Early this year, an invitation was sent with total anonymity guaranteed to fleet managers of mid- to large-size commercial and public sector fleets. The message requested their honestly felt assessments of fleet management’s priority and regard in the halls of corporate America and government administrations.

Unfettered by considerations of company politics or reprisals, fleet managers responded to the question:

What do you honestly feel are the reasons executive management doesn’t adequately respect the fleet management function or you as a fleet manager?

Their remarks ranged from poignantly discouraged descriptions to reports of positive, valued relationships with senior management. Presented here in groups of recurring themes are the fleet managers’ voices in their own words.

‘I Get No Respect’
  • Fleet is an afterthought at best. I’m only acknowledged if there is a big problem that trickles upstream and the acknowledgement is, “How did that happen and what are you going to do?” I can’t even get input from our legal department concerning our internal auto policy. Most people (including upper management) don’t even realize we have a fleet (500-plus vehicles), thus, no respect. I bet they would acknowledge and respect the position if we had an executive fleet — one that directly impacted them personally.
  • Viewed as a necessary evil. They just don’t get it. Can’t wait until the day I retire and then they will find out how loyal I’ve been and how much of the time this job is thankless.
  • Executive management often assigns fleet management duty to the person standing nearest the water fountain at the right/wrong time. As such, the positions have no real “value.”
  • As a federal employee, I have heard executive management refer to my career as “low-hanging fruit, to be tossed like a bone to appease the Office of Management and Budget.” This was said directly to my face, mind you.
  • They don’t consider us professionals in the same regard as an engineer or lawyer. We’re just another administrator to manage assets.
  • Vehicles are just “stuff” and anyone can run a fleet. Mechanics are just “wrench turners.” No respect for the knowledge and skill that it takes to efficiently run and properly maintain a fleet.
  • It is difficult to pinpoint why “we don’t get any respect.” We are definitely taken for granted, especially if the fleet is well run. It is shocking, considering the amount of revenue and assets we manage!
  • I am a woman in the industry for 25-plus years. I am consistently told my area is well-respected, and I receive accolades from our drivers. We are unsung heroes who can juggle multiple issues and maintain a high level of customer service, even under a constantly growing workload. I provide benchmarking to senior management and collaborate with counterparts to stay competitive and do not get rewarded with a title I deserve. I love what I do, but it would be so nice to have senior management recognize it.
  • Because it runs so well and they don’t get any complaints, they think fleet is a “no brainer” that anyone could do.
  • Although fleet is the second largest expense in our company (second only to payroll), they see it as a necessary evil, the red-headed stepchild. They place “clerk”-type employees in the department to manage a process that has an annual expense of over $80 million. Because it not part of our core business, it doesn’t get the attention/respect needed to properly manage the process. Quite honestly, you [AF] ask me my opinion far more than anyone from my senior management team.
  • Most executive management feels that handling the fleet is just an incidental job that could probably be done by any monkey in the company, until, of course, it comes to handling their specific vehicle. Then you’re the most important person in their lives.
‘They Have No Idea’
  • Senior management has no idea of all the variables that make up fleet.
  • A simple lack of knowledge regarding fleet and all its functions. It’s hard to respect something you know nothing about.
  • They do not understand the complexities handling fleet and do not want to learn — as long as their car is handled in a timely matter.
  • They don’t understand the complexity. In fact, it isn’t even executive management. Most employees don’t understand the role fleet plays. For our company, fleet is in the top 10 overall spend categories, so you would think we could get a little more respect.
  • Most executive management does not really know all that is involved with fleet management and what functions are performed. You lose the personal touch that you only get in-house [when fleet is outsourced.]
  • I find that “change” is the biggest issue I have currently — well that, and “everyone” drives a car so “everyone” in the company must be an expert. I don’t feel executive management understands that the fleet manager role can run the gauntlet of day-to-day administrative tasks all the way up to dealing with some of the largest vendor sources in the country. The flexibility of a fleet manager is not recognized or appreciated. One minute you deal with an entry-level position delivery driver and the next you are dealing with regional vice presidents, CFOs, and chairmen.
  • I work for a very large police department with more than 25 years of fleet experience. Because these guys drive the cars and read magazines such as Car & Driver, they are now the experts. They do not understand the safety principles, maintenance issues, or other constraints facing the fleet managers. They know what they know and don’t want to be bothered with the facts. We are known for spending money. Sales and service provide revenue.
  • Fleet is always second or third in line for everything — non-important. They do not realize everything else done by the fleet department, at least by our department — imputed income calculations, budgets and forecasts, policy and procedure, manufacturer negotiations, insurance subrogation, employee terminations, best-price buy/sell pricing, and replacement cycle analysis. If it were not for the fleet department. the sales people could not go out and sell. We keep the company moving!
  • They don’t want to lose their top sales and service people because I point out that due to their driving record, they can no longer have a company vehicle or worse yet, drive for company business.
  • Fleet is one of the biggest expenses to the company. Since the role of the fleet manager can be so far removed from the actual business operation, management does not truly understand the role and responsibilities of the fleet manager. The fleet manager must enforce many policy issues and can therefore be viewed as the one to avoid so that they don’t get in trouble. In other words, the fleet manager protects and stands up for the company without a thank you.
  • Everyone drives a vehicle and thus thinks they “know” your business. They lack a true knowledge of how difficult it is to effectively manage large-scale vehicle systems. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to educate someone who thinks they “know” enough.
  • They don’t fully understand that fleet management is not just ordering vehicles and having a maintenance program. They also assume you have to be “mechanically inclined” to be a fleet manager. Since I’m female, that creates a double whammy! I’m slowly seeing progress, however. There are a few people who respect my efforts, and I think obtaining my CAFM will go a long way in changing attitudes.
  • Management does not understand the intricacies of fleet, unless they are forced to step in and put out the fires. As such, they have no idea of what makes the fleet work and how to handle the prima donnas out there who need to be handled with kid gloves (the best sales reps for whom we look the other way — or are asked to do so).
  • They have no understanding of the amount of time and effort it takes to operate a safe, efficient fleet, and they also think that we are all mechanics trying to pull the wool over their eyes even though we are now managers of huge, complex budgets.
‘Only the Bottom Line Matters’
  • They only look at the bottom line, never the value-add we bring to fleet.
  • hey expect cheap, not safe, durable, useful vehicles.
  • They do not understand the true value of the company vehicle. They do not understand the relationship between depreciation and maintenance cost. Management looks at fleet only from a cost center perspective.
  • Management really only pays attention when driven by higher outside exposure demands to cut costs or cut down on the number of SUVs, which are seen to be heavy fuel users and not very “green” vehicles. This attention to “green” happens while many nonvisible areas that would yield even higher returns go unchanged.
  • Management believes opportunity for improvement in fleet is limited. When offered opportunities to reduce cost and/or increase morale, they opt for the current platform as it is understood, budgeted, and “predictable.”
  • They do not understand everything affecting and influencing the management of fleet. They see big dollars and believe they can just slash 10 percent of the fleet costs. It can’t be that difficult [they think.]
  • Not understanding all the issues and tasks involved with managing a large international fleet. The sentiment is everything “push-button” and should’ve happened yesterday. Finance often fails to understand the big picture beyond a spreadsheet. The concept of value or adding small cost features to increase driver satisfaction is a foreign language. Requests for staff or assistance often go unanswered until the situation reaches critical mass and my job is on the line.
  • Most of our job is to present a negative situation. This situation is normally caused by personnel not performing their duties — financial or clerical.

Fleet Management is Respected

While the online survey elicited many responses from fleet managers who yearn for more respect and validation, others wrote of positive experiences and suggested strategies to gain greater regard.

  • I think management does respect the fleet management function and the work that is done. It’s not our core business — just a means to get our core business functions done in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
  • I think it’s a gross assumption that all executives demean fleet management in their companies. That is certainly not the case in my company. They need fleet to do their business and it is afforded a tremendous amount of appropriate attention and importance.
  • This is a very leading question and not accurate in all companies, nor should that be the view we put out there in the business world. It certainly doesn’t do anything to help those for whom it is true if they now need to hide this issue from their management because of the negativity it presents.
  • I’m not on the executive team, but I do feel that I have their respect. We’ve gotten it by keeping them apprised of problems, as well as opportunities — and we’ve delivered results. That’s given us credibility, which leads to respect. Key to this is that we’ve treated our executive team as our key customer.