Let's face it, some companies don't take fleet as seriously as they say they do. At these companies, management's attitude towards fleet varies from ignoring driver behavior to making vehicle selections not in the best interest of the company. At some companies, management doesn't devote much attention to fleet, unless, of course, something goes wrong or an issue arises that affects their personal company vehicle. If you ask these senior managers if they're involved in fleet they say they are, but, in reality, they are not. One reason is that fleet is not core to their business. How many fleet managers have heard the refrain: We're in the "widget" business, not the car business. These senior managers view fleet as a necessary evil. Fleet is an expense, and it costs what it costs. The fleet manager's job is to try to control the cost as best he or she can. Additional resources are not invested to support these efforts because management doesn't believe such expenditures bring sufficient ROI.
To a large extent, the way fleet is viewed by senior management is shaped by a corporation's internal politics. Although some senior managers only give lip service to fleet, others fancy themselves as fleet management experts. Invariably, several members of upper management will want to dabble with the fleet management process. Unfortunately, most of them don't have a clue as to what it takes to operate an efficient fleet.
Giving Lip Service to Safety
The majority of companies operate fleets with safety as a top priority; however, some companies ignore fleet safety problems. This involves protectionism of accident-prone salespeople, especially the top performers. This protectionism also extends to other high-value employees who have multiple speeding tickets or maybe even DUIs. These infractions are swept under the "corporate rug" with a slap on the wrist of the transgressor. At companies like this, nothing is done proactively to avoid or minimize safety-related problems. Other companies talk safety, but can't justify the expense to implement a safety program.
Distracted driving caused by behind-the-wheel cell phone use is another example of how senior management ignores fleet-related safety issues. Some companies refuse to codify in fleet policy prohibitions against use of these devices while driving. Management shoots down any recommendations to do so because they don't want to affect productivity and driver morale.
One of the biggest safety-related problems are teenage children of employees allowed drive their company vehicles. At many companies, this is allowed under fleet policy. But if a fleet manager attempts to change this policy, management often won't allow it. One reason is that many senior managers have teenager children. In fairness, most fleet managers report that they do not have a significant problem with teenagers wrecking company vehicles. However, statistics document that a 16-year old is more likely to have a wreck than a 30-year old. Teenagers are high-risk drivers, and many companies blithely allow them to operate a corporate asset. If senior managers didn't have teenage children, would they be supportive of this fleet policy? Teenagers driving company vehicles is a safety issue that management ignores.
Here's another example of how companies talk about safety, but don't walk the talk. Some fleets do not prohibit smoking in company vehicles. By allowing employees to smoke in fleet vehicles, a company not only contributes to future health problems, but also to distracted driving. The simple action of pulling a cigarette out of a pack and lighting it constitutes distracted driving. In addition, smoking impacts the resale value of a vehicle scarred with burn holes in the seats and carpet, not to mention residual tobacco odor that can never be fully eliminated from a vehicle's interior and upholstery.
Other publicly traded companies make fleet decisions their shareholders would oppose, if they were aware of them. Shareholders expect a company to select the safest vehicle in its segment, especially if it is capable of fulfilling the fleet application. However, companies sometimes ignore safety ratings and select a comparable, but less safe vehicle, due to financial considerations, such as the amount of incentive dollars slapped on the hood. This impacts shareholder value by increasing the severity of accidents and the consequential increase in injuries, possible fatalities, and lawsuits.
Fleet Decisions Based on Favoritism
As mentioned earlier, some companies ignore safety issues if the driver is a star salesperson or high-level manager. I was told of a division VP who jumped a curb while driving a company vehicle and hit several pedestrians, fortunately none fatally. This incident was hushed up due to his position within the company.
Many fleet managers do not want to run MVR checks because they would rather not know about problem drivers. This "head-in-the-sand mentality" negates the need to do something. You don't have to fix a problem if you do not know it exists. Some fleets run MVRs but only on drivers, not execs, to avoid potential embarrassments.
One fleet manager related the following story: "The first time we ran MVR checks. We found one guy who was working under an alias. Even his wife didn't know who he was, plus he had a prison record. He was not who he said he was and didn't have a driver's license. He was fired. It was unbelievable. Another employee had several DUIs, but he never reported them to the company. We found out when we ran an MVR. When confronted with this revelation, his response was if he told us, he knew he would be fired. 'So why would I tell you? You weren't running MVRs.' We fired him."
Favoritism also extends to vehicle selection. Drivers will ask: Why can't we use this type of vehicle? When vehicle upgrades are requested, fleet managers are quick to say they can't approve them. Some salespeople view this response as an invitation to go over the fleet manager's head and attempt to sell it to senior management. "I used to say that if our salespeople were as good at selling our products as they are trying to sell me on the type of vehicle they get, the company would be doing a lot better than it is," said one industry veteran. In addition, after performing due diligence on a vehicle considered for fleet use and the business case doesn't support it, high-level managers will attempt to countermand the fleet manager's decision because that's the vehicle they prefer to drive.
Another example is when a model has new styling. "My phone rings off the hook from VPs saying we ought to have this particular brand," said one fleet manager. "It is an arbitrary favoritism because the lifecycle cost numbers don't support it. Often it is simply a case of personal bias."
Decisions about fleet are often centered on personal preference. When drivers or managers advocate the addition of a particular vehicle to the fleet selector, it typically isn't about company image. "They are not talking about what's in the best interest of the company. The reality is that it is all about their self-esteem and self-image. You'd be surprised how often factors based on ego creep into vehicle selection decisions."
Forced to Pressure Vendors for Favors
Fleet managers tell of calls from the company president or other high-level corporate officers requesting they contact an OEM rep to see if they can get an SUV for their weekend use. However, these types of calls run the gamut from regional managers, district managers, to regional VPs, all asking to get them a vehicle. These requests aren't for vehicle testing purposes. The reality is that they want a free car so they don't have to spend money for a rental car or use their own car.
In other instances, some companies work with charitable organizations, and fleet managers are asked to solicit contributions from fleet suppliers. The money collected is contributed in the name of the company, not the suppliers. "I was made to believe it was more than a casual expectation. I heard statements to the effect that if they are not going to donate anything, why are we doing business with them? It was an unspoken quid-pro-quo deal," said a fleet manager. "I did not feel comfortable doing so, although it appears to happen quite a bit with other companies based on my conversations with other fleet managers."
Another example of pressure for vendor favors is event tickets. "My boss wants to go to the Masters (Golf Tournament), and I'm asked whether I have connections with anyone who has tickets," said a fleet manager. "It's not just us. I've had account reps from different OEMs say they've had fleet managers put pressure on them for these types of ticket."
Greenwashing vs.Truly Going Green
Green fleet initiatives at some companies are simply corporate public relations initiatives. If you want to be cynical, you'd describe it as "greenwashing" - wanting to appear green without actually doing so. Fleet managers report PR people approaching them to brainstorm about ways to give the appearance of being green so the company can look good to customers. These fleet managers say they are between a rock and a hard place. "I don't know how to make the appearance of being green other than actually going green," said one. "There is a price for going green, but most companies don't want to pay it. Instead, they are willing to create the image that they are green, but in reality, they are just deceiving people into thinking that way."
Navigating the Gray Area of Fleet Management
If I were a rookie fleet manager, these are the areas about corporate fleet management I would want related to me. What are the true inner workings of fleet management? What is the interaction with management, drivers, and suppliers that fleet managers don't discuss openly, but should? These situations are not unique to fleet. These "gray areas" can be found in most management positions. Although the circumstances and specifics may vary, many of the philosophical issues are the same.
The question is how you deal with these issues. The true art of a fleet manager is being able to successfully navigate between these shoals of internal corporate politics and not run aground.
Let me know what you think.