Some fleet managers simply view fleet as something that needs to be managed. Pfizer, on the other hand, sees fleet as a way to create a strategic advantage in a competitive marketplace.
Pfizer Fleet Manager Ron Sarno and Assistant Fleet Manager Marjorie Schraut work closely with their drivers and fleet management com-pany to keep Pfizer’s U.S. fleet of 5,800 vehicles running smoothly.
Based in mid-town Manhattan in the heart of New York City, Pfizer operates a U.S. fleet of 5,800 vehicles, the vast majority of which are field sales cars. In addition, its European business units operate another 5,000 vehicles, making Pfizer a true global fleet. Ron Sarno, manager of corporate services, counts fleet along with real estate as his two responsibilities. Real estate demands a significant portion of Sarno’s time, so he depends upon Marjorie Schraut, his assistant fleet manager, to handle all of the day-to-day fleet responsibilities. Besides Schraut, the Pfizer fleet department includes four other staff members.
Fleet’s Service Mission
"I work hard at not running our fleet in a vacuum," says Sarno. "I need to make certain that we never forget that we are here to service our sales force; to do everything we can to help make them successful." Like most other industries, pharmaceuticals is a brutally competitive business. "If Pfizer can structure a company car program to provide a competitive edge, all the better," says Sarno. "We use the car program as an integral part of the recruiting process, much in the same way other benefit programs are used."
How is this accomplished? A key component is flexibility. Drivers have a number of options available to them when they choose a car. They can choose colors, buy optional equipment, or even upgrade the vehicle.
"We allow a driver whose selection is, say, a Taurus, to ‘buy’ up to a Sable, or even a Bonneville," says Sarno. This flexibility allows drivers to have a vehicle more of their own choosing, rather than one the company forces upon them.
Regular Interaction Is Crucial
Sarno believes that regular communication and interaction between his fleet staff, Pfizer senior management, and the sales department is what brings it all together.
"Fleet is not a separate department," he says. "We are one part of a team consisting of fleet, sales, and management. We must be aligned with the overall objectives of the sales force and the company." Sarno describes four ways fleet interacts with the field.
- Fleet is part of the orientation of new sales employees and an ongoing part of their formal training."We cover the fleet program, its benefits, and the driver’s responsibilities."
- The fleet staff gets out and rides with the sales reps. "We can see how the vehicle is used and talk with the drivers. We learn what we can do to improve our performance."
- The sales force has periodic meetings, which the fleet department attends. "This helps us keep abreast of what the sales force is doing, and plans to do in the coming months. We learn what we can do to help them reach their goals."
- Senior sales management conducts a meeting at the beginning of the year, and, again, fleet is there. "We continue to stay in touch with sales management throughout the year, exchanging updates and ideas."
The fleet department has a goal to solve problems with a single phone call. "That’s a goal we take very seriously," Sarno says. "Rather than having phone calls bouncing back and forth, we make sure we get every piece of information we can with the first call, and solve the problem without the driver or fleet staff having to make more calls."
The Vendor Is Part of the Process
Pfizer leases its fleet through Wheels, and uses its maintenance assistance program (MAP), as well as other fleet services. Marjorie Schraut describes Wheels as being a part of the Pfizer fleet team. "Our relationship isn’t just a vendor/customer one; they participate in much of the fleet/sales interactive process as well." Pfizer is also a member of the Wheels Client Steering Council. This body meets about three times each year. The meetings enable Wheels to stay up to date on the Pfizer sales force needs, and work with the fleet department to meet those needs.
Wheels also participates, whenever possible, in many of the Pfizer fleet/sales meetings. "We want to encourage direct interaction between our sales force and Wheels," Schraut says.
"We all get bogged down in our day-to-day duties," Sarno says, "and sometimes lose sight of our long-term mission." It’s easy, he says, to get so involved in managing the fleet that the reason why they’re doing it can be forgotten.
"We are convinced that our sales force represents a real competitive advantage for Pfizer in the marketplace," he explains, "and our job is to keep the fleet piece of this advantage working in our favor."
When asked what the single most important component of this overall process, Sarno did not hesitate. "Communication. Interaction. Nothing is as important."