When I was musing about the problems facing new fleet managers relying on outsourcers providing valuable services, the light went on. Where can these people go, and how do they integrate this into their work day to their advantage?
In discussing this with Mike Bieger, senior director – global procurement for ADP (and a respected colleague), he responded with wisdom.
“Although the data sources may be different, they still must be objectively viewed and evaluated for accuracy before being used in a manager’s decision making. What hasn’t changed is the need for the fleet manager to know the industry and know his or her fleet,” he opined.
Now, some background so you get the “big picture” as I see it: There are only 324 fleets that operate more than 1,000 vehicles, and another 1,624 in the 500-999 vehicle category. That’s less than 2,000 commercial fleets. These, in the main, employ experienced and educated personnel to run their fleets.
My focus here is where the other 10,000 fleet managers (of firms with less than 500 vehicles) obtain their knowledge. It is in this group that we find the novices, the self-trained with no staff, and the ones who must be searching for direction and acumen. They are also undoubtedly the major group who fully depend on their own business senses or lean heavily on suppliers.
Certainly the NAFA Fleet Management Association has great programs. It has its CAFM certification, regional seminars, and webinars; but, at their annual conference this year with an excellent agenda, they barely attracted 200 U.S. commercial fleet managers.
Many of these “newbies” rely on our editorial pages each month; our webinars, white papers, websites, and e-newsletters, along with outsourced suppliers. They are denied travel, and without that kind of exposure, find it difficult to develop a networking group for learning.
Another of my highly regarded colleagues, Bret Watson, national fleet manager for Sprint Nextel, also weighed in on the topic. He said, “Education is the key, but the type of education I am talking about is not taught. It is learned from experience. An example is knowing the true cost of a product or service and knowing what is the acceptable percentage of profit.”
Perhaps, in my empathy for the newbies, I love a description from veteran (and close friend), Jim McCarthy, vehicle management services director for Siemens. He said, “As a fleet manager, you wear many hats. On any given day you can be in sales, a psychologist, a juggler, a counselor, a marketing executive, a judge, a financier, or all of these — so the ability to communicate effectively on all levels and to all levels is extremely important.”
So, to all those 10,000 readers who manage commercial fleets under 500 vehicles, including the newbies, my recommendation is to heed Bieger’s advice. Know your industry (no matter how you can get it; e.g., FMCs, OEMs, suppliers, in print and online with us) and know your fleet. You can make a difference if you work and care.