In Memoriam: Coach's Insights

Prediction: There Will Always Be a Fleet Manager

A number of firms have attempted to eliminate their entire fleet department in favor of outsourcing. There are sound reasons why these companies inevitably reinstall a fleet manager.

February 5, 2013

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The 1980s were a series of tumultuous years for fleet management, both inside and outside. In the early years, and midway through the decade, the advent of “Total Fleet Management” was born and marketed.

The purveyors were leasing companies, that emerged as outsourcers, offering a varied menu of services. They included financing, vehicle acquisition, license and title, maintenance plans, fuel programs, remarketing, and national account access. Today, you know them as fleet management companies (FMCs).

Interestingly, GELCO (a lessor owned by the Grossman family in Minneapolis, and later sold to GECFS), was actually convincing corporate accounts about outsourcing fleet administrative services, but also establishing the need for fleet managers internally to mesh with their services.

One of the first examples was installing Pierce Walsh (who had been selling Buicks at a dealership in Chicago to fleets) as a full-time fleet manager at IC Industries, but on GELCO’s payroll. The wisdom was that a responsible professional was necessary to coordinate with the outside services. IC also saw the wisdom and hired Walsh a year later.

In 1986, the industry news shocker was Eastman Kodak’s decision to totally outsource its large fleet. Equally stunning was learning that Susan Richard, the fleet manager for The Greyhound Corp. in Phoenix (later known as The Dial Corp.), was also terminated in 1989 when total outsourcing took place.

Similar events were happening more frequently, but Richard was a well-known and a well-liked professional. The dismissals were occurring so often that all commercial fleet managers were feeling insecurity.

This led to a NAFA Fleet Management Association conference panel I remember quite vividly at the 1990 meeting. It was an SRO crowd with tensions high and FMCs basically exhorting support for the retention of the fleet manager position. In reality, the dichotomy existed and few fleet managers felt their future secure.

Men are made stronger on realization that the helping hand they need is at the end of their own right arm.

-Sidney J. Phillips

You can listen to what everybody says, but the fact remains that you’ve got to get out there and do the thing yourself.

-Joan Sutherland

Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Eventually, corporate management learned the costly mistake of not having a professional working internally. Ironically, it was Pierce Walsh chosen to reinstitute the fleet function at Greyhound/Dial, where the original firestorm centered.

The tsunami of fleet manager dismissals waned and the industry is now back to recognizing the true value of the fleet manager. Losing the many administrative duties and accessing the economics of FMC software are efficiencies benefiting both groups.

Oh, we’ll still have the occasional job loss (at least temporarily), but executive management comes in all flavors. The different evaluation of the fleet manager is also judged similarly to the same short-sighted attractiveness of vehicle reimbursement versus ownership. We all must be prepared to defend what’s best for the company.

We’ll always have a fleet manager (my prediction), because there’s no substitute for someone who’s intimate with the firm’s culture, the complaints of the drivers, the rulings out of HR, the nuances of the VP of sales on the field force, or from the CFO’s particular budget cut suggested.

Fortunately, the OEMs continue to sell “direct” to the fleet buyer, so you have the key influence in vehicle selection and negotiating. Similarly, you have an influence on selecting your outsourcers. These remain your greatest assets.

As a fleet manager, you have key responsibilities and opportunities that no one can really duplicate. If you have the knowledge, talent, and desire, you surely will have tenure.

I’ve got your back (your six)!

[email protected]

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Author Bio

Ed Bobit

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Former Editor & Publisher

With more than 50 years in the fleet industry, Ed Bobit, former Automotive Fleet editor and publisher, reflected on issues affecting today’s fleets in his blog. He drew insight from his own experiences in the field and offered a perspective similar to that of a sports coach guiding his players.


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