Freddie Aldous was a pioneer and innovator in the vehicle rental industry in the UK. He had a long and illustrious career both in the vehicle rental and leasing sector and also in his tireless work for the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) and for European Car and Truck Rental Association (ECATRA).
His career in the sector started when he was working for UDT (a finance house) and was asked to take on the management of a small and ailing rental company called Swan Self Drive which had significant debt problems. He did so, and shortly afterwards was approached by consultants acting for the National Bus Company which was looking to develop additional income from its several hundred coach and bus stations.
Freddie saw a natural fit and after due process, Swan National was formed in 1973, initially to provide short term rental but which by 1991 had expanded into contract hire and a motor trade group with a turnover in excess of £550 million.
The early days, however, were far from secure. The miners strike and the subsequent three-day week hit the fledgling business hard causing Freddie more than a few sleepless nights. But, with the strike over the business started to prosper. The company aimed to provide a very wide range of services and an even wider range of vehicles from small cars to luxurious saloons in order to meet the needs of the market.
Delivery and collection was a key offering and Freddie saw the opportunity that a centralized reservation and billing service could provide, something that is taken for granted nowadays but was then an innovation.
Of those early days, first in Chiswick and later in Uxbridge, Freddie was particularly proud of his staff and their enthusiasm and he would often drop into a branch not only to see how the business was going but to chat with the staff. He fully recognised that they worked hard and often long hours to please their customers and that good staff were essential to the success of the business.
But not only are good staff essential, so also are good systems and Freddie spent heavily on computerisation. This allowed him and his management team to monitor and control the business more closely. The natural result was that within three years Freddie was made a director of UDT Industries.
In 1981 UDT was bought by banking group TSB and by 1989 he had become chairman of Swan National, by then a very significant player in the sector.
Such success inevitably attracted attention and in 1991 a partnership was formed with Dollar Rent a Car from the United States. Dollar had holdings around the world but not in Europe so the fit with Swan National was pretty well exact. Very shortly the joint organisation had purchased car rental firms in France and Italy, started a company in Spain and had an agreement with a company in the Netherlands. Within a short time it was operating across 21 countries.
The 1991/2 recession hit the sector badly but Freddie was proud that the company survived without closing a single car dealership or rental office although business volumes were inevitably hit hard.
Just two years later in 1993, Freddie and his colleagues organised an MBO of the company from TSB, certainly an action that demands respect in the aftermath of a severe recession. The following year the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
In 1998 Republic Industries, another American company, bought Eurodollar and Freddie started on a well-earned retirement.
During all of this time, and despite his heavy workload Freddie still found time to work for the good of the industry as whole through a heavy commitment not only to the BVRLA but also to ECATRA (European Car And Truck Rental Association).
For the BVRLA he was chairman (twice and the only person ever to be elected for a second term), then President and in later years, as a mark of the industry’s respect for him, Honorary Life President; an ultimate tribute, richly deserved. He contributed significantly to the BVRLA and played no small part in increasing the vital role that it plays in the industry. He was very aware that the association can exist only for the benefit of its members which it does by representing them to government, by providing them with business services and by setting a framework of regulation through which all members are quality assured.
He thought highly of the chief executives and the staff who served with him in the association and especially of John Lewis (2000-2013) and more recently of Gerry Keaney, the present Chief Executive. In one of his last interviews he said, “I would particularly stress the enormous advances in the BVRLA's strong relationship with the governments of the day which John Lewis achieved during his period in office. In addition, Gerry Keaney the current incumbent, has taken the Association's profile both within the industry and government, to extraordinarily high levels. He, in a relatively short time, has achieved much by introducing many new innovations ensuring the BVRLA's importance to the industry has increased and will continue to do so in the future."
Freddie was active in European affairs, too. There, he served as President of ECATRA for a legendary 17 years, bringing many significant changes to its organisation even to the extent of re-locating its headquarters from Germany to a more appropriate home in Brussels, where after all, most decisions affecting European affairs would be taken.
He had a strong management philosophy which he applied not only to himself but to his staff, no matter where they fitted into the organisation. "Motivate your staff at all times - make them feel they have an important role within the company. Never forget we are in a service industry and therefore high standards of service are paramount. Finally, enjoy your work."
There is no doubt that Freddie Aldous followed his own advice to the end.