Looking at Fleet with a 40-Year Perspective
A front-line participant for four decades, Helene Kamon, VP of sales for AmeriFleet, shares observations of past and future changes in the fleet industry, as well as women’s experiences in the field.
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"If you love what you do, it's really not work." Helene Kamon
's words characterize a 40-year career in an industry she believes offers an "awesome career path for anyone."
A self-described "entrepreneur at heart," Kamon has witnessed a fleet industry evolving with economic, operational, technological, and cultural shifts and developments. It's also an industry with "wonderful challenges," she said, admitting especially enjoying being "addicted to the adrenaline rush" of meeting those challenges.
Career Begins in Chicago
Vice-president of sales for fleet management services and vehicle transport/storage company AmeriFleet, Kamon began her industry career in 1960 working for a small Chicago leasing company, Dealers CadiLease.
Founded by a group of 10 Cadillac dealers to fund leases, the company gave Kamon the "chance to learn everything. I ran maintenance management and insurance, typed chattel mortgages, handled license titles, sold cars, and brought the boss coffee." The company was later bought by Union Leasing.
After leaving Dealers CadiLease, Kamon had a "few jobs, including working for a funding company." She then joined Wendy's, handling the hamburger eatery chain's fleet for the next 11 years.
"Fleet and I grew exponentially while I was there," recalled Kamon. "I started with 350 cars in fleet and when I left, the fleet numbered 2,000 vehicles in the U.S. and Canada."
She worked directly with Wendy's founder and CEO Dave Thomas and remembers him fondly.
"Dave Thomas was a sweet man, fun. Just like in his Wendy's commercial - simple, down to earth, but very smart in a street sense. Even though he was a multimillionaire, he preferred the $14.95 white dress shirt with short sleeves from JC Penney's that he had always worn."
Leaving Wendy's, Kamon ran her own driveaway company for seven years before joining AmeriFleet, drawn by the company's plans to transform the driveaway business "into a professional format," she said.
"There was a big opportunity for improvement in areas such as technology, the Web, and electronics. The driveaway business had been very primitive - no e-billing, no reports on vehicle location or storage; drivers were contract laborers with no background checks," Kamon remembered.
An affiliate member of NAFA Fleet Management Association, Kamon also served as the first woman president of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) in 1988-1989.
Fleet Industry Evolves & Adapts
Over the past four decades, Kamon has seen the fleet industry evolve and adapt to new business realities and developments.
Entering the industry in the 1960s, it was an entrepreneurial "boom time," with "bigger-than-life" pioneering figures such as Zollie Frank of Wheels; Duane Peterson; Harley Howell and Richard Heather at PHH; and Pat Starr from Consolidated Service Corp. in Chicago, Kamon recalls.
During her career, Kamon has observed small leasing companies disappear as larger fleet leasing and management companies began to dominate the industry.
"It's all about funding and processes that these big companies can provide the market as opposed to the smaller lease companies that provided service," she said.
In contrast, the number of "huge fleet dealers that made their names selling quantities of vehicles" has now been overtaken by "smaller, more efficiently run operations," said Kamon.
"Technology has changed a lot" in the fleet industry, helping leasing companies to "really come into the forefront," Kamon noted. "In the beginning, many companies handled their own fleet operations, not working with a lease partner. Now that has come full circle" as fleet tasks increasingly are outsourced.
"Honestly," Kamon said, "I see more outsourcing happening even by leasing companies as they contract out those things that aren't their core business - leasing cars."
Future Holds Challenges
The industry's future will be "extremely challenging," Kamon believes. Technology will continue to play a "huge role" as companies streamline operations and staffing.
"Technology can tell where the car is, what it's doing, its emissions, engine status, etc. We now can get endless data to manage. It doesn't require a lot of people to collect or analyze data," Kamon said.
The upheaval among domestic auto manufacturers will leave an "indelible impact on the future," Kamon predicted. "Forty years ago, there were many more models and no foreign-labeled vehicles in fleet. But it's a world market now. American cars have parts from everywhere. It's a different world."