The pathology of a fleet manager's mission is currently taking a severe beating in an increasing manner. All of us in this business have suffered, along with our entire corporate body. The pain of the recession, economy woes, impactful decreased budgets, and more work on our backs with less assistance can conceivably drive us insane.
Is it reaching what some might call a critical stage?
Some all-too-true examples were again revealed during my recent travels to industry meetings and conventions. One experienced fleet manager from a Midwest chemical company with more than 3,000 vehicles stopped by our booth at NAFA in Charlotte. She was bemoaning the fact that she had just lost her entire staff to "total fleet management" at a FMC.
Another fleet manager at a multi-division global company with a huge fleet privately grieved at the heavy intervention by his various corporate execs questioning policies proven to be sound business practice, admitting that his heart wasn't in "it" any more. He was actually embarrassed that his wisdom and many years of service didn't allow him to protect his staff and prudent fleet-related decisions.
Yet another veteran fleet manager at a substantial pharmaceutical company dramatized his disbelief (but true fact) that his large company was seriously entertaining outsourcing the entire purchasing department. The outsourcer has already scored this concept with a number of other big concerns. What kind of support do you suppose this fleet manager can count on for the future?
At a recent roundtable discussion group in Detroit, I found some interesting people and convictions. It was led by a factory fleet guy but most were commercial and public sector fleet managers. There were some "leading" questions.
Predictably, they seemed to agree that suitability and fit was the most important element in vehicle selection. Other vital points were safety, mileage economy, the manufacturer relationship, plus a few others.
They all agreed the automaker's annual Product Preview was a "must-attend" event (preferably in a warm resort venue). Learning the plans and financial condition were needed but the Ride & Drive was the highlight.
Also commanding general agreement was that internal company interest and interaction continues from their surroundings but not any more than past years. They identified sales, finance, HR, and purchasing as those with heaviest interest. Purchasing, they agreed, has a limited role, only to "assess and negotiate."
One of the roundtable participants (that I consider a "pro") made an astute observation regarding the other corporate factions. He said that the fleet manager must remain the key stakeholder when working on an OEM RFP. They have to have a clear understanding of their cross-functional partners, and they must be able to collaborate effectively.
In order to accomplish this goal, the fleet manager must develop core competencies in each of these related corporate areas. That strength can only be gained through experience and education. The roundtable participant recommends regular communications to each department and a one-on-one meeting if and when the fleet manager gets a hint that he or she is not in lock step.
One final nugget from the roundtable: On the topic of FMC influence on the lessee's selection decision, most agreed they have good assets for technological support and administration. All agreed they only utilize their FMC for lifecycle cost data in the vehicle selection process.
Some questioned if the FMCs might not be biased if asked for their recommendation, since the word on the street is that a few of the manufacturers incentivize the FMCs with volume goals. Some fleet managers at the table weren't aware of this relationship.
So, if you are one of those lucky fleet managers without a major problem, I salute you. For those currently mired in interference, lack of respect, limitation on travel, or pressure to deliver more than ordered, you have my empathy.
You also should know that changes come constantly and quickly; be alert and make it a better day.