Taking the Headache Out of Executive Fleet Management
Managing a fleet of executive vehicles can be a challenge, and the resources and time required can be out of proportion to the numbers. Here are some tips to get the job done with ease.
Managing company vehicles is challenging and rewarding. Fleet managers generally enjoy what they do, and the profession can be a springboard to greater responsibilities. But, if there is one aspect that can make the job nerve wracking, it is managing executive vehicles.
Fleet managers face a number of challenges when working with executive fleets that just don’t exist elsewhere: executive egos, demands for special attention, keeping high-line vehicles on the road, tending to personal needs, and providing hands-on assistance. All of these demands can leave a fleet manager with a splitting headache. But, there are ways that, with proper preparation, the task can be handled smoothly and relatively painlessly.
Defining the ‘Executive’ Vehicle
How an executive vehicle is classified differs from company to company. The bulk of the regular fleet will often have different levels on the selector — from sales/service, to supervisory, to management, and sometimes up to the director or vice president level. Clearly, a branch manager or other supervisory vehicle isn’t normally classified as having an executive vehicle; however, at the director or vice president level, the challenges begin to show. Logically, the higher up in the organization, the more speed bumps there will be when managing executive vehicles.
Thus, the first step in managing executive fleets is to define exactly what vehicles qualify for each executive designation. For the most part, fleets limit executive vehicles to those that are purely compensatory — vehicles provided as compensation rather than those that are mission-centric.
A sales or service representative needs transportation to do the job. So, too, does the branch manager or other direct supervisor and perhaps even a regional director or field vice president. Whereas most “C-level” (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.), senior line management (president, senior, or executive vice president), and then senior divisional or business unit level management tend to receive these executive level, compensatory vehicles.
Building C-Level Relationships
Dealing with authority-minded egos among senior managers is one of the biggest challenges to running a smooth operation in executive vehicle management. Managers don’t achieve the highest levels of their profession due to humility. C-level managers are rife with strong, confident personalities — which leadership requires — and this can be intimidating for a department manager trying to both serve them and execute company policies. This is where relationship building becomes an important first step.
It isn’t likely that a fleet manager will have a close relationship with the CEO or any other senior manager; there are simply too many layers and levels of responsibility between the two. That said, some contact is inevitable, and taking advantage of that contact can provide a foundation upon which a successful executive fleet program can be built.
Everyone, no matter what they do, likes to be asked for their opinion, and this is particularly true with executives. Fleet managers should develop a level of comfort and familiarity with senior leadership to manage executives’ vehicles with ease.
It is a natural reaction to be intimidated by a C-level executive — sometimes it’s warranted; often it isn’t. Most senior executives will be cooperative and respect the fleet manager’s time and expertise; however, there are occasions when they don’t require immediate, personal attention, yet still bully their subordinates simply because they can.
This kind of behavior can be alleviated when the fleet manager has had some level of casual, personal communication. Finding common ground such as pastimes, hobbies, family activities, or sports may be used as leverage when an uncomfortable situation occurs.
Another challenge is time constraints, both for the executive and for the fleet manager. It works in both directions. For example, when the fleet manager sees that the executive’s vehicle is due for service, he or she isn’t available. Conversely, when the executive sees his or her vehicle is due for service, the fleet manager isn’t available.
Delegation is key (by both parties) to addressing this challenge. Most senior executives have an administrative assistant who handles (or can handle) scheduling. Build a relationship with him or her.
No matter how loyal and protective a secretary might be, he or she will always be more accessible than the executive. Work on the same kind of relationship building — stop by the office with a dozen donuts or fresh coffee now and then. Ask about family or common interests, and make certain that he or she knows how important access to an executive’s schedule is.
At some point, you may request that the executive’s administrators provide you with a weekly schedule. This will help a fleet manager schedule maintenance, cleaning/detailing, and repairs around an executive’s schedule.