1 Nov 21

Merger Donlen-Wheels: How Don and Len conquered by innovation

Say “Donlen”, think “tech-savvy”. The company that started in the mid-1960s as the family-run dream of two entrepreneurs grew into a formidable force in North American lease and fleet management industry, thanks to its emphasis on technological innovation.

Donlen was founded in 1965 by Chicago area entrepreneurs Donald “Don” Rappeport and Leonard “Len” Vine. Spotting the potential of the growing leasing and fleet management industry in North America, they decided to join forces – and first names to get in on the action.

Hall of Fame

For much of its history, the company benefited from its founders’ attention to detail and drive to grow. Don Rappeport served as the company’s CEO until his retirement in 2001, and continued for 10 more years as the Chairman of the Board. In 2008, he was inducted into the Automotive Fleet Hall of Fame for his contributions to the leasing and fleet management industry.

Strategic consulting and dedicated customer service continues to be at the heart of Donlen’s value proposition. But the company does more, making a trademark of its pioneering spirit.

Technological innovation

In the 1970s, Donlen started positioning itself as an innovative leader in fleet management, by deviating from the typical business sedan and putting clients in specialty-type cars.

In the 1980s, the company focused on technological innovation, being the first offer computer-based fleet leasing seminars – a new technology which reduced the vehicle-ordering process by several weeks.

Especially from the 1990s onward, technology was how Donlen stood out from its competitors. Early on, the company developed a computerised system in-house specifically to improve the speed and efficiency of its customer service. Donlen was one of the first fleet management companies to go paperless.

Proudest achievements

At the start of the 21st century, Donlen continued expanding its tech-based services, priding itself on being known as the “tech-savvy” fleet supplier. Its slogan, in fact, was: “Innovating Fleet since 1965”. Among the company’s proudest technological achievements are:

  • FleetWeb, selected by Microsoft as “best e-commerce solution”.
  • VOM (Vehicle Optimisation Model), a lifecycle analysis system using the industry’s most advanced tools, consultation and benchmarking.
  • PUSH (Prevent Unnecessary Spending and Hazards), the industry’s first customisable, automated email technology.
  • The first fleet carbon reporting tool, used to track and benchmark a fleet’s CO2 output.
  • DriverPoint Telematics, the industry’s most comprehensive telematics platform.
  • The first fleet management app for the iPhone.

Acquisition and partnership

In 2011, Donlen was acquired by Hertz Global Holdings, parent company of the eponymous car rental company. The deal was worth $250 million in cash, with Hertz also assuming $770 million in Donlen’s fleet debt.

Also in 2011, Donlen became the exclusive partner for Europe-based leasing company Athlon in the U.S. and Canada. This not only gave Athlon customers privileged access to the North American market, but inversely also opened a global window for Donlen.

Athene Holding

In March 2021, Hertz sold Donlen to Athene Holding, a financial services company founded in 2009 with assets totalling just under $203 billion at the close of 2020. At present, Donlen currently has close to 300,000 vehicles under management across North America with over 300 employees.

Whatever configuration Donlen’s merger with Wheels Inc will take, it is likely that the former’s experience with innovation, familiarity with technology and tradition of close customer relations will be seen as assets to be fostered by the newly-merged company.

Picture caption: Donlen is one of the pioneers of paperless fleet management.
Picture credit: Credit: Donlen

Authored by: Frank Jacobs