If Harvard had a school of fleet, it would have lots of courses on vehicle selection, advanced lease accounting, depreciation, and maybe even alternative powertrains. But, just like in its business school, students might miss out on one of the most important lessons in fleet: It’s all about people — reading them, understanding them, and making sure you have the right ones in the right place. And, it’s hard to do that from behind your desk.
There are a lot of places a “student” of the fleet industry can go to for information. The suppliers in our industry take great pride in the expertise of their employees, and for the most part they do an incredible job providing sage advice and counsel to their customers.
But, to be blunt, they do have a dog in the fight. Has there ever been a problem that couldn’t be solved by just switching everyone to the latest maintenance management platform or, maybe, just speeding up that replacement cycle a bit? If you want to raise your game and lower your costs, you have to do some legwork on your own. You need to stay abreast of the latest technology by reading websites, eNewsletters, and magazines on a daily basis. But, perhaps, most importantly you need to get out from behind your desk and interact with your industry peers.
The fleet industry has no shortage of conferences and events that offer a second-to-none opportunity to network, learn, and share best practices. We’ve got NAFA, AFLA, and AALA putting on their annual events, and we’ve got a lot of regional events, and there are seven and counting fleet-related conferences that Bobit Business Media (BBM) produces. Most of the events that BBM is involved in have seen steady growth in attendance over the past few years, but there is still plenty of room for more. Conversely, some other events in our industry have seen a steady erosion in attendance, leading many to conclude that there just aren’t that many fleet managers out there anymore. Our circulation department assures me that there are still well over 20,000 fleets out there. A lot of our readers may not have the title “fleet manager” anymore, but they are still managing a fleet. And, while less than 3 percent of them belong to NAFA or attend the annual I&E, fleet managers are still out there and still need to network with their peers.
You can get a lot of fleet education by talking with your suppliers, reading Automotive Fleet, logging on regularly to automotive-fleet.com, and — if you are really inspired — seeking an industry certification.
But, if you really want to get a fleet education, you need to get out from behind your desk and talk to your industry peers. For instance, if you want to find out what it’s really like to run a propane autogas or natural gas fleet, talk to someone who has one. If you want to find out how those new full-size vans are holding up, there are thousands of fleets out there with real-world experience operating them.
And, if you want to find out how to operate your fleet more efficiently, attend some fleet events. Bring a notepad and take notes. Find the experts out there and lean on them. There are a lot of fleet “Ph.D.s” out there. They may have gotten their degrees at the “school of hard knocks” instead of at Harvard, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.