By Mark Boada, Executive Editor
Fleet managers’ future depends on a skill they may have largely overlooked: making a strategic business value case that elevates the influence they have within the organization and secures C-suite buy-in for its initiatives.
The issue was discussed on the third and final day at last week’s NAFA Institute & Expo in Louisville, Kentucky, during a breakfast and general session that featured a panel discussion by the CEOs of five leading fleet management companies. It came in response to the first question posed by moderator Mike Joyce, executive director of the American Automotive Leasing Association, who asked the panelists for their advice on how fleet managers can elevate their positions within their organizations and portray fleet as a driver of success.
Focus on boosting revenue and productivity
Wheels CEO Dan Frank said that fleet managers need to start talking less about their role in cost reduction and more about how fleet contributes to increasing revenue and productivity and helping to achieve other corporate objectives.
For example, he said, “If you have branding on your vehicles, [it means talking about] how many brand impressions you make, because that’s how your marketing department talks. When you’re talking about safety, rather than just looking at the cost of accidents, it means talking about how the EH&S department talks about how many accidents, injuries and fatalities were prevented.
“If your vehicle is a retention tool, it means working with your HR department to understand what that retention Is really worth: do we have lower turnover, are we doing a better job signing candidates than our competitors? [It means] …translating fleet into business value, understanding the terms that other departments use to describe their value and being seen as more of a revenue and productivity driver than just a cost manager.”
Cite increased deliveries, service and sales calls
Matt Dyer, CEO of LeasePlan USA, also urged fleet managers to speak up about how their department improves other departments’ productivity. “If you look at the digital tools that are becoming part of the driver’s day to day life,” he said, “we are nearer to where we can say that fleet contributes to allowing a company’s drivers to do one additional delivery, service stop or sales call a day. And that’s really exciting, because then all of us in this room are really at the heart of our internal customers’ business.”
Talk strategic objectives and ROI
Tom Callahan, Donlen’s CEO, noted that because “fleet is not well understood at the higher levels of the organization, the ability to write and sell a business case is critical for fleet to be able to influence what’s going to happen in your company.”
Jay Forbes, CEO at Element, said fleet managers need to be aware of their organization’s strategic objectives and demonstrate how fleet is helping to achieve them. “If you’re in an organization where safety is an absolute crusade, show how you are promoting safe driving practices. If sustainability is a crusade, talk about what actions you’re taking to have an impact on sustainability. If having a cost advantage is a critical success factor for your organization, talk about what you’re doing to drive down total cost of ownership.”
But Forbes said it’s important that fleet managers also tie their ability to achieve strategic objectives with a positive return on investment in fleet programs. “That lens gives fleet managers the credibility they need to attract capital to invest in telematics [and vehicle replacement], and demonstrates their ability to manage the capital that has been entrusted to them efficiently.”
A related break-out session
The comments echoed some of those made in a breakout session held Monday afternoon, entitled, “Innovative Fleet Manager Strategies to Get Buy-In from the C-Suites,” featuring panelists Sonya Girard, manager of the 500-unit fleet for IDEXX Laboratories, and Jim Wohlever, vice president of sales and customer relations at the FMC company, Donlen Corporation. They said the route to success for fleet managers is to become “trusted advisors” to their top executives who seek and respect their advice.
Among their strategies, they suggested fleet managers:
- Become familiar with the what’s most important to each of the uppermost senior officers in their organization, including the CEO, chief financial officer, chief information officer, and those at the top of Human Relations, sales, procurement and operations departments, and show how fleet supports them.
- Create a fleet steering committee, with representatives of all of the major departments within the organization to determine their needs and desires from fleet and create collaborative solutions to their challenges and meeting their goals.
- When making presentations to top executives, be respectful of their time, be confident, understand that what appeals to one doesn’t appeal to everyone, present several solutions and show which one you think is best and why, and anticipate and be well-prepared to respond to questions.
Mobility the most-talked about topic
That session was one of 43 different concurrent sessions packed into the three-event. The hottest theme was the “mobility revolution,” to which a full half-day, 12 concurrent sessions and one general session were devoted.
Topics included the rapidly growing number of hybrid and fully electric cars and trucks becoming available over the next few years and the fact that in some use cases they already generate a positive return on investment; mobility as a service, or “MaaS,” as an opportunity for fleets; the current state of autonomous vehicle development, and cybersecurity as an urgent issue for connected vehicles. In his luncheon address, global mobility consultant Lukas Neckermann said that “the inflection point for mobility is behind us, not ahead of us,” and made an impassioned plea for a commitment to fleet electrification as a way to help reverse climate change.
An equal number of sessions were devoted to a variety of fleet management best practices, including those aimed at optimal procurement, reducing total cost of ownership and fleets’ carbon footprint and using data to improve fleet productivity. Meanwhile, fully 10 sessions focused on the management of law enforcement fleets, and the event featured a new track of sessions exclusively for fleet suppliers.
NAFA “Communities” launched
NAFA CEO Phil Russo used the Louisville program to introduce a new member service, called NAFA Communities, “our new online tool for you to access segment-specific programs and content to perform your job better.” It consists of a new section of the NAFA website that offers members the opportunity to interact with a community of their peers in one or more of seven industry segments: government, corporate, utility and telecom, public safety, education and universities, multi-national fleets and associate members who are fleet product and service suppliers.
Details revealed include:
- Each community will serve as a sounding board to provide feedback, information, and direction to the Advisory Council and, ultimately, to the Board of Directors.
- Communities will have virtual meetings and 24/7 online availability to resources, such as bulletin boards and community-specific webinars, etc.
- Community Advisory Councils will have virtual and in-person meetings, led by the community leader, with input from the Board liaison and staff liaison.
- Representatives from the Community Advisory Councils will participate in NAFA’s annual Leadership Forum and strategic planning.
- A representative from each community will be chosen to provide input to each of NAFA’s “task-specific” Committees and I&E Content Committee.
Russo urged members to join and take an active part in the new program. “It will accelerate your networking among like-minded peers to increase your ability to solve problems, and will give you a stronger voice in NAFA to provide the guidance, support, and leadership to make the fleet and mobility industry more vibrant and important.
Flexy and Best Fleet winners
NAFA once again used I&E to announce the winners of its Fleet Excellence Awards” for outstanding achievement by fleet managers. This year’s winners were: Mario Guzman, CAFM, Director of Support Services, City of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Robert Stine, CAFM, Director-Fleet Management Department, Hillsborough County, Fla.; Dave Dahn, CAFM, Corporate Fleet Program Manager, Erie Insur ance Group; and Jodi Weber, Americas Fleet Manager, Johnson Controls International
I&E also featured the winners of this year’s winners in the independently run 100 Best Fleets in the America’s contest, which focuses on government fleets. In descending order, the top five places were taken by Miami-Dade County (FL), Cobb County (GA), Palm Beach County (FL) Sheriff’s Office, Denver Public Works, and the City of Fort Wayne (IN).
NAFA announced at the show that next year’s I&E will be another three-day event in Indianapolis, April 6-8.