The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Voices From the Past: Highlights From the 'Best of the Best'

A lot can change in a few years. Past Fleet Manager of the Year Award winners share their thoughts on the changes and challenges since winning the prestigious award and share tips on how you can become a winner — every day in fleet.

April 2012, by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

The Fleet Manager of the Year award.
The Fleet Manager of the Year award.

This year marks the 29th annual Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, presented by Automotive Fleet magazine and sponsored by Wheels, Inc. and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). Many of the past winners of this prestigious award are still active in the fleet industry today. Automotive Fleet reached out to them to find out how their jobs and the industry have changed since winning the award, and what advice they have for fleet managers striving to be the “best-of-the-best.”

This group of fleet managers loves their jobs. They understand the value of networking and mentorship. And, instead of complaining about changes, they embrace them.

Debbie Mize, 1995 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Corporate Services Manager, Fleet, Relocation & Travel
  • Hallmark
  • Total Years in Fleet: 35

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

MIZE: Winning the 1995 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award increased my credibility at my company and recognition within the industry. My career has been greatly expanded with additional responsibilities; the largest are our corporate travel and relocation programs.

I love my job and all the interaction it provides with others in my industry. There are continual changes and challenges and I have had so much support from both the vendor side as well as other fleet managers. I also really enjoy helping others who are new in the industry and eager for knowledge.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

MIZE: Since winning, I think there is so much more information and statistics on our fleets available, which is so helpful in making decisions in the best interests of the company.
AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

MIZE: Get involved with the NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) and network with other fleet managers. So many individuals become fleet managers within their current companies and receive little training.

Manufacturers and fleet management companies (FMCs) can also be extremely helpful, especially for a new fleet manager. I think the unique piece of the fleet industry is that most of us really have a passion for it and are so willing to help others with our experiences.

Sue Miller, CAFS, 1998 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Manager, Fleet Program and Services
  • McDonald’s Corp.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 33

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

MILLER: It added tremendous credibility to my position at McDonald’s. It created a new level of curiosity about what I do and why the award exists. I’m very fortunate and grateful that my leadership supports my individual success, not only for my own personal achievement and gratification, but also for the benefits it allows me to return to my company. I love my job, primarily because it is in constant motion and engages so many layers of business and politics — the world economy, sourcing, sustainability, HR, risk, safety, legal, and finance — it is global. It is dependent upon healthy vendor relationships and management of same; there is never a dull moment!

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

MILLER: It would take quite a while to list all the industry changes and impacts since 1998 that have presented new challenges! I would have to say that 2008 and 2009 were some of the toughest years on record. The biggest change I’ve seen in fleet management is the recognition of the many disciplines fleet managers must master to be effective.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

MILLER: Build relationships across all facets of the industry. Always remain open to ideas and input. Don’t allow yourself to become comfortable with your personal skill set or vendor relationships. Work together, but regularly set goals, measure results, survey your customers, challenge yourself, your team (if you supervise), and your vendor partners. Document your successes and keep your leadership engaged in what you do — consistently. Maintain your honor and integrity. Live your life with gratefulness and respect.

Shirley Collins, CAFM, 2000 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Director, North America Fleet
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Total Years in Fleet: 26

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

COLLINS: There have been many changes. Mergers and acquisitions have increased my scope of responsibilities, as well as assuming responsibility for the North America fleet. The economy alone has created many changes in fleet, including the increase of outsourcing/off-shoring. There have been increased compliance and emphasis on safety; however, some have increased the safety concerns, especially with distracted driving. Being named to the Fleet Hall of Fame was also an honor.

The fleet community and industry is a special group of people. I enjoy working with the different facets of fleet, both internally and externally. I enjoy the challenges and changes in fleet, which require flexible thinking and ongoing automation and process improvements. Choosing the right partners has been key to my success. As my staff has decreased, the dependence on proficient suppliers to help create solutions has gained in importance.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

COLLINS: The fleet industry has changed because the economy has changed. There is a more detailed understanding of the funding of vehicles and the financial impacts to the company are needed. OEM mergers and vehicle changes have also been a big change. The biggest challenge I am currently facing is integrating Canada and Puerto Rico into North America policies/procedures, while taking into consideration the local cultures.

Consolidations (mergers and acquisitions) have increased; there is more of an emphasis on improved IT capabilities; and an increased scope of responsibilities for fleet managers including global or regional fleets. Also, due to economic conditions, there is a closer scrutiny of financial situations; creditworthiness of suppliers is now imperative.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

COLLINS: Establish yourself, not just as a fleet manager, but as a manager that is required to be proficient in many areas. Network within your company using internal contacts in risk management, HR, environmental safety, sourcing, legal, etc., and let your accomplishments be known.

Schedule frequent updates with your management so they are aware of the work you are doing and any savings you have created for your company. Also, stay in touch with current fleet best practices by taking advantage of networking and education provided by the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) and the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Finally, choose your business partners wisely and take advantage of what they can offer to assist in your success.

Jim McCarthy, 2005 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Director of Fleet
  • Siemens Corp.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 20

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

McCARTHY: Winning the Award is an industry honor, so it means a lot more to people in the industry than to “outsiders.” That being said, I would like to think that being a recipient of this award in 2005 was instrumental in my Fleet Hall of Fame recognition in 2011. What the award did for our department was equally as important, if not more so — it essentially validated (to executive management) everything that our team had been working on for the past 10 years, mostly processes tied to consolidation and standardization. No matter how much time and effort we put into quantifying and marketing our end results, outside validation is always a welcome and positive reinforcement.

I like the industry, and I truly love the people, and especially their passion for what they do. It’s not just about cars and trucks — it’s about the entire “circle of life,” from vehicle concept to recycling.

Additionally, the diversity found throughout the total cost of ownership (TCO) process is both challenging and inspiring — from acquisition to financing, from safety to telematics, from depreciation to remarketing, it covers it all. I believe our team has been continuously good at managing their collective fleets, because we don’t accept the status quo. We are always looking for ways to improve processes, to drive value-added change, and to stay ahead of the curve.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

McCARTHY: Like many in our industry, our primary challenge over the past few years has been managing change, specifically departmental change tied to reporting lines, from finance to shared services and ultimately to procurement.

Although I am not thoroughly convinced fleet is a commodity, we are well into the mix and doing our best to pound those square pegs into the round holes — a bigger hammer might help a bit, but I’m not so sure. We have found it is imperative for fleet managers to remain operationally sound and strategically savvy when they find themselves in an extremely strong procurement environment. You need to keep TCO, the customer, and the driver first and foremost in everything that you do in spite of pressures to provide year-over-year savings. When all is said and done, the real challenge is to treat your clientele like customers and not users.

For me, one of the most notable changes is that in 1998 our corporate philosophy was to “Buy American;” however, today we are having a hard time even defining what “American” really is. So, over the years those lines defining “import” have moved from well-defined, to fuzzy, to almost non-distinct, and, as a result, we are enjoying a bit more flexibility and a broader mix of potential vehicle offerings.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

McCARTHY: Treat the position as a career, not just a job — first, because it very well may become your career (for me it was an 18-month assignment that has developed into an 18-year career) and secondly, because you always perform better when you build your goals and strategies based on a long-term vision.

Remember that the landscape is under constant revision, and we need to be able to manage at the highest level of competency no matter what the “current” landscape might be. When all is said and done, it’s always about the end results. Also, don’t wait for recognition — always market your successes upstream, not necessarily to pat yourself on the back, but to ensure the value-add of your department is recognized and understood.

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