"All of our fleet programs are designed to increase the productivity of the sales representative in the field. That’s our main goal," says Stephen Levine, fleet manager for Pharmacia & Upjohn in Kalamazoo, MI. And that basic statement is the backbone of Levine’s management philosophy.
He has found a way to increase productivity and reduce costs, even with a growing fleet and a recent company merger. He has also taken on and successfully filled multiple leadership roles.
Levine was honored for his successes on May 2, 1999 in New Orleans, as he was named Professional Fleet Manager of the Year. The award is sponsored by Automotive Fleet, the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA), and Wheels Inc.
Levine’s success in management is not new. He is a 31-year fleet veteran, working with Pharmacia & Upjohn for 12 years, Warner Amex Cable for six years, and Guardsman Lease Plan for 10 years. "I’ve been doing this a long time," he says. "And I enjoy what I do."
Levine serves on the General Motors Sounding Board and the Wheels Steering Council.
One recent success Levine is proud of is winning the 1995 NAFA/Business Week Quality Fleet Management Idea Award for his role in improving driver productivity by putting fleet information on disk.
Levine credits his success in the fleet industry to his mentor Dan Poryles. "Dan provided me with a Ph.D. in leasing when we worked together at Guardsman Lease Plan," he says.
Currently, as fleet manager at Pharmacia & Upjohn, Levine’s primary responsibilities are to manage the fleet’s 2,500 vehicles (600 vans, 150 trucks, and 1,750 cars) and look at long-term strategic improvements.
"I take existing policies and programs and make them more productive, from an organizational point of view," Levine said. "I focus on the productivity of the driver because it is paramount to our business. If the sales representatives are not out on the road making sales, there is no opportunity for us to make any money."
Sales representatives around the country are eligible for a company vehicle, which consists of Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler models. Over the past four years, Levine has seen major changes within his company and his fleet department. In November 1995, the Upjohn Co. - which was based in Kalamazoo, MI for more than 100 years - merged with the Swedish-based company Pharmacia AB to become Pharmacia & Upjohn. Worldwide headquarters have been recently relocated to Bridgewater, NJ.
The two pharmaceutical companies merged to become one streamlined unit. The merger was a success and the company’s stock has doubled in price. In addition, over the past year, the company has added 600-700 new salespeople and there are plans to add several hundred more.
Of course, these new sales representatives need vehicles to drive, and Levine has kept pace with the demand. Due to the increase in fleet size, he added one more person to the fleet team. Fleet coordinators Lenora Webster and Lisa Vroegop handle day-to-day transactions, interacting with the sales representatives and leasing company.
"As we go through new hiring, no matter how many regulations and processes are in place, there’s still a tremendous amount of interaction with the new reps in order to get them up and running, whether it be ordering pool cars or putting them in rentals until the new car arrives. It is extremely transaction intensive."
Continued management support and driver satisfaction has given Levine additional opportunities to contribute and manage a cost-effective fleet while maximizing driver productivity. "I’d like to thank my boss Dick Huff, vice president of procurement, for his continued support," says Levine.
Levine will implement a revised safety program this month and communicate it to all drivers. "We had one program we started several years ago where we loaded a disk program on to the drivers’ laptops," said Levine. "There was a logo on the computer called Fleet Toolbox. It worked very well for 50 percent of the fleet who had laptops. Right now, we’re revising that program and will get it out to everyone in the field."
And as soon as the entire field of drivers have access to the Internet, Levine will develop a dedicated Web page for fleet as well.
"I’m looking for all of our drivers to have Internet capability," Levine said. "As the technology gets better and faster, we’ll be able to do more things internally and get out of the paper business altogether. Downloading information on a daily basis makes us more productive."
As Levine’s fleet evolved over the past few years, it became apparent that there were areas that needed improvement. Eligible drivers were redefined to include significant others. Children with a valid driver’s license are still eligible as well.
"We consider the vehicle a company tool, not a benefit," Levine said. "But our representatives do appreciate the opportunities that go along with the company tool we give them, such as personal use. Just as a computer is necessary to business, so are our vehicles."
New safety rules that will be implemented include not using a laptop while the vehicle is in motion. "As obvious as that seems, some drivers still do it," Levine said. "We’re also suggesting that they park their car when using cellular phones."
Also, on an annual basis, Levine will make sure all drivers possess valid licenses. "We are in the health care business," he said. "We want to make sure we have the best people on the road."
In addition, mandatory motor vehicle record checks (MVRs) will be run on each new vehicle order. The MVR check program is currently piloting in three of Pharmacia & Upjohn’s business groups. If the pilot is successful, Levine will spread the program to the rest of the company.
An important part of the safety program is the Pharmacia & Upjohn Point System. One point is given for a moving violation and two points for an accident, regardless of fault. If four points are accrued within 12 months, the driver must attend a four-hour safe driving class. If drivers receive four to six points within 24 months, then an eight-hour course must be taken. If seven points are accumulated within 24 months, driving privileges are lost and the driver is subject to termination. Also a DWI is an automatic seven points and allowing an unauthorized driver is a mandatory six points. Not reporting a ticket or accident to Levine is five points.
"It doesn’t take up a lot of time, but a lot is at stake," he said. The company’s insurance risk department previously handled this aspect, but with the recent reorganization the responsibility was given to Levine. "A couple of years ago I took over the collision management responsibility; this was the next logical step."
Levine was also recently chosen to chair the company’s Global Fleet Segment Council, which disseminates global data to maximize local savings.
"We tried to implement a global policy a couple of years ago, but the manufacturers and lessors were not prepared; we were not prepared either," Levine said. "However, the marketplace has changed significantly. The manufacturers are better prepared. We as a company are much more organized and ready to do it."
Rather than "trying to do everything at once," Levine will focus on the company’s five biggest markets in Europe (England, Spain, France, Germany, and Sweden) and work with them to get a consolidated organization going.
"We’re going to send a survey this month, and get all the information back, consolidate it, and see where we are with the manufacturers, lessors, insurers, and financers," Levine said.
Having a well-defined fleet program in place is a must for a successful fleet, says Levine. And he has certainly established just that with the Pharmacia & Upjohn fleet.
Preventive maintenance is mandatory, and Wheels, the company’s lessor, provides a standard preventive maintenance schedule that each driver follows.
"We also outsource maintenance management, collision management, vehicle registration, and vehicle resale to Wheels," says Levine. "My supplier handles all of the transactions. My job is to manage that and make sure they’re doing a good job."
Levine is of the single sourcing philosophy because it gives the fleet department an opportunity to control the staff. Rather than having to consolidate fleet information from various sources, it’s downloaded from one source, simplifying data management.
Vehicles are replaced at three years or 55,000 miles. However, Levine is looking into changing the replacement cycle to 65,000 or 70,000 miles. "I’m just starting to evaluate that now," he says. "With all the improvements the manufacturers are making, cars are lasting much longer. There might be some cost-saving opportunities here."
Historically, tires are changed and major maintenance is performed at the 45,000-50,000 mile mark. Since the vehicles are only kept for another 10,000 miles after that, Levine figures keeping them around a little longer will result in a greater return on investment.
The old handshake environment that used to surround fleet is gone, Levine says. "There are so many new roles that we play today. It’s more complete, more transaction oriented, and more instantaneous.
"To survive and succeed in today’s fleet industry, you have to be willing to ask for help from industry peers and organizations," Levine said. "You have to know who to call for help. Every NAFA member I have ever called has gone out of his or her way to help me. The manufacturers and lessors are also there to answer questions."