpful to our customers and employees. And then also for someone who just can’t get to our office, we will do a delivery option for them.
Chrissy: We’ve gotten through the react phase and as health and safety for our customers and employees is the number one priority, we have these lovely face masks we’ve just come out with. So we’ve got the Enterprise brand, we’ve got National and then we have Alamo! It matches all my clothes when we need it, but, more importantly, it’s about the health and safety and so we’ve got to go above and beyond. Because we’ve really earned a lot of trust with our customers. We need to build on that for confidence and making sure that we’re doing the right things by everybody. So we’ve reacted, it’s been a lot, but everybody has done a really magnificent job.
Scott: When you look at the timelines, and you’re not a scientist, I’m not a scientist, neither one of us can predict how this is going to go. But when you look at timelines to project internally, like what are you planning on at this point? Are you looking at timelines and saying hey, maybe in June you’ll see a huge pickup, maybe it’ll be September? Where do you think this is going to really start to move? What’s your opinion?
Chrissy: We don’t have a crystal ball. I wish I did. With our operations, with international travel down and domestic travel down, that airport business will take a lot longer to come back, and just like the airlines say, we’re following them very closely, because as their business ramps up and gains momentum, then our airport operations will gain momentum. We do not think that by the end of the year we will be at pre-COVID-19 levels, however, our home city business, we think that’s going to pop. We think that will gain momentum faster, because as people want to get out and get out of the house and as the shelter in places and lockdowns are released or lightened or loosened, people are going to want to get out. And the car and renting a car is going to be the go-to method of transportation and mobility. Sitting here in St. Louis, someone is going to say well maybe I might not want to fly right now, but hey, I can drive to Kansas City, I can drive to Chicago. And so, we feel really optimistic that business is going to come back, but it is probably going to come back in the home city and our suburban market first, but we are ready to go when the consumer is ready to go. And we can. Again, we’re in it for the long haul, and we’re excited about that growth. We’re preparing for the growth and we are committed to the health and safety of our organization and our customers.
Scott: You know I’ve talked to all these CEOs and I’ve asked them all the same question. We do an informal survey. Do you predict that leisure or corporate’s going to come back first?
Chrissy: I think that leisure is going to come back first, and leisure will come back in the home city because we’ve got to get these kids out of the house. My kids have been at home. Oh my gosh, we need to get in the car and drive somewhere. And a lot of people are going to want to check on loved ones. And so, they’re going to take their car, they’re going to rent a car, and they’re going to go places and maybe that road trip really becomes popular with that leisure traveler. And technology plays a huge role in it. Nothing from a business standpoint, in my mind, replaces face-to-face communication. Body language, the ability to get things done really fast, having teamwork and camaraderie, nothing replaces that, absolutely. But now we know how to do Zoom and do what we’re doing. I think that business travel will come back slower, but it will still be there, and we will still need it. So again, we’re confident in the future.
Scott: We totally agree with you and our surveys are starting to show this and we’re a big believer in face-to-face and we’ve run a survey for the last 10 years on face-to-face and the numbers have not changed one percent in 10 years. It’s amazing. We think the numbers are actually going to go up after this whole crisis because people are so fed up with being on Zoom and Teams. They’re like, enough, we want to see people and interact.
Chrissy: Right, and we’re a company of human interactions, and so we thrive on that and that’s part of our culture and the cornerstone of who we are, and so we will go out and travel. You know, my mandate to our corporate team will be, hey, you need to go out and visit with your customer. How are they? What is the, you know, the mindset of that corporation and how can we help? So yeah, we need to get people back on planes, but we have to build confidence to do that in every step of the way.
Scott: I was going to ask you that Chrissy. I’m on a bunch of task forces for every industry sector and I keep telling everybody, if you don’t have some consistent standards for safety, people are just going to wait and they’re going to say somebody has to do it. Eventually, the government’s going to do it for you. So you should be recommending to government by sector, here’s what the standards should be based on what we’ve done with our consultants and scientists and everybody else. Tell me how you’re building consumer confidence on the ground transportation side.
Chrissy: Yes, confidence is key to getting people back on the road and back in the air. When we think about building that confidence, it’s not just about a process, it’s about an ongoing commitment and we have to stand behind it. And so we have deemed that the complete clean pledge and that relates to all of our operations. Obviously the car and the cleanliness of the car is incredibly important and we have rigorous standards, but we have relaunched all of those standards. We have new training, we have a new video, we have certifications, we also have a 12- excuse me, a 20-point inspection process, that we will follow every single time. And it’s also about consumer awareness: they need to know and feel confident that we are doing those things. It also not just about the car, it’s about anywhere a customer or employee is and the cleanliness of our locations and our shuttle buses. It’s got to be a way of life, and it has to be ingrained in our culture, and so for us, and our entire organization, it is a rallying cry to get behind the Complete Clean Pledge, because it’s the right thing to do. And health and safety is the number one priority. We want to take the lead on that, and we are taking the lead on that.
Scott: You know, as a ground transportation guy my whole life, how are you going to handle the shuttle buses with social distancing? I just thought of that as I’m talking to you. That’s going to be an issue now, right?
Chrissy: So, there are a couple of things. We have different sizes of shuttle buses and capacity becomes very important. We will have capacity restrictions and we will have cleaning processes and plans in place. Also, you know Enterprise will pick you up, and so there are also issues and challenges with our driver coming to pick up a customer in a smaller car. We just invested in screens, plexiglass screens, between the driver and the passenger, so the passenger will sit in the backseat. When any company thinks about health and safety, you’ve got to think about the entire journey, and our entire journey then also begins with all the other companies in the travel industry. We’ve got to hold hands on that and move forward, but we’ve got to take that first step and the Complete Clean Pledge is our first step.
Scott: Well on Monday, GBTA is going to announce that we are endorsing the hotel program for sanitation that was done by the American Hotel Lodging Association, which we partnered with, because we believe we have to move the industry forward, we can’t wait any longer, and so somebody has to set standards in each vertical, and we want to move things as quickly as we can so government signs off and says, “OK, you can move forward.” Because you have to re-assimilate people. Travel’s been a bit paralyzed at the corporate level, and we have to give these people some comfort to say, “Hey, all the necessary steps along the whole chain of a trip have now been dealt with.” It’s a pretty interesting thing to try to pull off.
Chrissy: That’s right and we need to do it now, because when they’re ready to go and they’re moving at their own speed, Enterprise, National, Alamo, we’ve got to be ready and on deck for that customer with health and safety. The other thing that we are really focused on is we were reacting to everything that was going on, and now it’s a little bit calmer, we’ve changed our operations. We view it as we’re in reset mode. And during that reset mode, we now need to listen to our customers and listen to what they’re telling us about their new expectations, and then we need to innovate. This is the time to innovate, to plan for the future, and so what we’ve done is we realigned and reprioritized our IT, our marketing, all of our product teams, all of our business lines, and we have one priority that we’re all going to rally behind with the Complete Clean Pledge, which is a low-touch rental model that eventually is going develop into a no-touch or contactless rental model. And that is really, really important because those things, again, go to the health and safety of our customers and our employees. And we cannot forget that even during this time of crisis, and a situation which is not ideal, you can never stop listening to your customer because safety is a moving target, and then we need to innovate to make sure that we’re meeting that expectation.
Scott: GBTA has a bunch of task forces, we’re talking to the buyer community every day, we’re getting recommendations and we bring them back to the associations and the verticals and say, “Hey, this is what we’re hearing, and you should pay attention.” You have to make people feel confident that they can do the trip, I totally agree. I think the innovation to go totally touchless is incredible. Because it’s such a massive organization, it can’t be easy, but if you can pull it off, it will be a difference maker I think for people to feel comfortable. Good for you.
Chrissy: Yeah, there’s a lot of work that’s ahead of us, but we view it as a great opportunity, and we will eventually get there and it is going to be a lot of fun getting there. It’s Momentum May, so we need to just keep moving forward. We can do this.
Scott: You know, we were last together in Chicago in August. And boy, wouldn’t I like to be back in Chicago in August again, right? Woohoo! That was fun. And you know, you were just about to ascend into your new role. In December you became CEO of the entire organization.
Scott: You know, it’s a huge thing, and I’m so happy for you, and it couldn’t be a better person to take over. How are you handling all of this? I mean, you were dealt a really tough deck pretty quickly. I mean it’s not easy. How are you holding up?
Chrissy: Yeah. There is nothing but upside from here on out, right? You know what, personally, I’m handling it OK I think. But what’s happened is, everybody is facing this, so it’s like a bowl of spaghetti, right? All of a sudden, you’re trying to communicate with your team and inspire and motivate and completely change your operations and you’re doing it through Zoom and Skype and all of these things, which is really hard. But then, suddenly, you’re homeschooling your children. I’m looking at financial statements but then printing out my seven-year-old’s math assignment all at the same time. And so, everyone is working 24/7 and overload. When we say we’re in this together, we really are in this together and you need to reach out to your support network. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I have to say a huge thank you to my husband who is actually doing most of the homeschooling. But you’ve just got to rely on your family and your friends to really help you get through these times, so that’s how I’m dealing with it. And my husband is amazing.
Scott: Well, everybody’s going to remember this moment in time because it’s something that is so hard to duplicate. Right? This is a once in a lifetime deal. That’s great. I’m glad your husband’s holding up well too because we all have to deal with spouses who are not used to this level of intensity either. You travel all the time like I travel all the time. And, you know, all of a sudden, you’re all home together for 67 days, and uh, boy, that…
Chrissy: What does she think about you sitting in the dining room all of the time?
Scott: You have no idea. She thinks the whole thing is a joke. I mean, she’s like what are you doing in there, what do you do all day? Who are you talking to? I don’t think she gets the concept. But like I said to people, it’s like Wayne’s World for CEOs and my friend Larry Restiano from American Express named it that. We grew up together and went to high school together, so we were laughing about it. But yeah, it’s kind of a weird deal. But you know what? You feel good because you’re reaching people and helping people and you see the emails that come in and the text messages and the LinkedIn messages. You really say, “this is serious stuff.” People are waiting to hear from the next person to know what their strategies are. I think the audience is so much more appreciative than I ever thought they could be. When you look out there, these have been challenging times. What do you see that gives you some hope? Because you’re seeing things every day. What gives you hope?
Chrissy: Yeah. I mean, hands down, our team: our leadership team, our team in the field, everyone on the front lines. They are absolutely amazing. I’ve been trying to over-communicate with everybody and thanking them and telling them what’s happening with the organization to keep everyone on the same page, but they turned around. Every single day, I get a note. I get an email. Globally, I have videos coming from all over the world saying thank you to me and our family for the support of the business and it’s unbelievable. It is so emotional, and it’s so inspiring, and I’m just so thankful for all our employees and the teamwork. And they are so inspirational that it makes me even more determined that we will come out of this stronger, and we are going to do the right thing by our customers and our employees. Safety is the number one priority and we love our Enterprise team. And also, all of our business partners have truly, truly been excellent and communicating and trying to help us and we’re trying to help them. So it's really just brought everybody together and it’s, it’s so phenomenal… challenging, and we have to make hard decisions, but just phenomenal.
Scott: You know Chrissy, you’re part of our GBTA family and you have done so much with us for so long and people here at GBTA are so appreciative. Our members are appreciative. I want to thank you for having a fantastic conversation today. It was so great to have you on. I know you’re busy. We really hope that you stay safe and stay well. To all of our members globally who consistently keep tuning in, I can’t thank you enough for the fun that we’re having doing this series. Hopefully, giving you value. And most of all, giving you hope. This is a temporary situation. The success of the return of business travel is around the corner. We are confident of that. Please stay safe. Stay healthy. And I hope to see all of you in November at GBTA in Denver and with God’s will, we’ll be able to have our conference. Thank you again, Chrissy, for joining us.
Chrissy: Thank you! And when you’re ready to go, Enterprise Holdings is ready to go. Come on!