When a company gets involved in acquiring several other companies quickly, it often has to acquire a good number of vehicles out of dealer stock to keep up with demand.

"That can be very expensive," said Patsy Brownson, fleet director of Cox Enterprises, Inc. in Atlanta. Cox's Manheim Auctions acquired ADT Automotive last year, and the year before that Cox Communications acquired TCA, the communications company. The fleet grew from 7,589 vehicles at the end of 1999 to its current size of 12,961. "We figure very conservatively it costs us about $2,800 more per vehicle to acquire them out of stock," Brownson said.

Order-to-delivery time for light and medium-duty trucks was taking three to nine months. With the help of vehicle manufacturers, leasing companies, and upfitting companies, Brownson addressed this concern by starting a bailment pool. That program, along with volume purchasing and other programs, saved $3 million for Cox last year. That program is one reason why Brownson was named Automotive Fleet's Fleet Manager 2001 winner on April 1, 2001.

Brownson was honored at a ceremony that took place in San Francisco. The award is co-sponsored by Wheels Inc. and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA). In starting the bailment pool program, Brownson worked with Ford and General Motors to make sure a bailment pool could be set up. She also worked with her leasing companies, Wheels and ARI, in developing ordering and delivery methods. She also worked with Adrian Steel, the upfitter that stores the inventory. When a vehicle is needed from the pool, Brownson tells the upfitter which equipment is needed on the vehicle, whether it be tonneau covers, interior bin packages, ladder racks, strobe lights, or decals. The equipment is installed and then the vehicle is routed back through Ford or GM for delivery to dealers in a local market.

Cox operates vehicles throughout the United States and some in Canada. "Once we take a vehicle out of the bailment pool, we immediately replace it, so the pool doesn't dwindle," Brownson said. Brownson earned the honor not only for savings associated with the hard costs of paying more for out-of-stock purchases, but also for the savings of soft costs. "The bailment pool gives us the soft-cost benefit of cutting delivery time in half. This increases productivity due to getting a vehicle in the market much sooner for a new driver rather than acquiring a vehicle out of dealer stock," Brownson said. "Delivery on a bucket truck can take up to a year. That's too long. It affected productivity. Also, image is very important to Cox. It is important to replace vehicles timely and not allow them to become unsightly or broken down." Cox's average replacement cycle for work vehicles is five years or 85,000 miles on light duty vehicles and seven years or 85,000 miles on medium duty vehicles.

E-Commerce Helps Cut Processing Time

She currently oversees a staff of three fleet coordinators, two fleet assistants dedicated to Cox's executive fleet, one fleet administrator, and an administrative assistant. Brownson said her department is working more on e-commerce, sending vehicle orders, sending disposal notices, receiving vendor invoices, and sending payments to suppliers electronically. She says it has cut down on processing time, freeing up her staff members to do their jobs more efficiently. It also increases productivity for Cox's accounting departments. With the right set up, invoices can be posted directly to the general ledger without manual processing. This frees up accounting personnel's time to work more efficiently on other needed areas. "From order to resale, it's all tied together electronically," Brownson said. "It runs a lot smoother, and there is less room for human error.” Brownson sees e-business integration, implementation of best practices, and clean air legislation and compliance as future challenges. During her tenure as NAFA president, Brownson was appointed to two United States Presidential clean air commissions. Brownson is still an avid participant in clean air legislation and often appears before U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and the Department of Transportation to present testimony.

It All Began for Brownson at Remco TV Rental

Brownson, who grew up in Ogden, UT, in 1974 began working as a secretary to the chief operating officer who oversaw the vehicle fleet at Remco TV Rental in Houston. Brownson later became secretary to the CEO, and the company's fleet grew to about 500 vehicles. Given the choice of continuing as a secretary or becoming fleet manager for Remco, she chose the fleet manager position. In 1987, she was hired at Cox as a fleet administrator. The fleet had 2,400 vehicles at the time. A shortage of qualified staffing was a top issue at the time.

"It was much simpler back then," Brownson said. "There was less technology." Asked what advice she would give to other fleet managers, Brownson answered, "Participate."

"Be active in AFLA and NAFA," she said. "Someone will have an answer because they've been there before." Brownson is a past president of NAFA and serves on the NAFA Foundation board. She has also served on the Wheels Steering Council, the Wright Express Lead User Group, the Ford Fleet Advisory Panel, and the GM Sounding Board.

"On advisory panels, you represent your peers by discussing common problems and solutions to those problems. The benefit is helping the vendor serve us better. So both participants benefit. With the combined voice of the vendor and user it becomes a true partnership. Brownson earned the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) designation in 1990. "If you are serious about being in the fleet industry, it is absolutely necessary for you to earn this prestigious designation. Since it originated from the collaborated efforts of the Wharton School of Business and the NAFA Foundation, employers are impressed with this designation and the professionalism it brings to the fleet industry and the person who has earned this certification."

Brownson stated, "I owe so much to Cox Enterprises, Inc. as my employer for their support over the past 13 ½ years. They allowed my participation because they value employees who are active in their profession."

Here’s How the Fleet Manager of the Year Is Honored

Automotive Fleet’s Fleet Manager 2000 award winner is presented with a trophy, and the honoree’s name is inscribed on a larger sustaining trophy. A $5,000 scholarship, jointly funded by Automotive Fleet magazine, Wheels Inc. and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association, is given in the winner’s name to an accredited university business school.

The Nominees… Jim Anselmi, Lorillard Tobacco; Bob Brown, Xerox Corp.; Patsy Brownson, Cox Enterprises; Joann Cummings, Chubb & Son; Lynda Dinwiddie, LabCorp; Rodger Evans, AT&T Broadband; Jim McCarthy, Siemens Shared Services; Theresa Ragozine, Johnson & Johnson; Steve Saltzgiver, State of Utah, DAS Fleet Operations; Josie Sharp, Aventis.

The Finalists… Patsy Brownson; Josie Sharp; Jim Anselmi.