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Belding Named 2011 Fleet Manager of the Year

Automotive Fleet congratulates the winner of its 2011 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, Theresa Belding of Forest Pharmaceuticals. She was recognized for optimizing vehicle replacement cycles, reducing vehicle offerings, managing daily rental spend, and decreasing fuel consumption.

May 2011, by Cheryl Knight - Also by this author

Theresa Belding, senior manager, fleet services for Forest Pharmaceuticals, was recently awarded Automotive Fleet's 2011 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year honor. Belding was recognized Sunday, April 10 in a special ceremony at the NAFA Fleet Management Association's (NAFA) Institute & Expo in Charlotte, N.C., at the Charlotte Convention Center. She was selected by a 35-member judging panel, including past winners, manufacturers, auctions, fleet management services, dealers, and the media.

Instituted in 1985, the award is sponsored by Automotive Fleet magazine, Wheels Inc., and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA). The AF Fleet Manager of the Year Award was created to recognize each year an experienced and proficient fleet manager who has demonstrated special business acumen in developing and executing key management policies in all areas.

In 2010, Belding reduced costs by more than $5 million by optimizing vehicle replacement cycles, reducing vehicle offerings, managing daily rental spend, and decreasing fuel consumption by transitioning more drivers into four-cylinder models.

From a safety perspective, Forest's accident claims for 2010 were down 13 percent over 2009 and a total of 27 percent since 2007 when fleet launched a Web-based driver assessment and training tool.

"Almost two decades ago when I started in fleet, I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Belding said after receiving the award. "Fleet has always been my passion. You cannot succeed in this job by yourself. Your company has to be behind you, and your family has to be behind you. NAFA and AFLA are great support organizations. You also need solid business partners with sound advice. I've been able to benchmark with my pharmaceutical peers. Despite the fact that we compete in our industries, we share and are very nurturing."

This is the fourth time Belding has been nominated for Professional Fleet Manager of the Year.

Belding poses for a group photo with the sponsors of the Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, (left) Jim Frank, president of Wheels Inc., and Ed Bobit, Automotive Fleet editor and Bobit Business Media chairman.
Belding poses for a group photo with the sponsors of the Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, (left) Jim Frank, president of Wheels Inc., and Ed Bobit, Automotive Fleet editor and Bobit Business Media chairman.

The other two finalists for this year's award included Dick Malcom, fleet administrator for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., and Lee Miller, manager, fleet services, for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. For 2011, 17 fleet managers - 10 men and seven women - were nominated for this year's award, now in its 27th year.

An 18-year industry veteran, Belding supervises a fleet of 2,950 vehicles in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. She oversees fleet management, staff supervision, vendor relations, and fleet safety programs, including accident management, driver risk-­level analysis, and safety training.

Belding also participates in a range of industry organizations. She is the executive vice president for AFLA, a NAFA member, and serves on the Ford Fleet Advisory Board.

Defining Success is 'Just That Easy'

The best form of recognition oftentimes comes in the form of peer review, and this is the primary reason why receiving the Fleet Manager of the Year Award hit home with Belding.

"Recognition in the form of this award is absolutely amazing," she said. "The reason this award means so much to me is that a good portion of the individuals voting for Fleet Manager of the Year are my peers - past winners of the award who are fleet managers like me. It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by my peers and the industry as a whole. I am honored and very thankful for the recognition."

When asked why she thought her peers recognized her efforts for this year's award, Belding admitted it was a hard question to answer. Overall, she feels she was recognized thanks to a few significant measurable successes in Forest Pharmaceuticals' fleet.

"But I was not able to produce those successes on my own," she pointed out. "You have to have the support of your organization, staff, family, business partners, and peers."

So just what does make Belding successful in her role? This question was not hard for Belding to answer.

"Defining what success looks like and then knowing how to make it happen," she said. "In addition, knowing where and who your resources are and how to use them is critical." 

She also operates under the firm personal business philosophy of "getting the job done."

"There are going to be challenges, changes and obstacles, but the end result is that the job needs to get done," Belding explained.

Depending on Family, Life Influences & Inspiration

Belding also attributes a great deal of her life's inspiration and success to the support of family and friends, including her husband, Scott, and two children, Emily (age 12) and Adam (age 10).

Belding's husband of 14 years, Scott Belding, also works for Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in the Facilities Services Department.

"Yes, we did meet at work!" Belding said. 

While Belding is not attending her children's basketball, volleyball, soccer, and baseball games, she enjoys running races and participating in triathlons. In March of this year, Belding completed her first half marathon.

"I am just a little competitive, so participating in races helps keep me motivated to exercise," she said. "I like exercise, but training for something makes it a little more exciting."

Belding is about to celebrate another milestone in her life: celebrating her 20th anniversary with Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. later this year, an achievement she's quite proud of. This accomplishment is especially sweet for Belding for a very personal reason.

"I would have to say that one of the biggest influences in my life is my dad," she said. "My dad was a police officer for the City of St. Louis for 35 years. He worked hard every day of his life, and he was dedicated to his employer. He shaped my dedication and work ethic."

Benchmarking with Peers a Vital Part of Belding's Success

As senior manager of fleet services, Belding oversees all aspects of U.S. and Puerto Rico-based fleet operations for Forest Pharmaceuticals, including fleet management, fleet staff supervision, vendor relations, and fleet safety programs, including accident management, driver risk-level analysis, and safety training.

Belding manages a fleet staff of three, including Senior Fleet Administrator Lisa Geringer, who is the day-to-day contact for the company's drivers, as well as fleet management company Automotive Resources International (ARI), on all things fleet not related to safety. Assistant Manager Fleet Safety Deb Burns and Fleet Safety Assistant Beth Salmo handle the day-to-day safety operations, from managing accident repairs to monitoring driver risk-level increases.

The company's fleet includes 2,950 vehicles, which are driven by pharmaceutical sales representatives and their various levels of management. The company also has a small executive fleet. Vehicles are replaced on a 36-month/75,000-mile cycle.

Belding noted that the following best practices contributed to the fleet's dramatic reduction of costs in 2010:

1. Senior management support.  "Many of the changes in my fleet would not have been possible without this," Belding said.

2. Policy enforcement. "This goes along with number one," she said. "The safety policy has consequences for high-risk drivers. Being able to enforce this policy has improved our accident rates and reduced the number of high-risk drivers."

3. Educate and involve all levels of management. "Our driver's first line management not only is aware of the policy, but they understand why it is there and why it is important to enforce it," Belding pointed out. "If people do not understand the reason for change or for action, there will not be buy-in and acceptance."

4. Benchmark. "There is no need to recreate the wheel," she said. "There are many fleet managers with a wealth of knowledge who have had successes and failures."

Optimizing Vehicle Replacement a Success

In summer 2010, Belding and her team optimized vehicle replacement by committing to getting their model-year-2011 vehicles ordered early to take advantage of the historically strong fall resale market.

"Because we had in the past offered so many different makes and models, this was harder to achieve," she said. "Limiting the number of offerings helped us get the orders out on time and allowed us to sell many of our vehicles in the fall."

Vehicle offerings were reduced significantly in 2010 to help generate cost savings. Three years ago, at each ordering level, Belding would offer five to six vehicles, plus a snow belt vehicle in approved areas. Because the fleet had many levels of vehicles, the number of vehicles offered was up to 18 different offerings in any given model year. Belding began reducing the number of vehicles offered during the past two years, and especially during 2010.

"My Level 1 drivers had only three choices this year; Levels 2 and 3 had four choices," she said. "Going back to benchmarking, it helped to know that most other pharmaceutical fleets were doing the same, and many were ahead of Forest in making their decision."

So how did Belding keep drivers happy while reducing the number of vehicles offered? "We offered two sedans and a smaller SUV, all nicely equipped," she said. "We made sure that the vehicles we offered were vehicles our drivers would like."

Daily Rental Spend, Fuel Management & Web-Based Training

Effectively managing rental spend also contributed to the 2010 fleet savings of more than $5 million dollars. Setting new parameters and communicating those parameters was key.

"Both ARI and CEI (safety partner) knew that rental spend was a pain point for me," Belding said. "Communicating that reducing this spend and monitoring, what I call, 'run-away rentals,' was important and allowed us to operate with the same goal in mind."

Fleet management limited the number of pre-authorized rentals allowed before a diagnosis is reached, as well as cutting out weekend rentals and rentals for routine maintenance. However, if there is a safety or driveability concern, these types of rentals are considered.

The other long-term hot button for fleets is no different at Forest Pharmaceuticals: effective fuel management. Belding was able to decrease fuel consumption during 2010 by transitioning more drivers into four-cylinder models. 

For several years, Forest has had a minimum fuel economy standard of 20 mpg with a 70-percent weighting on the city economy figure for all vehicles offered. And while fleet was meeting this standard with six-cylinder vehicle offerings, it was not seeing a reduction in fuel. As a result, the fleet team made the decision to slowly incorporate four-cylinder vehicles. 

"At first, we offered both four- and six-cylinder models, but added options to the four-cylinder models to make them more appealing to the drivers," Belding said. "When model-year 2011 is complete, all of our six-cylinder models will be phased out at Level 1. As a result, for two years, we have seen a reduction in the number of gallons purchased despite an increase in miles driven."

Another key initiative Belding helped implement during 2010 to identify higher-­risk drivers was a Web-based driver assessment and training tool, which ranks drivers into risk levels based on accidents and motor vehicle violations.

"The training piece is two-fold," she said. "There is the reactionary component that assigns training based on a new event in the driver profile, i.e., accident or violation. We can also push proactive modules to specific drivers or the entire driver population. One of the features that I believe contributes to our success is that the managers have access to the profiles of their employees and are notified when new events occur. This gets the managers involved and makes them accountable for their drivers' behavior."

As a result of the implementation of this new tool, claims were down significantly in 2010 over 2009. When asked how such an achievement was garnered in such a short time, Belding said, "I am going to steal this mantra from one of my training partners: 'Believe in the plan.' We have diligently, over the past several years, developed and followed the plan."

And according to Belding, the plan is simple: Develop a safety policy and enforce it, monitor high-risk drivers and educate them, communicate to the organization that safety is important, and challenge your drivers to get better.

"But, as I already mentioned, without senior management support, complete plan execution would not be possible," Belding said. "I am afforded the opportunity to present our successes and challenges to the entire sales management team almost annually. I show them how far we have come and where we can be if we 'believe in the plan.' "

Moving forward, Belding will continue to deal with two major fleet hot topics: driver distractions and fuel management.

"Communication with your drivers is critical to managing both," she pointed out. "We have pushed online training modules on distracted driving and driving habits that reduce fuel consumption, and we already have the four-cylinder vehicles in place to help with the price of fuel. At this point, we are going to monitor consumption and track the price of fuel."


At A Glance

Theresa Belding of Forest Pharmaceuticals is a four-time nominee of Automotive Fleet's Professional Fleet Manager of the Year award. She attributes her win to several efforts, including:

● Strong fleet staff.

● Supportive family, industry peers, and senior management.

● Well thought-out game plan and execution.


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