Robert C. Townsend (1920-1998) was an American business executive and author who is noted for transforming Avis into a rental car giant. He was born in Washington, D.C. in 1920. His parents moved to Great Neck, N.Y. where he spent his childhood. After high school, he was accepted to Princeton, graduating in 1942. After graduating 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 Freres bought Avis, a struggling 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 his 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 bestseller list upon its publication in 1970.