In the traditional sense, Kate E. Tooley has held exactly one job in fleet management: her current role as Director of Fleet Strategy and Operations for Terminix. But her previous roles were certainly “fleet adjacent.” She’s worked in transportation and logistics operations, where a portion of her work was managing a dedicated fleet of trucks that moved products between manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and customers. While serving in the military, she was the platoon leader in a Heavy Equipment Transport company comprised of 48 heavy-duty trucks that moved infantry and armor equipment during operations in Iraq. Later, she was the Commander of a fuel company with 60 fuel tanker trucks. Currently, she is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve.
While these non-traditional fleet management roles didn’t require her to be laser focused on TCO, lifecycles, and capital spending as she is now, they enabled her to both start her role at Terminix with a solid knowledge base while also bringing a fresh perspective. Just a few years after joining the company, she’s streamlined processes and revolutionized the company’s replacement strategy, so clearly it’s a winning combination.
“We’ve made a lot of changes and improvements to our fleet that I was excited about but didn’t realize were new. But when I talked to others in the industry, they said they hadn’t seen these things before and were impressed by them,” Tooley said.
On October 4, 2021, Tooley’s success in setting a new course for her fleet led her to be named Fleet Visionary of the Year. “I was honored to be nominated, and to win is even more exciting,” she said.
Back to Basics
Terminix has about 355 branches in the United States alone, each with its own branch manager. These are not fleet managers and yet, they’re responsible for managing the vehicles their branch relies on to serve customers.
When Tooley arrived at Terminix, much of the fleet group’s time was spent supporting field requests, which didn’t leave them time to think about the bigger picture. “When I first started, the organization that managed the fleet group was essentially a ‘firefighting’ team focused on tactical responses to needs in the field rather than taking a strategic look at how to manage the fleet, our drivers and customers better,” she said.
So they started making calls, asking branch managers and field leadership how the team could make it easier to manage their fleets. “My team was trying, but they didn’t have the bandwidth to do everything,” Tooley said. “So we went back to the basics and looked at how we could streamline processes.”
Three key process improvements included a branch manager dashboard for fleet tasks, changes to how fuel cards are administered, and simplifying the vehicle disposal process.
Single Sign-On Dashboards
When branch managers needed to know something about their fleet—factors like registration renewals, maintenance needs, and vehicle order information—everything happened via email, which was both confusing and administratively laborious.
To streamline this process, Tooley and her team created an internal dashboard branch managers could see when logging on to view their other branch metrics. No extra steps, no emails, just easy-to-access information and action items on one dashboard. “They don’t have to search for information or run a report. Instead, they can go to one place to see the tactical things they have to do to keep their fleet healthy for the month,” Tooley said.
Faster Fuel Card Administration
Another process Tooley streamlined was how to request and distribute fuel cards. Before, when a new employee came on board, they signed a paper form that the branch manager would scan, then email to the fuel manager to be approved. This process prevented duplicates and ensured the right people had cards, but it took time and effort.
Today, thanks to an internally built app that taps into the Terminix HR system, branch managers can choose the person in need of a fuel card and make the request in the app. Then, the fuel manager can extract a report once per day, verify the information is complete, and send it to the fuel card provider, eliminating both paper and emails. Because it integrates with the HR system, the process already has checks and balances built in.
“Going through requests all day long and clicking, approving, and validating each one took a lot of man hours from someone who could be doing something more productive. They’re smarter and better than ‘click and approve,’ and if we can streamline processes they can focus on more valuable work,” Tooley said. “The new process has cut down on hundreds of emails. Instead of administrative, tactical activities, the team can create plans and execute projects to improve the health of the fleet.”
Convenient Disposal Process
Tooley applied the same logic to the vehicle disposal process. Similar to fuel cards, when a vehicle reached the end of its lifecycle, it required an email exchange and unnecessary administrative work. So the team created a Microsoft app that allows the branch manager to record the required information about the vehicle on their phone, then hit submit right from the parking lot. This makes the process easier for both the branch manager and the fleet team, while also eliminating lost requests and making it easier for the fleet team to track vehicle status.
“There are quicker, easier ways to manage your fleet that you can build and create without contracting with another company or a software system,” Tooley said. “We were able to build some of these things ourselves, and so far they’re pretty sustainable. We recently made edits to the disposal process, and it continues to make the process easier.”
Because branch managers aren’t experienced fleet managers, it didn’t make sense for functions like vehicle ordering to be their responsibility. Tooley’s focus on streamlining process and freeing her team up for more strategic work allowed her to bring replacement planning back under the corporate umbrella.
What they learned is that some branches were driving trucks until they died. For others, the person who was best at ordering a vehicle got the truck. The fleet needed a new lifecycle plan, and they needed to find a way to roll it out consistently across all 355 branches.
“Technically there was a strategy, but it didn’t reflect how we use the vehicles. Historically, we set the lifecycle at 60 months/200,000 miles for a truck. But for some branches, hitting 200,000 miles could take up to 7 or 8 years, and the field would hold them until they hit that mark,” Tooley explained. “But by the time the replacement came through, the vehicle was well over 200,000 miles. Maintenance costs were greater than value of vehicle and we were seeing unplanned downtime, and occasionally branches would have a gap where they wouldn’t have a vehicle to do the job.”
To create a new lifecycle strategy, Tooley hired an analyst, worked with her fleet management company and used data to create a plan that would yield the greatest benefits that also aligned with Terminix’s environmental sustainability plan to transition to more eco-friendly vehicles.
“We looked at our cycle and asked, ‘If we want to cycle at 60 months, how many miles are we really hitting in that time period?’ We used that information and compared it to total cost of ownership – when does the vehicle get the best resale value, and when do maintenance or downtime start to rise?”
Today, the threshold is 60 months and (not or) 100,000 miles. “It’s a big cut, but when we hit 100,000, it’s usually right around 60 months, so the age of the vehicles usually matches miles driven,” Tooley said.
At the time Tooley created this plan, if every vehicle that met the new threshold were to be replaced, about 50% of the fleet would need to be cycled. So Tooley is implementing the plan over five years, starting with the oldest and highest mileage vehicles first. Tooley estimates that optimizing replacement cycles will save substantial costs over the course of five years.
A Method to the Magic
Tooley’s fresh perspective and swift results most certainly qualify her as a fleet visionary. While it may seem like magic, for Tooley there is a methodical approach any fleet can use.
“It’s important to write down where you see your fleet struggling and get that clear in your head. Identify the issues, then break out how you’d like to resolve them. It can’t all happen all at once, but you can pace it over time, build out a strategic path, and identify the enablers,” she said. “Once you identify the core functionalities where time is being wasted, it opens up time for the bigger, more creative initiatives to move the fleet forward.”