I don’t know why, but Elaine Litwer showed up in my head this week. It’s probably because I hadn’t remembered that this weekend marks the fifth anniversary of her death. I’m sure Elaine popped in to remind me.
Elaine spent most of her career as an independent lessor in New York City, but she is best remembered as a fierce advocate for the leasing industry through her work with the National Vehicle Leasing Association. For many years, she was the organization’s legislative counsel, and her greatest triumph in that regard was helping to win the decades-long battle to eliminate the doctrine of vicarious liability in New York.
I first encountered Elaine regarding a piece of vicarious liability legislation in New York State in 2004. I wrote a news item for Business Fleet magazine and I screwed up — I got some facts wrong on the story. She called me out on them; she let me have it. But I understood that she was really just holding me to a higher standard. I not only respected her for that, I liked her.
In New York in the early 2000s, vicarious liability caused leasing to come to a virtual standstill — and caused many car rental companies to go under — when insurance providers and manufacturers’ captive financiers pulled out of the market. No one wanted to do business in a state that exposed you to billions of dollars in liability for the negligent acts of drivers operating mechanically sound vehicles.
For more information on how vicarious liability damaged the leasing and rental industries, especially in New York state, click here and here.
Vicarious liability was eliminated on a federal level with the signing of the transportation bill in August 2005, which included the Graves Amendment, championed by Congressman Sam Graves of Missouri.
With the signing of the Graves Amendment, Elaine gave me this quote: “What a pleasure it is that the federal government should be able to understand and deal with an issue we could not get the state of New York to recognize and understand or deal with in a fair way.”
That was very Elaine. She was sarcastic, confrontational, provoking and caring at the same time.
We were lucky enough to have Congressman Graves speak at the 2012 Car Rental Show, and we even got to have dinner with him. I can only imagine Elaine being there for that.
In 2006, our company began to publish the NVLA’s association magazine (we stopped in 2010), and it was then that I started working closely with Elaine. She introduced me to the association’s members; she showed me the ropes; she taught me about leasing and politics; and she imparted her wisdom on how to get on in business, and life in general. She filled me with stories, great stories. We worked hard and played hard at the NVLA conventions.
Remembering Elaine brings up that type of smile that has a touch of sadness behind it. I was grateful to have known her, if only for the last few years of her life. Elaine was my mentor. She took the time to teach me. I wanted to learn from her. I wanted to show her a job well done and win her approval.
And so I think back to the other mentors in my life. I remember two high school teachers: Mr. Hansen, my history teacher, and Mr. Peters, my economics teacher. Of course, my father would rank up there as number one mentor. I did get to tell him that before he died.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to hang out next week at the Car Rental Show with some of my current mentors. In addition, we started an informal mentor program at the show to connect the seasoned with the green, the teachers with those who want to be taught.
Take a moment to remember the people that mentored you in your life. Was this person your high school history teacher, your boss in your first job? Are they still alive? If they are, why don’t you reach out to them? Perhaps they never knew how important your relationship was.
Perhaps you are a mentor yourself. Do you know how you’ve changed the lives of your mentees? If not, consider becoming a mentor. There are plenty of people out there that could benefit from your wisdom.