By Steve Bender, President and CEO, Fleet Street Remarketing & outgoing President, Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA)
October 25, 2023
As I sit to pen what likely will be the last missive of my AFLA presidency, I have to admit I have a wide range of emotions running through my head.
For starters, I am so incredibly grateful to all of the wonderful AFLA board members and staff I have been fortunate enough to work with and who’ve made the past year so special and rewarding. At the same time, I’m also thrilled to be leaving a growing and thriving organization of fleet professionals after what in my humble opinion – a bit biased though it may be – was the best AFLA conference I’ve attended in my 20 years in the fleet industry. If you were there, you know what I mean.
And if you weren’t there, let me fill you in on a few of the highlights of this year’s conference at the beautiful JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa – a truly spectacular venue on the edge of the San Jacinto Mountains.
All-Time Record Attendance
This year’s attendance was the highest for an AFLA conference ever, and quite an achievement for an organization that only a few short years ago was forced to hold a virtual event during the height of the pandemic. This attendance mark is something the whole organization should be proud of and a true reflection of this year’s conference theme of ‘The Best is Yet to Come!’ Considering the group we had at this year’s event, I have little doubt that will be the case.
An Incredible Mix of Experienced and New Members
Perhaps my favorite moment of the entire conference came on Day One, when I asked those who were attending their first conference to stand. I think the whole audience was surprised when more than 100 people leapt to their feet – a real testament to the true strength of the organization and an indication that AFLA will continue to be a vital resource to so many for years to come.
Meaningful and Productive Networking
One of the Board of Directors’ biggest goals for this year’s conference was to foster robust networking that led to meaningful connections, something I feel this year’s conference achieved in spades. To set the tone for this activity, I decided we should play a little networking game during the first session. To get started, I asked everyone to rise from their chairs and turn to the person seated next to them to say “hi” and have a 1-minute conversation.
My goal was to continue doing this a few times, so attendees could actually see and experience what great networking was all about – but the game almost backfired on me. Instead of stopping after a minute, many of the experienced attendees continued their conversations, actually demonstrating to first time attendees just how really good experienced fleet pros are at networking and giving first -time attendees an example to emulate – perfect!
Captivating Speakers and Panels
In addition to catching up with old friends and making new ones, I was extremely impressed with the speakers and panels our AFLA Conference Committee assembled. Even after 20 years in fleet, I still found so much to learn and so much that affirmed my affinity for this great industry. All of the panels and panelists were relevant and left me feeling better educated.
Keynote speaker and former LeasePlan CEO Mike Pitcher was the perfect cheerleader to fire up our opening session, while Sherine Clarke, WIFM (Women in Fleet Management) Keynote speaker, gave us all great advice on being better versions of ourselves. I was also impressed with the wide-ranging mix of panelists and the actionable insights I learned during their time on stage. Additionally impressive was one of the panels which considered creative ways to approach traditional fleet challenges, and included a first-year attendee, Edward Garcia of Gothic Landscaping.
In fact, I was so intrigued, I’m looking forward to applying what I learned about taking a deeper dive into my own company’s data and analytics and how we can utilize them more effectively to match buyers and sellers using our Carvantedge.com, remarketing’s first online retail site offering expertly maintained fleet cars to consumers across the country.
Amazing Social Interaction
I’m always amazed by the sense of camaraderie and spirit of fellowship demonstrated at the annual pool party and golf outing. It’s the time when attendees are most themselves, and this year didn’t disappoint with a crowd of well over 150 stationed at the pool, and a full field for the golf scramble, which required attendees to do little more than walk out the back door and get in their carts!
The Future is Looking Bright for AFLA!
As you can see, there was a lot for members to be proud of when it came to this year’s annual conference, as well as the future of the AFLA organization. Not the least of which are the amazing relationships and meaningful connections we made and will build on in the years to come. I’m especially thankful for the legion of volunteers who gave their valuable time to help work at the conference. And to all of those who volunteer their time on committees throughout the year. Thank you.
And while I’m stepping into the Past President’s role and passing the baton with a tinge of sadness at being put out to pasture, I am eternally humbled by having had the opportunity to help the organization regain its strength. And I am looking forward to helping build it to an even better, stronger organization in the future.
Finally, I’d like to thank Association Executive Director Elizabeth Schlicht for the amazing job she and her team do every year and for the wonderful gift of an antique treasure chest the organization presented to me at the end of this year’s conference. I know it’s a nod to my love of treasure hunting and all things shiny, but I can assure everyone in the AFLA family that as the years go by, the most valuable contents I’ll stash away in it will be the wonderful memories I’ve shared – and will in the future – with my fellow AFLA members and fleet colleagues.
Steve Bender is President and CEO of Fleet Street Remarketing and outgoing President of Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA), which just held its annual conference. A fleet remarketing leader for over 35 years, no one has more ways to get your vehicles sold quickly and for the highest returns than Fleet Street, including Carvantedge.com, fleet’s only online retail site that sells expertly maintained fleet vehicles to consumers across North America.