On Oct. 5, 2020, Holman Enterprises, a global automotive services organization, the parent company of ARI, announced that Chris Conroy was named president and chief operating officer of Holman Enterprises.
During his 25-year career with the organization, Conroy has held a number of progressive leadership positions including president of ARI, and most recently serving as president and CEO of Holman Business Services. In his new role, Conroy will be responsible for leading all Holman Enterprises’ operating companies.
Brian Bates will continue to lead the organization’s retail division, Holman Automotive, one of the largest privately owned dealership groups in the U.S. with 40 dealership franchises representing 20 brands from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest.
Bob White has been promoted to president, fleet & mobility, and will continue to lead ARI and will now also be responsible for Holman Insurance Services, the organization’s commercial and consumer insurance division.
Pete Dondlinger has been promoted to president, manufacturing & distribution, and will oversee Auto Truck Group and Kargo Master, Holman Enterprises’ work truck upfitting and manufacturing businesses, as well as Holman Parts Distribution, the organization’s national distributor of OEM powertrain solutions and logistics provider.
AF recently interviewed Conroy to learn more about his new position and responsibilities. Below are excerpts from a longer interview.
AF: Could you summarize how the different business units of Holman Enterprises serve the fleet management sector?
Conroy: If I were to think through the lens of a fleet operator, it doesn’t start with what you do, but how you do it. Holman Enterprises has long-term partnerships with many customers and we deliver a very unique value proposition in how we do things. We’re transparent in our communications, and we try to be constantly in touch with our customers, listening intently, and offering the solutions they need.
Holman Enterprises plays a multi-faceted role in the fleet industry. ARI is a multinational fleet management company headquartered in Mt. Laurel, N.J. ARI manages nearly 2 million fleet vehicles in North America, the UK, and Europe. In addition to funding and managing fleet assets, it also has a very specific goal to manage the total cost of risk, which is often an overlooked cost to our fleet customers.
Together, Auto Truck Group and Kargo Master transform trucks and vans into vocational tools. Kargo Master manufactures everything from ladder racks to interior shelving and Auto Truck Group installs these materials and other components into trucks and vans for a wide variety of customers including energy, railroad, and telecom fleets and everything in between. Additionally, through Holman Parts Distribution, we distribute components and provide other logistical support.
With Holman Automotive, we do an exceptional job of selling cars and trucks through our franchise dealerships. That plays a role in how we can cater to the needs of our fleet customers.
AF: You mentioned one of your strengths is listening to your customers. What are your customers telling you are the key trends, challenges, and opportunities that are facing their businesses?
Conroy: Today, our focus is working with our customers through these challenging and uncertain times. We’ll see some very progressive change, both from the providers of services, like ourselves, and also with customers who are trying to meet the needs of their various stakeholders.
That being said, when you look to the future, what our customers are telling us is important are the same things that they were before. ‘Be there for me when I need you.’ ‘Give me information I don’t have.’ ‘Be a strategic partner.’ I think the foundation of fleet management from an operator’s perspective is not going to change a heck of a lot. The same challenges are here today that were there yesterday, especially being able to turn data into information, to be able to ultimately make better decisions and take proactive actions. We’re all building better tools to be able to do that, empowering our customers to act proactively and not just reactively. As an industry we’re doing a much better job of that, but there will be more of it.
Acting on the collective voice of our customers empowers Holman Enterprises to further enhance the experience and value we deliver to clients. We are committed to staying focused on what really matters, and that is the partner at the other end of the relationship trusting us with their success.
Over the years, we’ve seen a shift in how fleets are managed. Today, there are many different people involved in making fleet decisions who may not have a lot of experience in management of fleet operations. This is because there is an acute awareness of the importance of a fleet operation. Today, when discussing fleet, you often have multiple people in the room because companies understand the economics and the impact that fleet can have on their business operations.
Customers are looking for more out of a fleet provider than ever before, especially in the way of proactive recommendations. It’s not just how do I reduce cost, but help me run my business better.
AF: What is your vision for the future of the fleet management sector?
Conroy: Predicting a vision for the future of fleet management is tough. Anyone who would tell you what the future’s going to look like in the transportation sector whether it’s fleet or consumer, is probably not being entirely truthful.
There’s a ton of disruption happening in the transportation sector with autonomy, electrification, shared mobility, the connected car, and dealer franchise law. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but also significant opportunities.
AF: How does mobility management fit in with fleet Management?
Conroy: I do think there is a shift in thinking away from fleet and toward mobility, but mobility can be difficult to define and get agreement on what this means today and in the future.
One of the groups in Holman Enterprises is Holman Strategic Ventures. This is a team we set up about five years ago to look at answering the questions that either have been asked or haven’t been asked yet on what is the future of fleet management, including mobility and how we as a company can serve those needs.
The goal here is that we want to innovate for our core businesses. We have some key core businesses that are changing, and our customers’ demands are changing. We are going to innovate for the core, whether it’s through technology services, or just around the idea of getting this mobility set up where we have different options for our customers.
We’re also going to invest for adjacencies. What technologies or process improvements can we develop to help our customers? So, with a very committed group of resources, Holman Strategic Ventures is about making the experience of what we do today as good as it can possibly be, based on the customer feedback, but also looking at tomorrow’s transportation mobility space and making sure we’re evolving to meet those needs tomorrow too.
AF: As the fleet management industry increasingly adds even greater operational efficiencies, does it create an opportunity to further right-size fleets to operate with fewer vehicles?
Conroy: How we do business is changing. We see it in our daily lives every day. One example is connecting virtually, which, I think provides tremendous opportunities that will continue for the foreseeable future. You can do things much more rapidly. Virtual communications allows you to have conversations much more easily. We’ve been able to interact with our customers in a very effective manner that we’re happy to continue doing.
But you still have to have the personal face-to-face relationship, whether it’s at a conference or it is meeting with a customer or prospective customer. This is still important. When we think about how our workforce is going to be aligned going forward, that’s top of mind for us.
From the fleet-customer’s perspective, you’re going to see people become much more efficient in how they run their businesses. Now, many of the customers we do business with across our platforms are companies that require vehicles to do the job. Certainly, you’re going to see a focus on that.
We have already seen customers say their businesses need to run more efficiently and ask us what are the opportunities for us to take cost out of the fleet. There’s really two basic ways to do that. Either operate those vehicles at a lower cost, which is very difficult to do because, by and large, in partnership with all of us in our industry, we’ve done a very good job of driving cost out.
Or option two, is to have fewer vehicles. So, pay less for the ones you have or have less of them. I think there’s absolutely going to be opportunities for fleets to right-size more so than they may have done to this point. We’ve seen a little bit of that. But we shall see how far that does go.
AF: Is fleet management a growing industry or has it plateaued? Where is future growth in fleet going to occur?
Conroy: I think we’re in a growth industry. Certainly, there’s an evolution in the skillset that’s needed to operate a fleet and a business. But for me, there’s one certainty. Fleet operations is going to be a key requirement to the growth and success of businesses.
Just look around and you see the movement of goods and people is growing, not declining. Now that’s not true of every industry. Fleet is absolutely a growth industry, and it’s something we’re going to build our business around. Knowing that, we believe our purpose is to serve those customers who are continuing to evolve and grow.
If there’s a message to any fleet operator it is to position yourself as a true business partner. I see companies becoming more and more receptive to understanding internally that the fleet manager must be viewed as a trusted partner in how a business is run. Fleet is not just an expense line.
There are certain industries, such as the last-mile delivery and package-good delivery, that are going to continue to proliferate. I believe there’s great opportunity for us as an industry, for us as individuals, and certainly for us here at Holman Enterprises, to continue to evolve. Our sole objective at Holman is to be there to serve the customers we have today, and for those that are going to emerge in the future.
To me, we’re going to be on the frontlines of both reacting and helping to change as an industry. As an example, I think of companies we’ve established a partnership with, such as Lordstown Motors. Here’s a new manufacturer who has figured out engineering and manufacturing, but they need partners that can help them sell, service, and maintain their vehicles that are going to be in the service space. Holman is a very important cog in the supply chain of companies that will be emerging in our new economy.
AF: How quickly do you think widespread electrification of the fleet industry in the U.S. is going to take?
Conroy: My answer used to be it’s not something I see happening anytime soon. But you’ve got to follow the dollars and follow the investments. You’re seeing significant investments in this space. I wouldn’t put a specific time frame on it, but it’s coming. It is going to affect how we do business, but the infrastructure has to be there to support it. I don’t think there is a question that EV will eventually play a significant part in fleet operations around the world, but the speed with which we get there is still a question a lot of people are asking.