‘How I Got Into Fleet’
Automotive Fleet asked several industry veterans to share how their careers in the fleet
management industry began.
Fleet management isn't the type of career path most would have envisioned for themselves before they entered the workforce. However, those who have made a career in fleet management find it challenging and rewarding. Many entered the industry by happenstance and have never looked back. In their own words, industry peers share their stories of how they got started in fleet.
Donna Bibbo, CAFM
Manager, Fleet & Travel
Novo Nordisk, Inc.
In 1989, I was extremely happy in my position as executive administrator to the president of Pharmacia Biotech when our company was turned upside down. The year hadn't been going well, and it was decided that my boss run the division in Milwaukee. That left me boss-less, and the new president coming in already had an administrator.
Luckily, I was just about to graduate from college (having taken courses at night for many years) with my Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. The vice president of Finance knew this and came to me and said, "Have I got a job for you!" Famous last words! He told me I could be his executive administrator again (I had started at Pharmacia with him) or I could become the manager of Administrative Services, which was what he really wanted me to do. As he explained, Administrative Services would contain everything that didn't currently have a home in the recent shake-up of the company - including fleet. Additionally, I took on purchasing, travel, management of the cafeteria, and the installation of the new phone system, among other things.
Needless to say, I didn't even know what fleet management was except that my boss had a company vehicle, and there was absolutely no one to train me. The last person who had been handling fleet (a secretary in Manufacturing) had been let go. So here I was with 900 vehicles, two leasing companies, and not a clue! The VP of Finance, good guy that he was, told me that if I could find any training at all, he would be willing to pay for it. There was no Internet back then, so I went to the library and looked through the Encyclopedia of Associations and found NAFA. I contacted them, and they sent me information on the upcoming fleet management seminar in Cleveland. I signed up and also joined the New Jersey chapter.
Now, 22 years later, I'm still managing fleet (now 3,000-plus vehicles) and travel - although for a different company - and still loving every minute of it. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and that by being thrown into fleet management, I really found my niche.
Senior Director Global Procurement
Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP)
My road to fleet, while perhaps not unique in its tangential approach, is a bit off-kilter. To begin with, I earned a BA degree in Technical Theatre Arts, but ended up in the accounts payable (A/P) department of a grocery chain early in my career. (Falling in love and getting married do strange things to a person!)
After the chain went belly-up, I ended up at a regional LTL (less-than-truckload) trucking company in New Jersey paying bills, with an office above the loading dock. This was in the late '80s, so it took some time to find another position. I was lucky enough to land a job at Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceuticals, again in their A/P department.
At that time, the Roche fleet department reported to the same director as A/P. After several successful process improvement projects in A/P, the fleet manager was looking to move into sales operations. I was asked if I wanted to take over fleet and I accepted.
My first NAFA Fleet Management Institute (FMI) was in Seattle three weeks after my move, and like most fleet managers, it consisted of several FMCs sending me invitations to attend their dinners. Not knowing the proper protocol, I sought the aid of the previous manager as to whose invitation I should accept. She told me I could choose whichever one I wished, as all the contacts made would be beneficial throughout my career. ARI was hosting the Smothers Brothers as the entertainment, who I grew up with and love! I attended the ARI dinner and the show was phenomenal, but I found out that Wheels (which was Roche's FMC) distributed commemorative watches at its dinner. Being a real tchotchke fanatic, I wanted a watch, but no matter how much I asked later, I didn't get one. To this day, my wrist gets tan in the sun.
S G & A Procurement Agent
Benjamin Moore & Co.
I suspect I'm one of the few who developed a taste for fleet very early on. For years, I had followed the Formula One races - my first experience was at Watkins Glen prior to college. Although I never expected it would be a career, I've always had an interest in cars - the who, where, how, why, and when.
My first car was "Christine." I suspect Stephen King owned it, too. The bug bit me, but my career path initially steered me to market research (where I surprisingly did a study on tires). My next stint was teaching; I really needed a career that would not create a problem with me getting to the Indy 500 annually.
After beginning a family with the "Demon Child" who needed no sleep, my career path changed drastically. He gave me no choice - I would either be a full-time mom or become one of the walking sleepless dead.
Fortunately, I landed a part-time position in a small data processing company where I did everything from answering phones to purchasing a new phone system, mainframes, PCs, and various office supplies. When they could no longer afford me (or I could no longer afford to work for what they could afford to pay), I started a search for something full-time.
I knew I didn't want to go back to teaching. If I was going to be abused by children, that child would be mine. I took a job as a secretary to the general manager of operations in a global electronics firm. At the time, fleet was part of operations. It was a natural step for me. No one wanted to deal with it. My hands were somewhat tied initially, but I soon "took over." Of course, there were numerous additional areas and I was soon purchasing phone systems, office equipment, and construction projects, along with other tasks. Eventually, fleet landed in the Environmental and Property Control area and I went with it.
My current position entails much more than fleet. Although I would love to find that "fleet only" position, they are few and far between, so I'll be happy shopping for all sorts of things without ever paying the bills out of my pocket. I get to buy all sorts of cars for numerous purposes - currently in the U.S. and Canada. The people in this industry are fantastic. I have yet to meet a "car or truck person" I don't like.
Fleet Operations Manager
I started with GE as a T&L auditor. At the time, this position reported to the person who was also fleet manager. I left this department after a few years for an accounts receivable position. During this time, T&L and fleet became their own departments.
I was coming back to work after the birth of my first son, and the fleet accountant position opened, which meant working for the fleet manager, my old boss. He hired me immediately. At that time, we had a four-person department.
During this time, he provided me more responsibility, basically learning all functions of fleet management. I went out on maternity leave for my second son and came back to find out the fleet manager was retiring. We were in the process of downsizing the department to fleet accountant and fleet manager. He retired, and I ran the entire department myself, waiting for the decision of who was going to be assigned the fleet manager role. After six months, I was given the job as fleet manager...but alas, no fleet accountant position was going to be filled. That is how it has been for the past 20 years.
Coinmach Corporation & Appliance Warehouse
In early 1995, I was an unemployed single mom, searching desperately for an administrative assistant position. In July of that year, I started a temp position for Pizza Hut headquarters on the day the company moved from Wichita, Kan., into its new building in Dallas. It was chaotic.
My assignment for six weeks was in the staffing department. I was actually screening candidates for administrative jobs. I was finally hired as a permanent employee, taking on a role as administrator to the senior director of Compensation and Benefits - as well as being the fleet administrator. I flew (on the company jet, no less) to Wichita and sat with the outgoing administrator for one whole day. She was part of the downsizing and very little info was shared. Pizza Hut had 750 vehicles at the time and I had no idea what I was doing. Thanks to the local NAFA chapter and fleet veteran Pat Turner, I didn't get fired. It was at this point in time I earned my nickname "Lisa Pizza" from the Ford NAM Bill Haynes.
I then passed along the department admin role to someone else and took over the KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers, and A&W Restaurants fleets and reported up to the owner company, Yum! Brands. I moved on to Coinmach Corporation in February 2006 and a completely different fleet of 1,200 light- and medium-duty trucks. It's always been a learning experience and I treasure those friends I've met and maintained along the way.
I just wish someone had told me that "fleet" was a life sentence when I got started.