NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The F&I industry lost one of its pioneers this month with the passing of Richard “Dick” Winzer on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the age of 86.

Winzer founded the now defunct Schaumburg, Ill.-based Automotive Professionals Inc. in 1984. Former employees describe him as a generous business owner who was loved by employees, agents, dealers and vendors. They also credit him with bringing structure to the service-contract business.

“In many ways, he was a role model for me,” said Al Golden, a longtime veteran of the F&I industry. Golden became Winzer’s fifth employee when he joined API in 1986, a period in which a relatively young service-contract industry was still enduring growing pains.

“Many, many years ago, after quite a few independent service-contract companies failed, they left their insurers to take huge losses,” recalled Golden. “Why? Because no one really knew where the money went.

“Dick was one of the pioneers of breaking down administration fees, insurance fees and the amount put into reserve to pay claims. And he let the dealers and insurers see exactly where their money went,” he added.

Golden said API was one of the first independent service-contract companies to develop computerized claim adjusting and processing, which are still in use today.

Bob Harvey and his business partner, Robert Aylor, had just formed their own general agency when they met Winzer in 1987. Winzer and his business partner, Walter Minor, were looking for agents and Harvey was looking for the right program for a larger dealer group he served.

“We struck a deal and from that point forward, everyone was enjoying this new relationship,” Harvey recalled. “Dick was always the wisdom, guidance and strength that kept us moving in the right direction. I have always appreciated the early days of our relationship, and the direction it took me.”

Winzer exited the business a few years prior to API’s filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April 2007. The company was suffering from severe cash flow shortfalls, according to a letter issued to dealers in February 2007. It was eventually liquidated in March 2010.

Winzer was an avid golfer. He also served in the U.S. Navy during World II and was past president of the James Kemper Insurance Co. in Chicago. He is survived by wife Mary of 67 years, his daughters Paula Dastrup and Karen Romano, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

“What a great person he was; an inspiration of life,” said Harvey, recalling the agent and conference parties he attended with Winzer. “He treated both Robert and I to the Masters and custom golf clubs. He never let you feel second class. He and Mary are great people.”

Golden added: “He treated us all as family. He was a first-class gentleman.”