Christy Coyte faced a reduction in staff and added responsibilities in 2007 and 2008. But the Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) global fleet manager did not falter during this challenge, and not only rebranded and reduced fleet costs, but also impacted the fleet community through her industry involvement.

Coyte's recent achievements, including her long-term contributions to the fleet industry, earned her the title of Automotive Fleet's 2009 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year. Coyte was recognized April 26 in New Orleans during NAFA's 2009 Institute & Expo.

The award, now in its 25th year, is sponsored by Automotive Fleet, Wheels Inc., and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). The honor recognizes an experienced and proficient fleet manager who has demonstrated special business acumen in developing and executing key management policies in all areas. A $5,000 scholarship in the name of the recipient is given by AFLA to an accredited university business school of the winner's choice.

Qualified nominees are full-time commercial fleet managers who control a company-owned or leased fleet in excess of 100 cars and light trucks combined. A 35-member judging panel, representing all areas of fleet, selected Coyte this year's award winner.

"It means so much to be acknowledged by my peers for this honorable achievement," Coyte said. "I am also very humbled and grateful to my company, Johnson Controls, for recognizing our fleet team's value in managing one of the largest commercial fleets in the industry."

Managing in  a Tough Economy

JCI is a global leader in automotive systems, building efficiency and power solutions. Coyte oversees fleet operations in more than 30 countries, managing more than 17,000 vehicles, including about 7,500 in the United States.

She supervises the strategic direction, coordination, and implementation and management of fleet activities throughout North and South America, Mexico, and Europe. She also is establishing contacts in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Coyte joined fleet 14 years ago, but began her career with Johnson Controls in 1978, holding various positions in audit, legal, and human resources. She has been a NAFA member since 1994, currently serving as Michigan chapter secretary. Coyte is also a member of the LeasePlan's Future Directions (U.S.) and Global Advisory boards. Her work with LeasePlan has led to enhancement opportunities benefiting all LeasePlan clients.

Coyte has faced many challenges in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the economy's downturn, but she handled the roadblocks with a positive outlook and continued dedication and hard work. To ensure the effectiveness of the company's global fleet strategy - with a specific goal of cost reduction - JCI's European fleet program was reviewed in 2008.

Collaborating with all key stakeholders, the fleet team reviewed vehicle policies, terms and conditions, and the supplier base, resulting in the implementation of several key initiatives.

"We saved nearly $2 million in FY 2008 and 2009," Coyte said. "Essential to the initiatives' successful implementation was maintaining open communication and partnerships with suppliers,  and there continues to be significant cost saving opportunities in 2009."

Coyte's main goals are to contribute to the company's bottom line, deliver value to customers, and be an effective leader to her team. The team consists of two direct reports, Kate Bombeck in the U.S. and Michel Moonens in Europe. In addition, 19 fleet coordinators support the fleet in North America.

Observers find the amount of work Coyte and her team accomplish each year amazing. The cost savings exceeds all expectations, and Coyte and her team achieve these goals with limited resources.

She also credits her success to family. Her fiance and sons have been key influences for Coyte throughout the years. "I want my kids to be proud of me and to see that you have to work hard for your achievements, and it doesn't hurt to have some fun along the way!" she said.

Growing Business with Suppliers Remains Key to Fleet

Domestically, Coyte continues a strategy to grow business with diverse supplier entities. After working with JCI's Minority Development team and leasing partners, this initiative was executed in 2007. JCI signed an agreement with a certified minority business enterprise (MBE). Under the agreement, the MBE provides all funding for leased units, vehicle orders, order status and tracking, all monthly invoicing, and lease and maintenance payments. The initiative supports JCI's customer expectations for diverse supplier inclusion and has generated nearly $70 million in diverse spend for JCI since the program's inception.

Through fleet operations, Coyte also actively supports JCI's dedication to sustainability and "green" programs. In 2008, she led a review of incorporating hybrid vehicles and fleet right-sizing solutions. A thorough evaluation determined in which fleet areas utilizing hybrids made business sense, depending on the vehicle's function.

"The hybrid evaluation included a complete mock-up with specific customized details, such as the type of material used in making the vehicle," Coyte said. "Each element was carefully considered with the goal of reducing operating costs and carbon emissions through fuel efficiency."

During 2008, Coyte and her team also continued corporate sustainability efforts by establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting and benchmarks, monitoring vehicle utilization, and a continued focus on reducing fuel consumption.

Rebranding JCI's Fleet

When JCI introduced a new corporate logo in 2007, Coyte led a global decal project to rebrand more than 10,000 service fleet vehicles. To minimize driver downtime, Coyte's team worked diligently to send each driver to the nearest location to retrofit the vehicle at driver-convenient appointment times.

"The project was successfully completed last year, rebranding more than 10,000 vehicles," Coyte said. "This huge project could not have been successfully completed without the hard work of our fleet coordinators. They have a 'do whatever it takes' work ethic and painstakingly made sure every vehicle was completed."

Another major cost-saving project was a fleet depreciation evaluation. Coyte began with more than 5,000 vehicles, then shifted the focus to medium-duty trucks in 2008. Instituted changes produced multimillion dollars in  savings for JCI.

By changing vehicle suppliers, JCI also cut the cost on its largest-volume segment by 8.7 percent. To ensure monthly depreciation matches actual depreciation, Coyte and her team regularly conduct a depreciation evaluation.

Coyte also trims costs by fully employing the quarterly reviews her fleet management company, LeasePlan, provides. In 2008, the fleet team focused on unassigned units, working with the field management. By replacing older vehicles with newer unassigned vehicles, JCI reduced its underutilized fleet assets, resulting in an annual cost reduction of more than $220,000.

"This continues to be an area of focus and opportunity for additional savings," Coyte said.

She also manages the vehicle allowance program's outsourced supplier. Again, in collaboration with internal stakeholders, policy and parameters were reviewed and cost-saving opportunities identified. Implementing these changes, JCI will reduce program costs by more than $2.5 million in 2009.

To create internal efficiencies, Coyte realigned and standardized JCI's fleet management contracts, trimming the number of contracts from 12 to five.
"Because the contracts have been redefined, the time it takes to process an order has been cut considerably," she noted.

Managing Staff Reductions

Coyte dealt with other challenges. Following a staff reduction, she faced a gap in services supporting the 350-unit management vehicle program. She outsourced the personal mileage reporting program to LeasePlan. The program is managed through ePlan, an online fleet management tool. Because mileage reporting had been a manual process, the switch garnered significant cost savings.

Drivers now report mileage online, eliminating 2-3 days per month of administration work previously performed by a fleet administrator.
"This has actually led to helping our company and drivers be more compliant with IRS requirements because they're maintaining logs by reporting monthly," said Coyte.

Planning for  2009 and Beyond

Coyte remains committed to achieving her goals, and for 2009, she looks forward to new company initiatives. Her team plans to implement an ECO/Safe Driving program - beginning in the UK - and focus on reducing unassigned/pool vehicles in major European countries.

"Utilizing ePlan as the main driver database will be an important element to managing the fleet program this year," Coyte said. "ePlan will be my resource for policy documentation, forms, safety updates, driver communication, etc. I also plan to employ driver ordering through ePlan as well."

Fleet will continue to focus on its green program, which measures and monitors JCI's greenhouse gas output.

"We have a global sustainability team that includes an emissions and energy engineer who calculates all of our fuel transactions into our footprint," Coyte said. "We measure this quarterly and found we can make most impact in driver behavior."

This finding has led to increased communication between the fleet team and operations managers. All JCI fleet managers participate in monthly regional meetings, during which Bombeck addresses the cost impact of negative fleet driving behavior, including engine idling, jack rabbit starts and stops, regular instead of premium-quality fuel purchases, and removal of unnecessary equipment in vehicles.

"Keeping the data and statistics in front of people helps them be more effective in controlling their costs," Coyte said.

She believes revealing this data to JCI stakeholders has been extremely helpful in saving costs and improving driver productivity.

"Branch managers know this is something they can control through constant and open communication with drivers," Coyte said.

Assessing Alt-Fuel Vehicles

A challenge in 2009 and beyond is deciding between a move to hybrids or smaller cylinder vehicles. The JCI fleet now includes 15 hybrids, in use for 6-9 months.

"We researched and evaluated putting hybrids into our fleet," Coyte said. "In 2010, we'll continue to transition hybrids as a replacement for part of our fleet and figure out what we'll do in terms of further right-sizing the fleet. We'll need driver feedback to help us make that decision."

Coyte plans to hold a fleet feedback session this summer, bringing in various vehicles and inviting participation from safety and operations staff, and drivers. The session's goal is to evaluate fleet right-sizing and explore moving to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles without compromising drivers' safety, comfort, and need to carry tools and equipment.

Coyte is reviewing an extension of the fleet management program's lease terms. "By bringing the terms and mileage in line with a more optimal replacement policy, we can reduce our cost by nearly $500,000 in the first year," she said.

Coyte also is researching developing metrics and baselines on all vehicle operating-cost factors, from incident reporting to mechanical repairs to rental cars; preparing to launch a driver training safety program in July (drivers will go through computer-based training modules or behind-the-wheel training); and rolling out JCI's new Voyager fuel card program. The bottom line for Coyte is to keep JCI's fleet team a well-oiled machine.

"We're always looking for better ways to do things, and we'll continue to look at standards on a monthly basis," she said. "There's always an opportunity to improve efficiencies and reduce costs."

About the author
Cheryl Knight

Cheryl Knight


Cheryl Knight has more than 20 years of editing and writing experience on topics ranging from advanced technology, to automotive fleet management, to business management.

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