First and foremost, today's fleet managers must remember Robert Anson Heinlein's quote, "A generation that ignores history has no past and no future." Not knowing and understanding what history teaches not only results in wasted effort, but also increases the probability of error.
Fleet management requires many talents from the perspective of our profession's establishment. While the methods available to today's fleet manager have improved with the advent of electronics and computerization, the job itself hasn't changed, despite today's common wisdom. The responsibility of fleet management today - as it was 50-plus years ago - is to provide company vehicles in the most cost-efficient, safe, and dependable manner possible.
A word, too, about the prevailing canard that fleet management today is somehow more difficult or complex than back then. We faced many of the same problems: management recognition and recessions, and the scarcity of new vehicles after World War II when delivery took as long as six months, quota restrictions, lack of advanced, timely new-vehicle and pricing information, the fuel shortages of the '70s, and the beginning of outsourcing. We had to make annual pilgrimages to Detroit, at our own expense, to cajole manufacturers into giving us the information needed to plan replacement programs and budgets, which we did the hard way, with tools primitive compared to today's automation and technology.
Yesterday's fleet manager also invariably had a technical background gained in the automotive field - at a dealership or repair shop, in used-car sales, etc. - and blended that experience with business acumen to create the profession we have today. Early-day fleet managers most often first served lengthy apprenticeships, under the guidance of experienced managers, enabling them to hit the ground running when given the responsibility.
Know Your Management & Product
Get to know your organization's management team intimately, from the top down, and how each is impacted by the fleet effort and how fleet affects their responsibilities. Maintain close contact with each segment, keeping them informed without overburdening them with voluminous reports. Ask for their input.
It's vital, too, that you become totally familiar with your organization's product - service or merchandise - and how it is delivered, since it greatly impacts vehicle assignment, specification, and usage. An aside here, always select the vehicle to do the job in the safest and most cost-effective manner, for your company and for no other reason!
Know Your Job
You must learn the intricacies of the job. If your background is accounting, by all means bring those skills to the task, but learn as much as you can about vehicles, their costs, how they're leased or purchased, and how they're sold.
Spend time with dealers, used-car wholesalers, auctions, repair shops, and manufacturers. Understand the vehicle's factory invoice, what a fleet lease is, and how rates are calculated. Understand, also, your organization's finances and source of capital.
Learn how to judge a repair estimate to intelligently discuss repairs with a shop or maintenance management provider. Know the difference between a catalytic converter and a brake caliper and be able to recognize repairable collision damage versus a total loss - and how to make that decision.
Sell a few cars yourself during the year, even if your fleet is leased and the lessor does it for you. You don't need to play the instruments, but you do need to lead the orchestra.
Outsourcing, used properly, can be a great help, but never outsource responsibility. Suppliers supply tools, nothing more; use those tools to do the job yourself, rather than pushing it off on a fleet supplier. Retain all responsibility for decision making pertaining to the allocation of your organization's resources: people, time, money. Outsource only clerical and administrative tasks. When economic conditions dictate, don't wait to be told, but be the first to suggest cost-saving measures, even downsizing the fleet.
Know Your Suppliers
Develop long-term, equal partnerships with suppliers. The focus today, more than ever before, is on price and too little on value. Jumping from one supplier to another to save a few dollars isn't good business. If RFPs are generated from outside your function, do not allow them to progress without your input and decision making. Value is a function of both price and performance. All arrangements require service after the fact, from your dealer, repair shop, lessor, or management company, and the level of service received is in direct relationship to the deal struck. All businesses are profit-related, and as the old adage says, "You get what you pay for."
Know how a lease-versus-own analysis is performed. Be prepared with arguments against converting the fleet to reimbursement while understanding, depending on circumstance, leasing, ownership, and reimbursement can coexist successfully to cover unique fleet situations.
Maintain contact with other fleet managers, especially within your industry group to discuss problem areas and their solutions. New methods, products, and programs are constantly being developed; make sure to keep updated by meeting with and listening to suppliers who call or visit. You might learn something.
Know Your Drivers
Communicate with drivers regularly; get to know each other. Today's outsourcing has limited fleet managers' contact with drivers, and too many fleet managers don't understand the mission. Spend a day, several times during the year, with a driver, riding a route, servicing customers, selling. There is no better way to get their input on what they need and how the vehicle can better serve their needs. In addition, the experience will provide the opportunity to see how the vehicle is cared for.
Know Your Field Management
Besides getting to know your drivers, get to know their supervisors on whom you must rely to see that your program is implemented. Show supervisors how established policy and procedures work to their benefit in increased sales/service and less costly vehicle downtime. Their cooperation is vital for a smooth-running program while at the same time relieving you of some effort.
Your credibility must be established; management must be convinced you are the resident expert on fleet matters, with the knowledge to do your job in the company's best interests. Invite senior management to accompany you to industry meetings so they can see, firsthand, the intricacies and value of professional fleet management - and the problems you face.
In summary, today's fleet managers should:
● Know all aspects of their jobs, company, and product.
● Keep policy and procedures up to date.
● Invite management to join you on field trips and/or to industry meetings.
Professional fleet management is not acquired overnight; it takes time, effort, and an ongoing learning process. "Beware of endeavoring to become a great man in a hurry. One such attempt in 10,000 may succeed." Benjamin Disraeli