As in most professions, there are various layers within a vertical group. In “fleet,” the major differing elements surround the obvious: It’s size of fleet units, car versus truck, full-time versus part-time (with other assignments), education, experience, and job tenure as critical qualifiers.
From all the related sectors of the automotive industry, high recognition is accorded to those earning the “director” title in fleet. These are seasoned veterans who have multiple years of experience and who never stop learning their trade. They are usually ideal managers who know how to direct associates, breathe company policies, and budget mandates. They never cease to assimilate best practices through networking.
This group is often found in a commercial fleet that operates with a minimum of outsourcing so there’s more hands-on management.
This top-end group is a rather thin strata; Bret Watson at Sprint, Jim McCarthy at Siemens, Pete Silva at Pepsico, and Lynda Dinwiddie at LabCorp come to mind as excellent examples. Their knowledge and conduct in negotiations, operations, corporate relationships, and industry participation command well-earned respect from all. They’re savvy in cost assessment, purchasing, lessor liaisons, remarketing, and all areas of control.
These are truly fleet managers!
The other end of the spectrum includes the “newbies.” Through no particular fault of their own, they have been selected to run the company’s fleet.
While they may be academically bright, they may well have come out of the now downsized secretarial pool, were formerly a sales analyst, or were from accounting. It’s simply not their fault that they aren’t a mechanic or have any automotive experience. Corporate and HR management just doesn’t give the gravitas due to the fleet function.
These “waifs” enter our industry as virtual interns without anyone to train them. Their supervisor is a non-fleet person who isn’t about to approve going to a conference for a few educational days. These novices are faced with accepting the “practices” already in place and hope that their OEM, fleet management company (FMC), and other vendor reps can offer some needed support and knowledge.
We all have to have empathy for this growing group who fall short in qualifying as real fleet managers (yet).
The third group, and by far the largest in number, is mixed with some experienced, savvy, and professional real fleet managers (thank goodness). Yes, the majority of these cross all fleet sizes and demonstrate their ability to be good managers daily. They are proactive in the industry and never stop learning or networking to be more effective. These are real fleet managers.
To the dismay of some who know the fleet scene very well, there are those who agonize over a minority within this group who disguise themselves trying to measure up, but often fail to do so. Just talk (very privately) with an FMC, OEM, remarketer, or other veteran vendor and they’ll relate (and roll their eyes) at the lack of knowledge they possess. They may qualify in name, but cost their company big bucks.
When you see me, I can personally verify examples such as (a) not knowing what a dealer “hold-back” was; (b) having no idea what a three-year-old, 70,000-mile mid-size car was worth for resale (when it represents 60 percent of a fleet); and (c) paying more than $500-plus for new cars (through an outsource) than any fleet dealer would charge. I could list a dozen more.
These are the managers that desperately need education, both for themselves professionally and for their company’s sake. All of us need to make it a priority to help this group earn the respect of true and real fleet managers.