It was on March 29, 1946 that EMKAY Car Leasing Co. Inc. began operations from inside Midway Chevrolet. Morton Weiss and Sam Katzin, co-owners of Midway Chevrolet named Sam Katzin’s brother-in-law, Michael Braude as president of this new venture. At the time, the leasing industry was almost non-existent, with only a few companies offering long term rentals or leases. However, the two innovators had set in motion a series of events that would see EMKAY grow into a prominent player in the soon-to-be expanding leasing industry.
Operations from within Midway Chevrolet continued until May 1952. Under Braude’s direction the company quickly grew out of the small space allocated within the dealership. It was at that time Katzin and Braude made the decision to move EMKAY to its own building, and renamed the venture EMKAY, Inc. A few years after the move, EMKAY acquired the leasing accounts from Wilson Automotive Service. As the leasing industry continued to expand, EMKAY was named the third-largest lessor in the U.S. in 1958.
EMKAY’s steady growth rate continued through the 1960s under the leadership of Braude. The company had more than 30 full-time employees and announced plans to lease vehicles in Venezuela, England, France, and Germany. The customer base included companies such as American Tobacco, The Gillette Company, and divisions of General Electric.
A change of ownership came about in 1973 when EMKAY’s founders, Braude and Katzin, made the decision to sell the business to Indiana Capital Corp., which was headed by Samuel Rea. Upon the completion of this transition, Steven Benedict was named president, and Rea was elected chairman of the board for EMKAY, Inc.
Another example of innovation from within EMKAY came about in 1973 when an EMKAY salesman, Dean Milburn, made his case with management and EMKAY created an industry “first” by providing fuel credit cards to leasing customers. Western Electric was the first customer to sign onto the fuel card program.
However, the new ownership team did not have the same business prowess as Braude and the company began to fall on hard times. When Benedict passed away in 1977, Rea was tasked with locating a successor, though numerous short-term replacements fell short of expectations. Rea’s ongoing search for a viable replacement ended when he brought Gary Tepas aboard in 1978 as executive vice president.
With Tepas at the helm, changes were swift and calculated. Being that the majority of vehicles were closed-end leases, EMKAY was remarketing those that were coming off-lease. The performance of this department had been down, so in 1978, Tepas appointed Bob Brehm to head up the remarketing process. Brehm had been managing the maintenance department, and his replacement would bring about yet another industry first for EMKAY. Tepas named Lucille Mackey as the maintenance manager, making her the first woman to hold the position at a national leasing company, a role that she held for nearly 15 years before retiring.
Further helping the revamp of the company was Tepas’ hiring of Bill Stoops and Bob Kaiser as senior sales executives. The two spearheaded the rapid growth of EMKAY over the following decades. In June 1980, Tepas was named president of EMKAY.
EMKAY’s growing presence in the Chicago area offered yet another avenue for improvement. In 1985, the executive team made the decision to open EMKAY Motors in Schaumburg, Ill., from which they would offer a service and body shop, daily rentals, and new-vehicle deliveries to drivers in the Chicagoland area. The location would also act as a dealer for the remarketing of off-lease vehicles.
The last ownership change to date occurred in 1986, when Sam Rea approved Tepas to expand the amount of stock options provided to employees, knowing by doing so his shareholders would lose control of the company. By 1996, Indiana Capital Corp. would exit; making Tepas the largest shareholder and ownership was transferred.
In 1988, Tepas had located a piece of property in Itasca, Ill., that provided ample space for EMKAY to operate from. The land was purchased and the two-story, red-brick building that was constructed is the same in which EMKAY operates from to this day.
After the exit of Indiana Capital Corp in 1996, Tepas was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer of EMKAY, Inc. as the company celebrated a milestone 50th anniversary. The fact that EMKAY was now a family- and employee-owned business aided in promoting an atmosphere in which customer satisfaction was the top priority. A more personal approach to managing and assisting clients came about, helping to cultivate the concept of a customizable fleet process. The idea was to make the fleet program as tailored to each client’s specific needs as possible. An example of such came about in 1997, when EMKAY brought about another industry first by offering a completely customizable driver handbook. It was during the early 2000s that two of Gary’s sons, Chris and Greg, joined EMKAY. The two would hold numerous positions within the company before ultimately ending up in executive roles. The process of moving from department-to-department offered the two an in-depth look into the inner workings of the company.
A building that was directly behind EMKAY headquarters became available for purchase in 2003, when the construction company that had owned it moved out. Tepas quickly realized the potential benefits the building could provide EMKAY, and purchased it shortly thereafter. This became the new location of EMKAY Motors and was used to sell off-lease vehicles, deliver new orders, and service in-service leased vehicles. As the company’s properties and employee base continued to grow, so did its leasing portfolio. In September 2004, EMKAY purchased the leasing portfolio of Auto Rental Corporation.
In 2007, Greg Tepas was named president and CEO for EMKAY. As Greg transitioned to this new role Gary remained involved in day-to-day operations in order to ensure a seamless passing of the guard. In March 2008, Gary officially retired as president and CEO, though he remained involved in operations as chairman of the board of directors.
In 2011, EMKAY completed the buyout of JPL, a Canadian leasing company. Though EMKAY had been leasing vehicles in Canada since the mid-1990s, this was a huge step in cementing the company as a major player in the Canadian fleet market. Just a few years after this buyout was completed, EMKAY had established brick-and-mortar offices in Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. This expansion allowed for additional full-time employees to be added, and for the Canadian service model to match that of the U.S.
Greg DePace was named president & COO of the U.S. company in June 2015. Norm Lyle was hired and named president of EMKAY Canada Leasing Corp. in 2016 to replace a soon-to-retire Paul Turner.
About the author: Michael O'Brien is the analytics and communications coordinator for EMKAY.