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50 Most Important People in Fleet History

These 50 individuals, many of whom have been inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame, have significantly contributed to shaping the history of the fleet industry.

January 2011, Automotive Fleet - Feature

by Grace L. Suizo & Lauren Fletcher

Stan Chason
In a career that began in 1963 and lasted 21 years, Chason’s GELCO service included chairman, CEO, and executive VP of the fleet management services division. Chason also served as AALA chairman. Chason retired from GELCO. The company was acquired later by GE Capital Fleet Services. 

Helen Smorgans
In a 24-year fleet career that began in 1964, Smorgans managed fleets for Johnson & Johnson corporate and 10 other J&J companies. She was co-founder of the NAFA New Jersey chapter and also served on the organization’s National Board of Governors. Smorgans retired from Johnson & Johnson in 1987.

Howard Cook
Cook began his lengthy career with Ford in 1926 when he attended the Henry Ford Trade School in Dearborn, Mich. Upon graduating in 1931, he worked as an apprentice and student mechanic in Highland Park. After his apprenticeship, Cook held several positions with Ford such as service traveler, zone manager, sales representative, and project engineer. He transferred to Washington, D.C., in 1945 as a commercial supervisor. Shortly after, he became sales manager and was promoted to assistant district manager in the same year. In 1948, Cook was named district sales manager of the Ford Division. In 1954, he became fleet sales department manager. Nine years later, Cook was promoted to fleet and leasing sales manager, a position he held until his retirement in 1969.

Helen Bland
In 1942, Bland left her teaching job in Eldorado Springs, Mo., and moved to Kansas City, Mo., to begin a business career at Hallmark Inc. that spanned 45 years. After spending 20 years in Hallmark’s order department, Bland requested a transfer to the newly formed fleet department. She started as the assistant to the fleet manager, but the company began changing fleet managers every other year. After interviewing the third candidate for the fleet manager job, Bland asked the division director if she could take on the role. She was also the first female president of NAFA (National Association of Fleet Administrators).

Eddie Dame
Dame worked for Avis Rent-A-Car as the senior vice president and general manager of the worldwide car leasing division, retiring in 1986 after 40 years with the company. In 1948, Dame started out in the automotive industry as a garage serviceman for Dick Robie, a Hertz licensee in Boston. Then in 1952, Robie bought the Avis system from Warren Avis and moved the company’s headquarters to Boston. During his long-term employment with Avis, Dame held a number of positions such as reservation agent, rental agent, assistant to the general manager, car leasing salesman, and car leasing operations manager. He retired in 1986 as senior vice president and general manager of the car leasing division, a position he held for 20 years. Dame passed away Aug. 19, 2004 of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 76. 

George Frink
Frink joined General Motors in 1966 to help the automaker boost its corporate fleet activity through the GM Fleet Section. In 1974, he was named director of fleet sales at the Buick Division and in 1976 was promoted to director of marketing for the division. In 1978, Frink succeeded Robert Berg and was promoted to Chevrolet Division director of fleet sales. In 1992, when GM consolidated its divisional fleet operations, he was named director of the newly created GM North American Operations (NAO) Consolidated Fleet Operations. Frink worked in the fleet business for 30 years, retiring from GM in August 1996. After retiring from GM, Frink relocated to Arizona where he lived for several years before returning to Rochester, Mich. He passed away from cancer Oct. 25, 2007. He was 70. 

Jim Frank
When Frank, president and CEO of Wheels Inc., first joined the company in 1967, his mentor in the car leasing business was his father Zollie Frank, who founded Wheels Inc. in 1939 with his brother-in-law Armund Schoen. Jim began in the business selling cars on the retail side. When he was promoted to Wheels president in 1974, he said, “My personal objective is to keep the company true to the fundamental goals we have successfully established over the past 35 years. We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest, but we want to be the best company in the industry. We emphasize quality and sensitivity to our clients’ needs — to me, those are our most important goals.” That motto still holds true today. Wheels remains one of the top four largest automobile and truck leasing companies in the United States. Frank also served as president of the American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA).

Harley Howell
While working at Chicago-based Butler Brothers, Howell (one of the founders of Peterson, Howell & Heather) helped conceive the idea for a vehicle management plan to solve the problem of providing cars to sales and service personnel, along with Duane Peterson and Richard Heather. In September 1945, Howell met with his two associates, who had moved to Baltimore, to discuss the idea of offering their own “car plan” to organizations whose employees used cars on company business. The three launched Peterson, Howell & Heather on April 1, 1946, offering complete management and leasing services for companies operating automobile fleets. During their first year in business, they found that companies were reluctant to tie up capital in cars. In response, the company developed the first actual cost, no-risk, no-premium “finance lease” for corporate automobile fleet users, ultimately revolutionizing the leasing industry. Howell retired in 1973, and following a long bout with cancer, passed away in 1979.
 
Joe Holman
Holman, chairman of the board of Holman Automotive Group, Inc., in Maple Shade, N.J., began his automotive career in 1950 after graduating from Princeton University. Founded in 1924 by Steward Holman, Joe’s father, Holman Automotive currently has dealerships located in South New Jersey and Florida, one remanufacturing operation, one body installation company, and one emergency vehicle manufacturing company. At the request of a major manufacturer, the Holmans formed ARI in 1948; now it is a national fleet management company with more than 740,000 vehicles under management in North America. Holman was a 1990 candidate for the Time magazine quality dealer award. He is actively involved in national, county, and local automobile dealers associations. Holman served on the Lincoln-Mercury dealer council, and his dealership honors include Ford’s Vice President’s 100 Club, Ford’s Distinguished Achievement Award, and the Automotive Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Citation.

Bud Grossman
Grossman was co-founder of General Leasing Company (later named GELCO) and past president of the American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA). Born in Minneapolis, Grossman graduated with a B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1941. From 1942-1945, he served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, testing planes and teaching instrument flying. Returning to Minneapolis after World War II, Grossman went to work in the family retail automobile business, and with his brother, Harold Grossman, operated a chain of car dealerships for the next 32 years. The Grossmans founded General Leasing Company in 1956, which eventually became GELCO Corporation, one of the largest transportation leasing companies in the world. The company was sold in 1987 to GE Capital. In addition, Grossman was also a co-founder and chairman of the board of Dyco Petroleum Corporation. He passed away Jan. 11, 2010 from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.

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