Josie Sharp, manager, fleet and safety for Aventis Pharmaceuticals in Bridgewater, NJ, has successfully managed a 6,000-vehicle fleet by innovating systems, communicating policies, and remaining proactive.
Sharp is the recipient of Automotive Fleet magazine's 2003 Fleet Manager Award. The award, co-sponsored by Wheels Inc. and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA), was presented on May 4, 2003, at an awards brunch preceding the opening of the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) Fleet Management Institute (FMI) in Philadelphia.
Sharp's accomplishments at Aventis Pharmaceuticals are numerous and include:
- Leading the consolidation of Hoescht Marion Roussel and Rhone Poulenc Rorer fleets to form the Aventis fleet.
- Implementing online vehicle ordering with ARI, Aventis' fleet management company.
- Influencing the development of a software program for AmeriFleet, the transportation company that handles vehicle relocation for Aventis. Sharp won AmeriFleet's inaugural Certificate of Innovation award.
- Forming a Fleet Focus Group to discuss current issues and evaluate driver feedback.
- Creating a fleet safety program.
A Proponent of Lifecycle Costing to Determine Replacement Cycles
Aventis Pharmaceuticals is the U.S. pharmaceuticals business of Aventis, one of the world leaders in pharmaceuticals and human vaccines. Aventis Pharmaceuticals focuses its activities on therapeutic areas such as oncology, cardiology, respiratory/allergy, diabetes, arthritis/osteoporosis, anti-infectives, and the central nervous system. Its U.S. net sales for core activities in 2002 were approximately $6.5 billion.
The company's fleet of 6,000 vehicles - including Sables, Impalas, Windstars, and Ventures - are leased through ARI. Sales representatives, managers, and directors are eligible to drive company vehicles. Spouses, domestic partners, and licensed children 21 and older are allowed to drive the company vehicle.
Vehicle replacement - currently set at three years or 60,000 miles - was determined by examining depreciation, maintenance costs, warranty coverage, the average length of time vehicles are kept in service, and reconditioning costs at turn-in.
According to Sharp, lifecycle cost analysis is an important consideration when setting a replacement cycle. "We use this data to examine our replacement criteria on a regular basis," she says. "We looked at it this year but didn't think we would gain enough to change our replacement cycle for 2004 models."
Driver Education and Policy Evaluation Keys to Success
Sharp has effectively managed Aventis Pharmaceuticals' fleet department for eight years and has been a fleet manager for 15-plus years. The secret to success, says Sharp, includes:
- Educating drivers.
- Focusing on safety.
- Making sure the drivers have the right vehicle for the job (for instance, trunk space is essential for the company's sales reps).
- Evaluating costs on an ongoing basis.
- Keeping on top of residual values.
- Remaining up-to-date on industry issues.
Sharp Direct Merger & Consolidation of Two Fleets
Sharp's management strategies helped her direct the consolidation of the Hoescht Marion Roussel and Rhone Poulenc Rorer fleets in 2000. Prior to the merger of the two companies into Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Sharp managed the Rhone Poulenc Rorer fleet for five years.
During the consolidation phase, Sharp worked with the Hoescht Marion Roussel team to learn about their processes and policies.
"We looked at the similarities and differences of our fleets," says Sharp. "We found that the two fleets were operating alike in many ways, which made our job consolidating the fleets a lot easier."
The merger was a successful, positive experience for the drivers, says Sharp. Drivers at each level - sales representative, manager, or director - received a choice of four vehicles, which were not dramatically different from the vehicles they were already driving.
Driver education of fleet policy was vitally important in the early days of the new fleet, but was not an overwhelming task since the two fleets had similar policies.
However, in mid-2001, driver training and education was taken up a notch by Sharp. She developed and implemented a fleet safety program. The program was approved by the president and North American Leadership Team, all of whom participated or will participate in the behind-the-wheel training segment of the program.
Fleet Safety Program/Incentives Result in Fewer Accidents
"I wanted to improve our accident rate and reduce our dollars spent on accidents," says Sharp. "Our goal is to keep our drivers on the road doing their job. We don't want them to be injured; we want them to arrive home safely."
New hires, tenured associates, and high-risk associates attend safety training.
All new hires attend a two-week general company training session in the Bridgewater, NJ, location. During this time, new hires devote one Saturday to attend safety training.
"We found that new hires have a higher accident rate because they have a lot on their minds, they're in new territories, and they're learning new product material," says Sharp.
Tenured associates have experienced driver training during business meetings, called Point of Action meetings.
Almost 60 percent of the sales force has gone through training to date. The program was a success with the drivers, and it has led to reduced accidents.
Before the program was implemented, Sharp had an accident rate of 38 percent in 2000. That figure has declined to 34 percent.
"We did analyses and looked at the results of our driver training," says Sharp. "We found that our trained drivers are having fewer accidents, and the accidents are less costly - by about $650 per accident."
The company has just announced a new global initiative to reduce accidents by 40 percent over the next four years (or 10 percent per year). Sharp hopes to go beyond that 10 percent target per year.
A safety compliance recognition program helps motivate drivers once the initial safety training is completed.
Framed certificates - signed by the president and COO - are awarded at local meetings to drivers who are accident-free for one year. Those drivers accident-free for two years receive a certificate and small gift.
Sharp is considering implementing a maintenance incentive program. "We're tossing around ideas such as giving option certificates to those in compliance," she says. "We are also looking at giving recognition based on the driver's combined safety and maintenance record."
Drivers Get Involved in Communicating Policy
Since the merger, Sharp has remained proactive in communicating fleet policy to drivers. After the success of the fleet safety program, she moved to the second phase and she and her team created a Safety Champion Program.
Effective this year, about half, or 200 drivers were recruited so far to act as "safety champions" in their areas. As a safety champion, the associate delivers monthly e-mails and voice mails to designated drivers, makes safety presentations at area meetings, and acts as a liaison between the fleet department and the drivers.
"It is important that we make sure that the communications going out are universal." says Sharp. To ensure a consistent message, monthly information updates - including PowerPoint presentations - are posted on a Web site so that the safety champion can easily access and deliver approved material.
Daily Fleet Administration Outsourced for Efficiencies
The four-person Aventis fleet team has its hands full with the company's large fleet. Sharp works with a fleet safety specialist, contractor, and administration assistant. A fleet administrator will soon join the department.
In October 2000, after the merger, Sharp outsourced much of the daily fleet administration duties to ARI, including:
- Fuel management
- Title and registration
- Accident management
General driver questions are handled by ARI (via an 800 number). "Having general questions go to a central source has led to efficiencies," says Sharp.
While fleet safety is handled internally, behind-the-wheel and classroom training is outsourced to Advanced Driver Training Service (located in King of Prussia, PA) and Driving Dynamics (located in Little Silver, NJ).
Quick-Thinking Teamwork Benefits Aventis Fleet
It is important that Sharp remain flexible to the demands of a growing fleet. From January to December 2002, the company added 1,000 vehicles to its fleet. Sharp's ability to spring into action was demonstrated to perfection in fall 2002 when a new sales division was acquired and 200 vehicles were needed, and quickly.
With the teamwork of Sharp, ARI, and General Motors, a normal eight-week order to delivery process was reduced to three weeks. Thus, the costly expense of rental vehicles was prevented. Ford also cooperated with production and delivery dates after production began with the needed vehicles.
Again, putting initiative and vision into play, Sharp partnered with ARI to implement an innovative online vehicle ordering system for the 2003-model year.
Drivers now order vehicles online using an ARI Web site; they can even pay for driver-paid options by credit card.
The online ordering system was an instant success with drivers and resulted in time and money savings.
At least two to three weeks were saved in order and delivery time - which previously included mailing an order packet to drivers, having them complete it with their vehicle choice and options, and mail it to ARI.
"In addition to saving time, we reduced errors and became much more efficient," says Sharp.
Sharp's 2002 successes don't stop here. She also created a new-vehicle delivery policy for surplus vehicles in which she influenced the development of a software program for AmeriFleet, the transportation company that handles vehicle relocation for Aventis.
Previously, when a surplus vehicle was sent to a new hire, occasionally it didn't arrive in optimal condition.
"We didn't want our associates to be disappointed with their vehicles," says Sharp. "With our new system, the rep gets a vehicle in much better condition."
The new program allows for surplus vehicles to be cleaned inside and out, undergo damage repair if necessary, have an oil change, and arrive with current insurance, registration, and fuel cards.
A new software program was built to manage the details of this process and is used by AmeriFleet, ARI, and Sharp. "I can see how many surplus vehicles we have, where they are located, and how long they've been in storage," says Sharp.
Fleet Focus Group Provides Forum for Discussion
Again using a proactive management approach, Sharp formed a Fleet Focus Group in December 2001. The group of 15 - including managers, directors, and Sharp - allows for discussion of driver feedback and key issues.
The Driver Focus Group meets regularly, prior to each model-year, and at regional and national meetings to discuss topics such as policy changes, hot issues, or requests for exceptions.
"I felt like I wanted to be closer to my end-users," says Sharp. "I wanted input and feedback on some of the changes we were considering and how they would affect the field. The managers and directors have a terrific pulse on what is happening in their area."
A recent survey conducted by the Fleet Focus Group revealed that managers felt there was not enough of a difference between rep- and manager-level vehicles. Based on these results, the 2003 selector for the manager level was updated from the Sable, Sebring, Grand Prix, and Montana to the Bonneville, Regal, Escape, and Montana.
Industry Involvement Keeps Sharp "In the Know"
A Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM), Sharp has long been an active member of the GM Sounding Board and twice served as chapter chair of the Philadelphia Chapter of NAFA, as well as its treasurer and vice chair. She is currently program chair for her chapter.
Sharp advises fleet managers to "stay active in their local associations, keep up-to-date on key industry topics, and be an active participant in the industry."
The best advice Sharp has received during her tenure as a fleet manager was as a newcomer to the industry 15 years ago. "When I first got into the industry, I was advised to join NAFA," she says. "I knew the basics but very little about fleet management at that time, so NAFA was a tremendous resource and networking opportunity for me. It continues to be a benefit."
Current issues that Sharp is monitoring at industry events and by reading fleet publications include vehicle remarketing trends and fuel costs (a one cent increase in fuel costs Aventis $60,000 per year).
Sharp also keeps up-to-date on specific pharmaceutical industry issues and recently compiled the benchmarking statistics for the 2003 NAFA FMI. "Thirty-one companies participated in the survey," she says. "We will use the results as a resource throughout the year."
Among a long line of accomplishments, this is just another example of Sharp's proactive and detail-oriented management style. Looking toward the future, Sharp will continue to manage with both the company's and drivers' best interests at heart.
Being named Automotive Fleet magazine's 2003 Fleet Manager of the Year had an even more special significance to Sharp when she received the award in Philadelphia. Not only is it her home chapter, but she began the process of encouraging NAFA to hold the FMI in Philadelphia 12 years ago. For the first time in NAFA's history, the FMI was held in the City of Brotherly Love.