There’s no other way to say it, except bluntly: Managing an executive fleet is a headache. I am not going to say otherwise. But, if it is one of your job responsibilities, consider yourself luckier than others. No matter what job you may have, there will always be certain responsibilities you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemies. While some may equate the management of an executive fleet to this category, my response, and those of other savvy fleet managers, is to count your blessings. Why? This is the best way to build a relationship with senior management that, otherwise, would not be available to you. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing fleet managers is getting senior management to see and acknowledge their contribution to the company. Too many fleet managers labor in obscurity and are taken for granted. Managing an executive fleet puts you in front of senior management and gives you an opportunity to showcase your value to the company. It is also a great opportunity to develop a closer working relationship with senior managers and the possibility of creating, over time, an informal personal relationship with some of them.
Developing a Relationship with Senior Managers
An executive fleet that is offered to most senior managers will bring you in contact with those managers who have the ultimate decision-making authority at your company. By cultivating these business interactions with executives into relationships, it will help you, in the future, to overcome a fleet-related challenge or implement a change that may encounter initial resistance.
Managing an executive fleet is different from managing a sales or service fleet. The level of responsibility for senior executives, vis-à-vis field employees, is far greater; their time is more highly scheduled, and the high-end vehicles they drive demand a higher level of attention than that of a sales or service rep. It is important to foster a professional relationship with executives when interacting with them about their executive vehicles. Initial contacts, whether by phone, e-mail, or in person should be strictly business oriented, such as discussing vehicle selection and ordering or scheduling a service appointment. Over time, these interactions with executives will often evolve into a more comfortable and more personal interaction. If you do a good job in managing the executive fleet, it will build trust in you among executives, who will be more likely to respond positively when you ask them for support. While an important byproduct from managing an executive fleet is the opportunity to develop strong relationships high in the management hierarchy, it is conversely important to develop a relationship with the executives’ administrative assistants, since an executive’s time is in constant demand and they may not be readily available when you need to talk with them.
When your fleet expertise is known and appreciated by top management, you should take the initiative to include other executives, particularly the most difficult individuals, in the fleet management process. If you manage a sales fleet, for example, and the VP of sales and marketing is difficult, make that executive part of the fleet decision-making process to help defuse potential confrontations. It is important to keep communication to senior managers short, using a one-page report or e-mail. In these communications, minimize text and use charts and graphs to show fleet trends. After receiving these communications regularly, senior execs will ultimately come to view you as the resident subject-matter expert on all matters involving the corporate fleet.
Senior management, especially at the highest level, can impact every aspect of the fleet manager’s responsibility, ranging from financial decisions to fleet policy, and they can make or break a fleet manager’s efforts to implement change. However, it is important to leverage these management relationships judiciously; you don’t want to be negatively perceived by other department managers as someone who is unable to defend fleet decisions and uses management as a “big stick” to force compliance.
Management Support of the Fleet Manager
When managed properly, the headaches traditionally associated with an executive fleet can be kept to a minimum. Your ultimate goal is to make management receptive, based on your pre-existing relationships, to provide support if and when you are challenged or when a complaint reaches their desk from a lower-level executive adamantly opposed to a particular fleet decision.
At larger fleets, a fleet manager is responsible for millions of dollars of corporate assets and managing millions more in expenditures — all of which are much easier to manage with the support of senior management. Building effective relationships with management will help provide the support needed without you needing to ask for it. This is invaluable to whether or not you will be a successful fleet manager. If you don’t think so, ask the fleet manager who doesn’t have management’s support.
Let me know what you think.