Element Discusses Integration Strategy
Celebrating the first day as part of Element at the Eden Prairie, Minn. campus were (L-R) Brad Nullmeyer, president, Element Financial Corp.; Kristi Webb, president & CEO, North American Fleet Management; Jim Halliday, executive vice president; Steve Hudson, CEO, and William Lovatt, chairman of Element Financial Corp.
Element Financial Corporation, upon closing its acquisition of GE Capital's U.S. fleet business, has now turned its attention toward integrating the two entities.
Automotive Fleet sat down with Kristi Webb, president and CEO of Element Fleet Management, to learn more about how this integration will occur. What follows is an excerpt from the interview:
AF: Congratulations on being named president & CEO of Element's fleet management business. What is the first thing you did upon being formally named president of the new company? What would you like to accomplish in the next 12 months?
Webb: This has been an incredibly busy and exciting time. The first day, when I introduced myself to the Element fleet management team in Sparks, Md., at a town hall meeting, I was overwhelmed at the reception I received. The next week, we closed the U.S. portion of the GE Fleet Services acquisition.
On Sept. 1, the Eden Prairie, Minn., campus was transformed virtually overnight into Element Fleet Management for an amazing "Day 1" celebration. Not just the sign on the building — every detail, right down to the coffee mugs and journals on every employee's desk had the Element logo.
It spoke to our new unified future together as Element's fleet management team. It really sets the tone for what we want to do.
Then, I went on the road to meet with Element team members and customers who are extremely supportive of our vision for the future of fleet management. On Sept. 10, just nine days later, we announced our North American senior leadership team — an incredibly talented and experienced group drawn from across the combined Element organization.
My vision for the first 12 months is simple: First, take care of our customers. Customers count on us to help them get the vehicles they need, when they need them; to take care of their drivers; to lower costs; and to be their fleet experts. This is the core of what we do. And, it's critical to our vision to be a catalyst for innovation in fleet management.
Creating a unified culture is a big focus for our team. Across our own business, we have to be what we're calling "One Team, One Element" — unified inside and out. There is no "GE" or "PHH" or "TLS" — we're all Element now with a singular focus on being a world-class fleet management company for our customers.
Fully aligning and optimizing these operations won't happen overnight, but I am energized to see the level of engagement across our teams now that we're able to work together.
Finally, Element now has the scale to invest in the future, to develop and innovate around technologies such as predictive analytics and the connected vehicle, as well as next-generation fleet management platforms. We will innovate together, hand-in-hand with our customers.
It all comes back to taking care of our customers. When I talk about the new Element Fleet Management with customers, they are eager to engage with us on shaping the future — and they can count on us to deliver every day.
AF: Tell me how you selected your new senior leadership team.
Webb: Across the teams in North America, there is a tremendous wealth of talent and generations of experience. We chose a leadership team that will enable continuity for customers and operational and commercial excellence. We have a drive to keep improving and leading the fleet industry in innovation.
AF: Where will the official headquarters for the Element Financial Corporation North American Fleet business be located?
Webb: I know a lot of people are asking this question. I think what really matters is that we are putting our focus on maintaining continuity in our working relationships with customers so that every customer benefits from our value proposition.
We're going to continue to have significant U.S. operations in both Eden Prairie, Minn., and Sparks, Md. We haven't declared a business headquarters at this time, but I can tell you that my leadership team and I will be spending a good deal of time with our teams across our locations.
AF: Who are the members of the internal team in charge of developing the integration plan and how will this process work? What is the time line to complete the integration process and what have you learned from previous integrations?
Webb: We are taking a thoughtful and deliberate approach to integration, looking at our products, services, technology and processes across the board. We expect the process to be completed over the course of 12 to18 months. We are taking this time to ensure we put to work the lessons we have learned from previous integrations. Our approach and focus will allow us to ensure an effective transition for customers, and to engage both customers and our employees in the integration process.
I am extremely pleased to have Mary Sticha leading our integration team and Bob Sandler as a key leader on that team. Here we have two people who live and breathe fleet management and have been deeply involved in our industry. There couldn't be better representatives of our customers leading the integration team.
The integration team is made up of leaders representing operations, products and services, commercial, technology, marketing and finance. The teams started planning before the sale closed. Now, they are able to align and work together to ensure continuity for our customers and present a unified face to the market.
AF: When you integrate products, processes, and personnel, your goal is to evaluate the best of the best. What is the methodology that will be employed for the selection process?
Webb: We're taking this deliberate, thoughtful approach across the board on our integration.
The first step is to take pride of ownership out of the equation. Brad Nullmeyer (president, Element Financial Corporation) made a great decision early on to have an independent consulting firm lead the evaluation process for our technology platform. We're looking across the technology platform, at customer response and use, impact of changes, financial, and process considerations.
When we announce our decision in this area, we'll feel confident telling customers that we made the right decision, and that we're putting them on the right path toward a next-generation solution.
With respect to products and processes, we are doing deep dive reviews to understand current features and processes of both companies. This helps us identify gaps and opportunities to make these products and processes better. We plan to leverage a newly formed Integration Customer Advisory Board to provide input and assistance in prioritizing these opportunities.
AF: How do you envision the new company will look following the completion of the integration? Will it be different than the standalone GE and Element fleet businesses? How will the newly integrated company differentiate itself from competitive FMCs?
Webb: There's never been another company like this! As GE's Fleet Services business and as Element Fleet Management, we shared a vision for the future of fleet management. That vision involves taking the core of what we do for customers and harnessing technology to deliver better solutions. But, alone we didn't have the necessary scale and scope to invest what it will take to make this happen.
As a combined business, we have the scale — and the vision — to invest in the resources needed to develop and deploy the next generation of advanced fleet analytics and data benchmarking.
Our scale will matter to companies of all sizes. For example, Element's greater scale will give it access to a deeper reservoir of fleet data that will enable fleet managers to make more insightful decisions that lower costs, improve safety and optimize fleet performance in new ways.
AF: Many of Element's customers are small and mid-market fleets, those with fewer than 100 vehicles. What would you say to these customers who fear they may be "lost in the shuffle" of the integration, and that Element will focus on their larger customers?
Webb: Element's small and mid-market fleet customers should expect no changes to the level of service they've been receiving. Looking ahead, our vision is that small and mid-market customers will benefit from the scale of our fleet management business, taking advantage of an even deeper reservoir of fleet data. As we continue to improve in areas like predictive analytics, this depth of data will be of more benefit to more customers over time.
AF: Are there "cultural differences" between the former GE team and Element? If yes, how will these two cultures be melded into one common culture?
Webb: There are differences in culture between the companies. (On a personal level, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan is a real challenge for me when I'm in Baltimore Ravens country!)
What really strikes me, though, are the similarities. We speak the same language; we have similar cultures based on customer focus, execution, and innovation.
What's really added a great deal to the culture is the Element team in Toronto, Canada, bringing their entrepreneurial spirit and an emphasis on speed and flawless execution.
I think the market is going to see a bigger company, with deep resources, that is able to be surprisingly nimble and decisive in the market.
AF: How long do you anticipate having to operate on two technology platforms? How do you envision the consolidation of technologies between the two companies? What platform will new customers use?
Webb: Our plan is to let current customers stay on the platform where they are comfortable while we begin working on the industry's next generation platform. We are looking forward to incorporating innovative features and enhancements based on customer insights. Decisions will be made by a cross section of our team, considering a range of factors, including customer impact, technology platform, and financial impact.
New customers will have an opportunity to choose either platform for the short term as the new platform is being developed.
AF: Have you had the opportunity to discuss Element's integration plans with your suppliers such as OEMs? How will they partner with Element to help ensure a seamless process?
Webb: Our partners and the OEMs have been incredibly supportive. Our focus right now is on making sure that any transitions we do with our partners, suppliers and OEMs are not disruptive to our customers.
Looking ahead, our partners are a key part of our value proposition. Fleet management sits at the center of a network of mission-critical fleet services. More than ever, we're going to be working with our partners to ensure that data from their products and services becomes part of the mix. This data integration combined with analytics will inform how we help our customers meet their goals for cost savings, productivity, safety, environmental impact, and more.
AF: All of the GE vehicle titles are currently housed at a GE Center of Excellence in Billings, Mont. Will the new company continue to store them off site? Will storage of vehicle titles, from the two companies, be consolidated? How will future vehicles be titled? Will they be titled, D.L. Peterson Trust, or will they be titled differently?
Webb: Vehicle titles currently managed by the GE Center of Excellence in Montana will be transitioned back in-house — our transition services agreement with GE gives us 12 months to accomplish this. We have a number of options for storing the titles — including in the current Element title vault, or the previous Eden Prairie title vault. With respect to new vehicle titling, no decision has been made yet.
AF: Most large mergers and acquisitions enjoy economies of scale within the new, larger group. Where does Element see such savings in the GE and Element integrations?
Webb: We've announced a target of $90 million to $95 million USD integration savings. We'll reach these targets largely through benefits of scale in procurement, technology infrastructure and cost of funds, and the process of locking up these savings is already well underway.
These savings will benefit our customers but what we are really excited about are the benefits from this combination that our customers will see in terms of Element's ability to invest, innovate, and enhance value of what we can do for them.
AF: Will the integrated Truck Operations from GE and Element report to you or will they report to the headquarters office in Canada?
Webb: Truck is a key component of our value proposition. Customers often have fleet operations that they want to manage in a blended way. Given this, there are no plans to change the way we support trucks today. We are looking forward to supporting more customers with their material handling needs. We also are looking at opportunities to leverage the expertise in Element's Commercial & Vendor Finance vertical.
AF: Could you elaborate on Arval's role with the newly integrated company? Will the forthcoming technology platform integration incorporate Arval providing it will full asset visibility for shared international clients?
Webb: Philipe Bismut, CEO of Arval, spoke to the team in Sparks, Md., the same day that I did. The whole team could sense his excitement about the Element-Arval alliance in fleet management.
Now, we have greater scale. When the transactions are completed, we will have fleet management operations in Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand as well as the U.S. and Canada. Arval will grow with its purchase of the GE Fleet business in Europe.
I'm glad that Jim Halliday is focused on our global value proposition in his new role. The Arval partnership dates back 20 years to its roots with PHH and is continuing to grow and strengthen at a time when more and more fleet managers are seeking global solutions and visibility to data to manage their global fleets. They want a common view of their global fleets, and that's something we can deliver, with depth that will increase over time. We will be able to do more, for more customers, in more places.
Our breadth and depth globally will be unmatched.