In an industry defined by vehicle accounts, driven by increasingly gargantuan swaths of data, and subject to the whims of foreign manufacturers and global constraints, what’s the secret of getting ahead?
To Roger Setzke, the answer is simple: cherish those with whom you work, make them feel valued, and watch your team, business, and career flourish.
“The one thing I’ve been able to do pretty well for over thirty years is make my people feel like they were valued contributors,” says Setzke, current vice president of Sales at Union Leasing, “and make them feel valued not only to me, but to the organization.”
Poised to retire in August 2022, Setzke laughs about a career in fleet spanning over four decades. Talking to Setzke is an exercise in good will and good energy; we bounce from sports to weather to family, clients and career and back again. Without encountering him before, it’s no surprise his career has led him through stints with Avis/PHH, Pep Boys, BMW, Donlen, and Union, serving in various sales and client management/experience roles, and we slip into an easy banter about the fleet industry—about cars, consolidation, technology, challenges and opportunities, past and present.
“The fleet industry has allowed me to build super strong bonds to the people who work with me and for whom I work for; it is a tough industry, especially in sales, and I want my teams to know that they’re valuable contributors” he says.
“Many managers forget about that point. I get extra out of them, and they get extra out of me.”
An Unusual Industry
Setzke took a sales job with Avis out of college to simply make some money. From there, he never looked back.
“It was the people I met along the way that hooked me into the industry,” he says. “I built fantastic relationships with my customer base and advisory boards, with colleagues at conferences—it’s an unusual industry in that competitors are friends. You do business, you stay ethical, and you stay friendly. The whole fleet industry is one where people are willing to help.”
The majority of his career in fleet has been helping to find solutions as the leader of a larger team; he didn’t always have to get to the right numbers, but he had to make sure the people who did had the motivation, knowledge, and the ability and willingness to learn so everyone could prosper.
For Setzke, the light-bulb moments were the most rewarding parts of the job. He married a teacher, so figuring out how to motivate and educate wasn’t just a part of his 9-to-5; it was embedded into his lifestyle.
“Throughout my career, I’ve managed the team that handles the big customers. Sometimes in this business you’ve got fleet managers that you’re training and truly helping; other times you’ve got fleet managers who are in rougher situations who must prove to senior leadership the value of their fleet and educate them about why things are done the way they are.”
Setzke says that the nature of leasing and full-time fleet management is a constant education, and that senior leadership needs to realize the fleet—and the people who tend to it—is more than a commodity, more than some magic formula comprised of total cost-of-ownership, rate/buy rates, and all the other minutiae that goes into any potent concoction.
“That’s the tough part of the job,” he says.
“As you scale in any industry, you’re held to more of an RFP-type standard; you work hard, you’ve put in the effort, massaged the relationships you need, and in the end it may just become a pricing decision on a spreadsheet on someone else’s desk hundreds of miles away. All the work and the accomplishments you made with your software systems and your dashboards gets overlooked and boiled down to price, and in times when cost-cutting measures are necessary, clients may see the numbers and forget or not know that they’re reducing the relationships you’ve built to data. It happens, and it’s frustrating, and it’s a hard cost to success as companies and industries proliferate.”
Setzke reflects that commodification and data have really changed the way fleets do business and that it becomes more difficult to quantify an individual’s value considering the endless supply of data points, KPIs, quarterly and annual analyses, and everything else that goes into figuring out how you can make the most money.
But that’s not specific to fleet—that’s the truth for any industry.
The Future is Electric (and Electrifying)
Setzke is certain about three aspects of electrification.
“One, it’s coming! Two, you have to figure out how to make it work. And three, you have to realize how incredibly complex electrification actually is.”
He says he never knew the wildly disparate approaches various jurisdictions can take all around the country regarding electrification, implementing the charging infrastructure, and figuring out how to account for your employees and their take-home vehicles throughout it all.
“If you’re granted a high-capacity charger through work at home but your neighbor already has one, what do you do? You can’t overload the grid. We’re all going to have to figure this out. That’s not coming—it’s here. When you see Hertz buying 100,000 Teslas, it’s reality.”
Setzke says one fleet within his purview at Union just asked for 50 Teslas, “and that probably wasn’t happening just a few years ago. Once the government moves toward it, the states and businesses will follow suit. It will be a super interesting time in fleet; who gets a car? How are they using it? It will now be super scrutinized.”
He notes that one aspect of his personality that possibly led to a great career is always being excited about what’s next.
“If you want to be valued in your workplace, you have to be excited about what’s next. If you’re doing things the way they were done ten years ago, you’re doing them wrong! They were showing drones at the AFLA meeting delivering vehicles and people said, ‘that’s never going to happen,’ but it is happening, in India, right now. It’s already occurring.
“It’s the most interesting time in the automotive industry ever.”
Setzke says he’s excited for it all, even (especially!) through the lens of retirement. We’re not just changing the way we drive and communicate, he says—we’re reinventing the way we commune as a society.
“The rent-a-car model has changed so much; residual values are crazy high and you can’t get new vehicles. This has certainly been the strangest time in my career; being unable to get product at this scale is unique and it’s making companies really figure out how many vehicles they need, the right applications, how to track them, everything.”
Looking ahead, Setzke plans to continue to apply his mantra to those around him—his family.
“I really agree with the stewardship philosophy at Sasser Family Companies and have felt that way through my whole career,” he says. “Leave every place better than when you came.”
Setzke notes that it’s probably time for he and his wife to downsize their home and begin looking for lake property; Setzke has a large family and he’s looking forward to spending more time with them in the greater Chicago area.
“It sounds corny but it’s true,” he says, leaning back and laughing.
“Was it a better place when you left than when you came? I hope so. I believe every place I worked was made better by my time and effort. That’s what I’ve been able to accomplish in the fleet industry and what I’m the proudest of—my contribution to culture amid all the other goals and objectives I was able to meet.
“Did I make it better? I believe I did. And I’ve made some great friends along the way. And now it’s time to move elsewhere and make that better, too.”
Best of luck, Mr. Setzke.