"Be open to change, to new potential. Don’t be afraid to make a change,” are decisive qualifications of a successful fleet manager. At least, that’s what Kimberly Fisher believes, a 20-year industry veteran and winner of the 2021 Global Fleet Visionary Award.
“Fleet managers I know who are very successful in their jobs will look at an existing process and say, ‘How do we make it better; how can we change it to improve?’ They may have to shift, make tweaks along the way, but they are not tied to a specific way; they are willing to look at new ways,” she says.
Sponsored by Swedish automaker Polestar, the Global Fleet Visionary Award recognizes “a new or seasoned fleet manager who has sought to innovate and understand fleet from a global perspective; has introduced new processes, technology, and procedures improving improved safety; or is the ‘Go-To’ resource for global sourcing best practices” within his/her organization.
Fisher, the inaugural Global Fleet Visionary recipient, was presented the award at the recent Global Fleet Conference in Miami, Florida.
‘Falling into Fleet’
A native of Nebraska, Fisher grew up in Atlanta, where she “fell into fleet,” answering a newspaper for a fleet administrator for Cardinal Health. “I had no idea what [fleet] meant,” Fisher admits. “But I learned very quickly!”
Cardinal’s fleet was small—about 260 vehicles. Fisher’s embrace of change, however, stood her in good stead when—literally overnight—the fleet grew to 12,000 units through a company acquisition.
Fisher says it was her “baptism into fleet,” greatly expanding her industry knowledge and skills. The acquired company “handled their fleet much differently, given the size.” In addition, the fleet had lacked a manager for a year.
“It really a great time,” she says, “and I had partners who gave me a crash course in ‘Fleet 101’ but at a much-advanced level!” Fisher recalls.
These partners included fleet management company staff, industry leaders, and other fleet managers. “Unique with fleet is the super generosity of others when you ask questions,” she says. “It’s not a competitive industry. I have always appreciated that and tried to be as generous with others as well.”
Looking at New Ways
In 2011, Fisher joined NOV (formerly National Oilwell Varco), where today she leads the company’s global fleet. With a presence in 62 countries across the world, the oil and gas services company develops oil drilling technology and products.
Fisher and her five-member team manage the NOV fleet primarily in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom while expanding the fleet’s footprint in other European nations. The company’s 5,300+-unit fleet includes cars, tractor-trailers, trucks, cranes, trailers, and rolling forklifts.
Fisher’s philosophy of continuous improvement led to an innovative company initiative to meet the challenge presented by outdated fleet trucks with service bodies that no longer met field techs’ needs.
“The challenge is that the bodies became significantly more expensive,” Fisher explains. “Historically, we have viewed the service body as part of the truck—a throwaway item. When we get rid of the truck, we get rid of the service body.”
When the new service body costs began to double and triple, however, Fisher had to look at the prospect much differently, asking, “Can I get a second or even third life out of it?”
And the prospect of recycling service bodies over two or three truck lifecycles took hold.
Making the Case
A company leadership class, “Making Your Case,” was the catalyst for Fisher to develop a case study outlining the recycling initiative’s steps, its benefits and obstacles.
In the study, Fisher posed several questions: “If we were to put this into place, what would those steps look like? What are the things we need to prepare for; and what’s the cost benefit to the company?”
She consulted industry partners and other fleet managers who had considered or tried recycling asking, “What am I missing?”
Fisher presented the service body recycling case study to the leadership group. Citing potential $2 million savings over two years, she said, “That got people excited.”
Implementing the New
With company leadership on board, the recycling project implementation began in 2017, focusing on one division and the fleet’s mainstay vehicle: the Chevrolet ¾-ton 2500 Crew Cab Long Bed.
Once again conferring with industry partners and NOV field techs, Fisher and her team developed a larger, closed service body with special features to provide a more efficient field workspace.
Getting field techs’ input was instrumental, says Fisher. “It makes no sense for me, at corporate, who doesn’t ever use these vehicles, to be solely involved in the development. I can give a high-level view of where to start, but having the techs involved brings the hands-on perspective to the table and gives the techs ownership in the project.”
With the trucks’ lifecycle averaging 44 months, the new service bodies’ first cycle is nearing an end. Recycling the bodies on new chassis is set to begin. Feedback from field techs has helped make minor service body alterations, further improving efficiencies and durability.
“We feel pretty positive about it. And we’re excited to see it move to the second generation,” says Fisher.
The projected costs were “pretty dead-on.” Some unanticipated outcomes have arisen, but so far, Fisher says, the budget savings are in line with the original proposal.
One early decision was “taking the hit” for the entire service body on the first chassis. Leasing companies, says Fisher, are reluctant to depreciate one unit over two assets. “From an accounting side, that gets a little messy.”
She advises other fleet managers to work with their fleet management partners on financing recycled units as well as their own company leadership on their willingness to take the risk.
Continuing to Search for Better
Fisher continues to examine how to make fleet better through well-considered changes: leveraging fleet technology capabilities and reallocating assets to improve efficiencies, for example.
“Trying to innovate is makes fleet fun,” Fisher believes. “When you get the support of your field, it makes it so much better.”