- Photo: Courtesy of Lee Pierce

Photo: Courtesy of Lee Pierce

Lee Pierce, director of fleet for Nutrien Ag Solutions, was named the 2020 Edward J. Bobit Professional Fleet Manager of the Year. 

Pierce, who manages a fleet of approximately 18,000 vehicles, has been with Nutrien Ag Solutions for two years, and the fleet industry for 20 years.

She was honored for implementing fleet restructuring initiatives at her company and her overall achievements in the industry at the virtual 2020 Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association’s (AFLA) NextGen Conference on Oct. 6, 2020.

She helped implement major fleet organizational changes at Nutrien Ag Solutions to make it more operationally efficient in a wide range of areas that needed retooling, including centralizing the entire fleet. 

Nutrien Ag Solutions is an agricultural retailer of crop inputs and solutions.

Recognizing a Fleet Veteran

With more than two decades worth of experience managing a variety of fleet segments, the new organizational changes she is implementing are rooted in best practices she has learned over the years, which includes understanding the importance of incorporating more thorough review of data analytics.

“Through the years, I have learned when stepping in a new organization, that behavior and culture is what drives fleets, more so than the data it produces.  Getting your arms around this component is key to success,” said Pierce. “You must lead with transparency, showing them how we use data, how not having the data causes bad decision making. You must get everyone on the same page. Moving from a decentralized environment to centralized creates more control, but you must approach it strategically.” 

This was her first task when she became director.

“When I stepped into the organization, I looked at how we were operating, how we were collecting data, or how we weren’t collecting data, and trying to understand their needs and their desired outcome. Identify the leverage and benefits of a centralized fleet needs to be explained to an organization. There are many moving components that intertwin with each other. You must explain it in a way that brings people on board, they see it as a positive, therefore eliminates the resistance,” Pierce said. 

The goal of centralizing fleet at Nutrien is an ongoing process for Pierce, which she said could be a three- or four-year task to fully complete. However, she has taken up the challenge of gradually improving fleet in other areas, as well. This also includes reassessing the management of fuel, maintenance, and other key areas.

“I’ve always taken a very slow and methodical approach. What I do is listen to their problems, their concerns, understanding the nuances and the different geographic areas of the fleet, and sometimes showing you can be flexible. Rolling out a new maintenance and fuel program begins to make sense, as they understand how it all works together, the lifecycle. Having the data that proves these concepts becomes real, therefore easier to embrace,” said Pierce. “You must have your facts, data and statistics behind it in order for them to change.”

Lee Pierce credits her ability to overcome challenges in the industry to her father, George Zupp Jr., a former Ph.D mechanical engineer who worked at NASA for 40 years, who passed away earlier in 2020. - Photo: Courtesy of Lee Pierce

Lee Pierce credits her ability to overcome challenges in the industry to her father, George Zupp Jr., a former Ph.D mechanical engineer who worked at NASA for 40 years, who passed away earlier in 2020.

Photo: Courtesy of Lee Pierce

Pierce was also recognized for recovering over $500,000 in credits by auditing all of Nutrien’s vendors. These credits included reviewing smaller things, such as being charged the wrong sales tax and paying for sold vehicles, but she identified problems that touched other areas of fleet, including registration renewals, property taxes, sales taxes, services fees, etc.

“You take it across thousands of vehicles, and it’s a pretty big credit. That was one the first things I did when I joined Nutrien, is understand the services we were on what we’re getting billed for,” Pierce said. “And then trying to normalize processes and seeing anomalies. This just opened the door for more research. And before you know it, lot of money was coming back in.”

She is currently transforming the fleets landscape by connecting systems and leveraging vendors to identify further opportunities and savings across the organization. 

Pierce also serves on General Motors Commercial Sounding Board and Wheels Steering Council.

An Achievement Years in the Making

Pierce has been a top finalist for the Fleet Manager of the Year award every year since 2016, and was not only recognized this year for her accomplishments at Nutrien, but also for her many years of engagement within the fleet industry.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for this award and now winning it. This is an achievement 20 years in the making, and I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the support, guidance, and mentorship from numerous people within the industry, those who took me under their wing and taught me everything that I know,” said Pierce.

Her career in fleet began in 1998 at Service Corporation International (SCI), a funeral services company, where she worked as the fleet manager until 2010. 

Following this she worked briefly as a fleet and equipment manager for EMS USA, and also worked as a consultant for three years before joining oil services company, Weatherford International in 2016, where she worked until transitioning to Nutrien Ag Solutions in 2018. She credits her tenacity and her ability to overcome challenges in the industry to her father, George Zupp Jr., a former Ph.D mechanical engineer who worked at NASA for 40 years, who passed away earlier in 2020.

“He would be so proud of this achievement, and it pains me that he isn’t here to share in this industry recognition,” Pierce said during her acceptance speech. “The tough, unfiltered, outspoken person you know today is a result of my father.”

Pierce also attributes her success in the industry through the general attitude of inclusiveness across the fleet industry; an industry she says has always been open to sharing knowledge and best practices among its peers.

“Thankfully, this is an industry that says, ‘Oh, absolutely, we’ll help you’ as opposed to ‘Good luck with that,’” Pierce said. “It’s the people I put around me that have actually made me successful. I attribute a lot of my success to those colleagues; the fleet management companies and some of the OEMs that have helped me navigate fleet.” 

2020 AFLA NextGen Virtual Conference

For the first time in the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association’s (AFLA) existence, the 2020 AFLA Corporate Fleet Conference shifted to a virtual format, which was hosted on Oct. 5–7, 2020. 

The award ceremonies, panel discussions, and educational sessions were all hosted online for 2020. 

The Fleet Manager of the Year award is sponsored by Wheels Inc. and AFLA. Suresh Rajapakse, vice president, account management for Wheels Inc., introduced Pierce as this year’s winner during the virtual awards ceremony.

The Fleet Manager of the Year award was created to recognize a proficient fleet manager who has demonstrated special business acumen in developing and executing key management policies in all areas.

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