CEI's New President/CEO on Leadership Change
(L-R) Wayne Smolda, chairman of the board for The CEI Group, introduces John Wysseier as the new president & CEO, with Claudia Smolda, chief of staff. Photo: CEI
John Wysseier has returned to The CEI Group as president and CEO more than a decade after he departed the collision management company.
With the move, CEI founder Wayne Smolda moves into a new role as chairman of the board, where he will focus on growing the company’s global business among other duties. Claudia Smolda, a co-founder, will remain in her role as chief of staff.
Wysseier most recently served as managing director for Solera Holdings Business Process Outsourcing segment and president of LYNX Services, a third-party provider of claims management services in the property and casualty insurance segment.
Wysseier spent five years with CEI, from 2001 to 2006. He initially led business development and operations. In 2004, he helped start a business unit of CEI in Barcelona as managing director of European operations.
Wysseier will report to Jim Halliday, president and CEO of Element Fleet Management International. Element acquired CEI in December 2016.
AF: John, congrats on your new position as president and CEO of The CEI Group. With this leadership change, does this mean there will be a change in direction or strategy with The CEI Group?
Wysseier: There are no immediate changes planned. We became a leader in driver safety and accident management by constantly looking to innovate through continuous investment in technology, to raise the customer service bar by hiring the best people and improving processes, and to pursue new opportunities for growth. Today, CEI is the premier accident management company in the world. So, we won’t stray from that winning formula.
CEI maintains a rigorous strategic planning process which provides the roadmap for achieving our goals. Our strategy is to outpace our competition through the delivery of value-added innovations in support of our customers. We will continue to ensure the CEI strategy addresses current market conditions, strengthens our leading market position, and continues to set the industry standard in customer service excellence.
John Wysseier rejoined The CEI Group as president and CEO. Earlier in his career, Wysseier spent five years with CEI from 2001 to 2006. He initially led business development and operations for CEI. In 2004, Wysseier helped start a business unit of CEI in Barcelona, Spain, as managing director of European operations. Photo: CEI
AF: What is your vision as to the best way to position The CEI Group for the future and what is your strategy to get there? Specifically, what are your short- and long-term goals to grow The CEI Group?
Wysseier: My short-term goal is to create a clear vision by seeking the counsel of CEI leaders, our employees, our customers, our parent company — Element Fleet Management, and other industry experts. As a former CEI executive, I was fortunate enough to see firsthand the quality people and the unique culture that continues to drive CEI’s success and competitive advantage. I expect to make my own contribution to CEI’s future by working with our team to create a shared vision and strategic focus.
I am fortunate to have the continued guidance of our Chairman of the Board, Wayne Smolda, who has been a valued mentor during my career. Likewise, Claudia Smolda’s presence will help CEI during this leadership transition by keeping us true to our culture that embraces each employee and each customer as an important member of our extended family.
AF: John, could you provide our readers with your fleet background and how it has positioned you take leadership of The CEI Group?
Wysseier: My introduction to CEI and the accident management and safety business came through PPG Industries, which had an ownership stake in CEI. I joined CEI in 2001, managing business development and operations. In 2004, I became managing director of CEI’s European operations, launching the business in Barcelona. Although the European accident management market was not a good fit for CEI, we gained tremendous experience that led to our recent alliance with CEPA International to provide global safety solutions.
Following my experience with CEI, I returned to PPG as executive vice president of the Insurance & Services Division, which ultimately formed Pittsburgh Glass Works. That company was later acquired by Solera Holdings. I served as managing director for Solera Holdings’ Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) segment while also serving as the president of LYNX Services, a leading third-party provider of claims management services within the U.S.-based Property and Casualty Insurance segment.
I understand CEI’s core positioning and expect to add my own strategic input subject to guidance and counsel from our founders and from Element.
AF: Wayne, what will be your responsibilities in your new role as chairman of the board?
Smolda: Although I will be stepping back from day-to-day operation of the business Claudia Smolda and I founded back in 1984, I will lend my experience and insights to John as he assumes leadership of our business. I will focus on overall business strategy, look at ways to grow the CEI business internationally, and assist in evaluating additional business opportunities. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the importance of Claudia’s continued presence as chief of staff. She will provide cultural continuity that will ensure a successful transition.
AF: What is your assessment of the current fleet market?
Smolda: I think that we are in a transformative era, and fleet industry suppliers from the OEMs, the fleet management companies, and all suppliers are focused on new technology-driven innovation to drive better results for their customers.
For example, this year alone, CEI introduced prescriptive analytics to identify “hidden” at-risk drivers; a new mobile DriverCare driver app that brings together crash reporting and driver safety tools; and new claims communications tools.
We see ourselves as the leader in fleet driver management solutions, but we recognize that the entire industry is just beginning to discover the opportunities presented by this digital information age.
AF: What are your initiatives for new products, technology investments, and service offerings to better serve your market?
Wysseier: In addition to bringing new technology that provides real-time, actionable data and enhanced products that help managers and drivers, the need for global safety solutions is an important initiative. CEI intends to be the industry’s most resourceful global fleet safety provider.
AF: What do you see as being the top trends currently facing your client fleets, and how are these trends going to play out in the future?
Smolda: I see the top trends as these:
- A “sharing economy” model, driven by generational disruptive trends, will surely impact fleet management decision-making. Evaluating owning versus using the mobility needed without the burden of ownership responsibilities will be critical.
- Autonomous self-driving vehicle technology. With both regulators and OEMs leading the charge here, it is a trend that companies need to begin mapping out today. Critical decisions regarding how today’s drivers adopt options beyond a company vehicle and the expanded impact of employment liability introduce new dimensions for companies.
- Global road safety. With multi-national fleets taking to the global highways especially in developing countries, they will face driving conditions that are woefully behind acceptable levels of road safety. Employees need to be trained on driving skills under difficult conditions to prevent increased corporate risk.
- Vehicle design and aftermarket repair. As engineers expand the design of vehicles, the individual repair shops may fail to keep up with technical qualifications for an adequate repair, negatively impacting safety. We also need to expect rising repair costs in order address this issue in the short term.
- Telematics and connected vehicles that help ascertain driver safety issues are increasingly important. There is much to be gained by “knowing” about events, episodes, and conditions in the “behind the wheel” workplace. When an employee is consistently speeding or harsh braking, real-time reporting and immediate remedial action can improve safety and lessen liability. Knowing about events that can impact risk levels allows managers to take action.
- The demand in global fleet safety is the last trend. Technology is finally catching up with the need for comprehensive data collection and analysis. The next step is to provide a single-source global solution built on acceptance and support of local operations around the world.
AF: John, when you were with CEI the first time, you managed the company’s European operations. Today, The CEI Group is part of the Global Safe Drive Alliance. What is the next step in the growth of the Global Safe Drive Alliance? What is your vision to expand CEI’s international presence?
Wysseier: The next step for our Global SafeDrive Alliance is to provide our customers operating multinational fleets with a true picture of, and an effective strategy for, their global safety program. Our customers tell us that they need a comprehensive approach. So, we can customize a solution comprising expert safety program consultation; strong policy guidelines; driver risk assessments; effective in-country training and e-learning; strategies for local operation support of the corporate program; ‘best practices’ certification; global reporting, and single-source administration and billing.
AF: What keeps you up at night in terms of the fleet marketplace? Do you have any concerns? For example, what long-term impact will the transition to autonomous vehicles and shared mobility services have on your business, if any?
Smolda: My biggest area of concern related to the fleet industry is the inability to predict the external forces that will impact our business and marketplace. Economic growth, geopolitical issues, industry disruption, and more can have a profound effect on the best laid plans. These issues keep us focused on our corporate goals and adaptation to achieve them.
In the same vein, the fleet industry already sees the need to expand its horizons and for product and service providers to compete in a brave new world of mobility and autonomous solutions. These solutions will impact behind-the-wheel employees in the next decade, but they will still demand cost as well as social and safety accountability. That need for accountability provides a window of opportunity for companies such as ours which are so data driven.
AF: Does The CEI Group have an appetite for acquisitions to grow its portfolio or use acquisitions as a way to enhance its business service offerings?
Smolda: We will look at every strategic alternative that can drive growth and help us achieve our corporate goals to better serve our customers. Since the acquisition of CEI by Element, we are confident that CEI has the financial and management support and independence necessary to keep us at the forefront of our industry as a true leader.
On Nov. 1, 2017, The CEI Group announced four executive appointments.
First, Eliot Bensel has been named vice president of account development. Bensel most recently served as vice president of technical sales and advisory services for Element Fleet Management, responsible for analytical consultation in support of risk, safety, and accident management programs. Over the course of a 25-year career at Element, he has led the Accident Management, Safety, Driver Records and Fleet Administration operations. Bensel will report to CEI President and CEO John Wysseier.
Next, Randy Denmyer has been promoted to vice president of accident management services. He began his career at Element in 2002 in vehicle accident services. He assumed several management roles beginning in 2009, responsible for repair management, supplier network and quality, and accident management delivery in the operating center in Sparks, Md. In that time, Denmyer has contributed to driving excellent levels of service. Denmyer will report to Bob Glose, senior VP, Operations & Enterprise Resources.
Ken Latzko has been promoted to vice president of sales and marketing. Latzko leads CEI’s sales, marketing, and sales support teams. He joined CEI in 2004 and served in a variety of positions with increasing responsibility in operations, sales support, communications, and sales. His experience includes operations troubleshooting and customer service for large accounts in the U.S. and Europe, strategic planning, and directing CEI’s growth in all fleet markets. Latzko will report to Wysseier.
Finally, Chris Villella has been promoted to vice president of strategic relationship management. Villella is responsible for strategic consulting and implementation activities for all of CEI’s accounts, and business development of accounts in special markets. He joined CEI in 1989 as a subrogation specialist and advanced to senior manager in loss recovery and insurance services in 2005, a position he held until being named senior director, account management in 2015. Villella will report to Wysseier.