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In Memoriam: Coach's Insights

How Can ‘Newbie’ and Untrained Fleet Managers Make a Difference?

There has been a transition to turning to the fleet management companies (FMCs), and OEMs for direction, counseling, and technical and systems advice. New (and even the more experienced) managers in the company fleet function have new challenges and opportunities.

August 7, 2012, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

When I was musing about the problems facing new fleet managers relying on outsourcers providing valuable services, the light went on. Where can these people go, and how do they integrate this into their work day to their advantage?

In discussing this with Mike Bieger, senior director – global procurement for ADP (and a respected colleague), he responded with wisdom.

“Although the data sources may be different, they still must be objectively viewed and evaluated for accuracy before being used in a manager’s decision making. What hasn’t changed is the need for the fleet manager to know the industry and know his or her fleet,” he opined.

Now, some background so you get the “big picture” as I see it: There are only 324 fleets that operate more than 1,000 vehicles, and another 1,624 in the 500-999 vehicle category. That’s less than 2,000 commercial fleets. These, in the main, employ experienced and educated personnel to run their fleets.

My focus here is where the other 10,000 fleet managers (of firms with less than 500 vehicles) obtain their knowledge. It is in this group that we find the novices, the self-trained with no staff, and the ones who must be searching for direction and acumen. They are also undoubtedly the major group who fully depend on their own business senses or lean heavily on suppliers.

Certainly the NAFA Fleet Management Association has great programs. It has its CAFM certification, regional seminars, and webinars; but, at their annual conference this year with an excellent agenda, they barely attracted 200 U.S. commercial fleet managers.

Many of these “newbies” rely on our editorial pages each month; our webinars, white papers, websites, and e-newsletters, along with outsourced suppliers. They are denied travel, and without that kind of exposure, find it difficult to develop a networking group for learning.

Another of my highly regarded colleagues, Bret Watson, national fleet manager for Sprint Nextel, also weighed in on the topic. He said, “Education is the key, but the type of education I am talking about is not taught. It is learned from experience. An example is knowing the true cost of a product or service and knowing what is the acceptable percentage of profit.”

Perhaps, in my empathy for the newbies, I love a description from veteran (and close friend), Jim McCarthy, vehicle management services director for Siemens. He said, “As a fleet manager, you wear many hats. On any given day you can be in sales, a psychologist, a juggler, a counselor, a marketing executive, a judge, a financier, or all of these — so the ability to communicate effectively on all levels and to all levels is extremely important.”

So, to all those 10,000 readers who manage commercial fleets under 500 vehicles, including the newbies, my recommendation is to heed Bieger’s advice. Know your industry (no matter how you can get it; e.g., FMCs, OEMs, suppliers, in print and online with us) and know your fleet. You can make a difference if you work and care.


  1. 1. Sabrina Charles [ August 13, 2012 @ 11:52AM ]

    I wanted to thank you for this Story, I am pretty sure you were talking about me when you wrote this.

    I am the self trained newbie with less than 500 vehicles. I wear all of those hats and i am unable to travel and network. I always feel as if I am the only one in my situation because as I go to RMFMA conferences it seems that everyone is an "old timer" and knows what to do. Everything I do, I learned myself and it hasnt been easy. Any additonal advice is welcomed.

  2. 2. Allen Mitchell [ August 14, 2012 @ 11:16AM ]

    As a veteran fleet manager, I think budding fleet managers can make a substantial contribution by "thinking out of the box." I certainly agree there are tried and true methods that must be used to manage fleets, but there must also be room made for creative thinking, new methods and better use of emerging technology. I value new and innovative perspectives in my operation. That said, there should be some measure of caution taken when risking new ventures and that is where those with broader and deeper fleet experience are sometimes useful in providing advice. I believe that nearly any goal is achievable when new ideas are investigated in a prudent and thoughtful way and fresh energy is applied to solve problems.

  3. 3. John Brewington [ August 14, 2012 @ 04:26PM ]

    Mr. Bobit,
    None of us would consider having surgery performed by an inexperienced medical professional yet many corporations literally thrust the management of their multi-million dollar fleet on someone without fleet knowledge, experience, or a desire to learn the ropes of a complicated and oft misunderstood profession. I see several influences driving this trend – the commoditization of fleet, the “everyone is a fleet expert” mentality, the almost complete outsourcing of all fleet activities, and the “do more with less” credo embraced by so many “for profits”. So what is the inexperienced fleet manager to do? I suggest reaching out to other fleet managers in search of a mentor or group willing to share experiences over lunch or an early evening conference call every month or so. NAFA Chapter meetings are prime examples of a solution that works for many. Going it alone can lead to costly mistakes and career burnout– reach out to someone you can trust and is interested in your success.

  4. 4. Bill Forsythe [ August 17, 2012 @ 05:36AM ]

    Coach Ed,

    I believe Bret Watson makes the most sensible of points; experience is your greatest asset more than any other form of education. Believe in yourself first and do not be afraid to ask questions to anyone who will listen. I would suggest sites such as “Linked IN” for those without the resources to network at specific NAFA/AFLA events. OEM, Suppliers, and Automotive Fleet are great resources to stay update to date and receive valuable feedback on new ideas you may want to try. Chances are other managers may have or may be currently using a variation of this idea and are usually more than willing to share their experience to help you make an informed decision. Most important, stay away from FMC’s as there only suggestions is in their best interest of a future sale.

    The only way to know your Fleet is to be involved with the day-to-day activities. Talk to your drivers, sales associates, delivery personnel, HR, and local business units to really get to know the fleet. Staring out the window and then looking at data can only give you a small picture about truly knowing your fleet and the true objectives of your company. As Jim McCarthy (very well respected) mentioned; being able to” communicate effectively” and building a trusted network can make the transformation from facing problems to creating new solutions and future opportunities to run an efficient Fleet Department.

  5. 5. Joe Pellissier [ August 17, 2012 @ 10:00AM ]

    I am one of the 2000 fleet managers who run one of the larger commercial fleets. In my 25 year experience, most of these smaller fleets are run by mechanics who have been promoted into the position of managing the whole fleet. For smaller fleets, this is the best background one could hope for. Knowing what it takes to repair and maintain a fleet is the most important factor. These managers don't let vendors take advantage of them, they can manage other mechanics, they know the parts operations, and they usually have good cost knowledge. They get help from within the organization for the other fleet issues such as procurement activities, insurance, etc. The absolute best addition to this position is some good business background to supplement the mechanical knowledge.

    One main advantage of younger fleet managers is their competence with newer technology. They have grown up with internet phones, apps, navigating the internet and have great PC skills.

  6. 6. Anthony Foster [ July 10, 2013 @ 08:35AM ]

    For all you newbies, welcome to rebirth of fleet managers. What I mean is, I can’t think of a better time to be a fleet professional. No other time has a fleet manager been able to make so much of an impact for their organization. Here are a few key points why:

    RGU – companies now look to you to save/make money in a challenged economy

    Green – most company’s fleet is their biggest carbon footprint

    Safety – one of the most dangerous things our operators do is drive a vehicle

    Technology – how does the vehicle, telematics, alternative fuels affect your business

    Logistics – being that manufacturers don’t retain as much inventory, its critical to provide product right when it is needed

    Of course these are just some quick bullets, but I think our biggest obstacle you should be aware of is the lack of collaboration between all of the fleet management associations.

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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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