Robert Townsend (author)

This article is about the American author and businessman. For other people with similar names, see Robert Townsend.
Robert Townsend
Born Robert Chase Townsend
(1920-07-30)July 30, 1920
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Died January 12, 1998(1998-01-12) (aged 77)
Education A.B., Princeton '42
Occupation Author, businessman

Robert Chase Townsend (July 30, 1920 January 12, 1998) was an American business executive and author who is noted for transforming Avis into a rental car giant.


Townsend was born in Washington, D.C. in 1920. His parents moved to Great Neck, New York where he spent his childhood. After high school, he was accepted to Princeton, graduating in 1942. After graduating from college, he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy, serving for the remainder of World War II.

After the war, he was hired by American Express in 1948. By the time he left the company, he was the senior vice president for investment and international banking. In 1962, Lazard Frères bought Avis, a struggling auto rental company that had never made a profit in its existence. One of the partners, André Meyer, convinced Townsend to leave American Express and become CEO of Avis. Under his direction as president and chairman, the firm became a credible force in the industry, fueled by the “We Try Harder” advertising campaign (1962–65). Avis also began to have profits, which Townsend credited to Theory Y governance. In 1965, ITT acquired Avis, leading to Townsend's departure as president. After leaving Avis, he became a senior partner of Congressional Monitor (1969). He wrote the widely acclaimed essay on business management, Up the Organization, which spent 28 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list upon its publication in 1970.[1]

In 1990, Townsend had to have triple bypass surgery. During the late 1990s, he was the chairman of the executive committee of Leadership Directories, Inc. On January 12, 1998, he was vacationing in Anguilla. While telling a fishing story on a ketch, he had a massive heart attack leading to his death. Townsend was married to Joan Tours. He had three daughters, executive and attorney Claire Townsend (1952-1995), the actress Jill (b. 1945) and Joan, as well as two sons, Jeffrey and Robert Jr.[2]



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