Dan Kaplan At Ipaf

Dan Kaplan, Iconic “Father of Modern Rental Industry,” Dies at 78

March 3, 2021
Kaplan was best known for his tenure as president of Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., creating the first real national rental company, and as a consultant who helped rental companies around the world to develop modernized professional structures.

Dan Kaplan, possibly the most iconic figure in the history of the equipment rental industry, has died.

Kaplan was best known for his tenure as president of Hertz Equipment Rental Corp. from 1982 to 1997 during which time HERC modernized and established an identity as the first real national equipment rental company with a structure that set the stage for the development of national and international equipment rental companies as we now know them.

When Kaplan took over the reins at HERC, he saw a not very well-organized collection of equipment rental locations that didn’t function as a cohesive whole. Kaplan developed a blueprint for the company to function as a unit, with a unified image, sharing equipment between branches and making full use of economies of scale. Kaplan also introduced a modern system of management, with branch managers, districts and regions, and a system of reporting and communication. The company’s size became an advantage as the organization began to buy equipment from suppliers in quantity, thus leveraging size for improved pricing.

Kaplan developed systems of measurement by which management could measure the performance of managers and staff. He also introduced many of the metrics by which the company could measure its own performance. Many of the concepts such as dollar utilization, time utilization, return on investment, the creation of national accounts, cash flow, the effects of rates on rental revenue, the right methods of finding new locations and many more that are now universal in the rental industry were introduced or explained and articulated more completely by Kaplan.

In the early days of software developed specifically for the rental industry, Kaplan was a tireless proponent of software development, urging rental companies to expand and deepen their usage of software.

Kaplan’s philosophy that just a gut feel, which was the norm in the rental industry to that point, was not enough for companies to develop standardized ways of doing things. He believed performances needed to be measured, and thus clearer definitions of goals and achievements were vital. HERC developed, under Kaplan’s leadership, the industry’s most sophisticated training program. He emphasized the importance of hiring promotable people, people who had the basic education and capacity to develop and improve. He emphasized the importance of professionalization and believed that people with college backgrounds were an important asset. Hundreds of rental industry professionals in leadership positions in companies all over the industry were initially trained at HERC and mentored personally by Kaplan.

Kaplan’s book, published in 1994, Service Success! Lessons from a Leader on How to Turn Around a Service Business became an industry handbook, explaining many of the concepts he used in leadership at HERC.

After leaving HERC in 1997, Kaplan became a consultant to the rental industry, consulting with rental companies all over North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. He helped rental companies around the world to develop their management systems and organize and professionalize their operations, and his personal mentoring to rental leaders expanded internationally.

As a consultant he played a major role in the early days of United Rentals, contributing to its formation as a national rental company.

Brad Jacobs, United Rentals founder and current chairman and CEO of XPO Logistics told RER: “Dan was both a mentor and a friend. He literally wrote the book on how to rent equipment profitably. I’ll miss his friendship and wisdom sorely.”

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dan Kaplan,” added Larry Silber, president and CEO of Herc Rentals. “Dan was a true pioneer, visionary, and innovator in the equipment rental industry, and created a legacy that those in the industry will benefit from for many years to come. He was a leader, mentor and friend to many people in our business and his influence was felt far and wide, from small independents to global equipment rental companies. Dan will always hold a special place in Herc Rentals as a central figure in our company’s history, and we were especially honored by his presence and remarks at our company’s annual conference and expo in 2018. We know he was proud of what we had accomplished since becoming an independent company and he gave us excellent advice to help us continue our momentum. We will miss Dan tremendously and we will always do our best to live up to the example he set.”

Andy Studdert, former CEO of National Equipment Services and currently a director on the board of Alta Equipment, said, “When I joined the industry 17 years ago, he was really the center of it. He taught me so much. He was very much the father of the modern rental industry.”

            Kaplan was a frequent speaker at industry events organized by American Rental Association, Associated Equipment Distributors, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, International Powered Access Federation, European Rental Association, and many others. He was a frequent contributor to RER magazine and spoke as a panelist on several RER webinars. He frequently spoke at business schools, and other business associations and professional groups.

On the cover of his book, Kaplan, who frequently referred to baseball statistics as an example of how charting and measuring performance can help manage a rental company, said the following: “Turnarounds in industry rarely come as 450-foot home runs. What is needed instead are 1,000 singles – the kind of steady incremental progress toward a goal that is responsible for most wins, in baseball and in business.”

Kaplan was inducted into the American Rental Association Hall of Fame in 2006. He earned a BS from Rider College and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Kaplan was 78 and died of pneumonia and complications from a recent broken hip. He is survived by his wife Doris, son Bradley and daughter Tammy, as well as grandchildren Milla, Brayden, and Blaise.

In lieu of flowers, the Kaplan family has asked that donations be sent to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Donations can be made by phone at 1-800-708-7644; by mail at:

Donation Processing

The Michael J. Fox Foundation

P.O. Box 5014

Hagerstown, MD 21741-5014

or online at: https://www.michaeljfox.org/donate