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The podcast featuring finance leaders driving change within their organizations.

May 25, 2022

When Al Farrell tells us that finance leaders must never lose sight of the value of a business asset, as well as acquire a strong understanding of how to optimize the returns on it, we sense his frustration.

This is not because he’s relating a situation in which management failed both to properly value an asset (which, Farrell tells us, was worth nearly $650 million) and to optimize the asset’s returns (which ended up being increased by 12 percent).

Instead, Farrell’s angst was due to the fact that management’s asset utilization improvement feat was achieved on the eve of COVID-19’s arrival in the U.S., and the asset that was so adroitly leveraged to pump up returns was none other than a fleet of rental cars some 35,000 vehicles strong.

Certainly, few industries were hit harder by COVID’s arrival than car rentals, and as car rental businesses go, few suffered a more direct hit than Advantage Rent A Car, where Farrell occupied the CFO office from 2016 to early 2022.  

“The car rental business is like the airlines because it requires a great deal of capital investment—but unlike with the airlines, you don’t have a firm reservation and people generally don’t prepay,” explains Farrell, who notes that in early 2020, after the U.S. announced a travel ban in response to COVID, Advantage’s reservation snag was in full view.  

“That’s when 96 percent of our reservations went up in smoke,” recalls Farrell, who reports that prior to the travel ban, Advantage’s growing utilization rates had begun to increase the prospects for selling the company.

Says Farrell: “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the outcome that we wanted, but had COVID not hit, I think that we would have had the very successful sale of a business that was significantly more productive and lucrative than it was when we started out.” –Jack Sweeney