Chris Amos, CAFM, is the 31st president of the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Amos is also the long-time commissioner of equipment services for the City of St. Louis. As NAFA president, Amos has been instrumental in helping the association form industry partnerships and alliances. NAFA's Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program is the primary vehicle being used to reach the greater fleet management industry. A core belief of Amos' is that NAFA should embrace continuous improvement. With Amos entering his second year of his two-year presidency, Automotive Fleet interviewed him to get a mid-term progress report and a preview of what's in store.
Below is an excerpt from our interview.
AF: Do you personally have an objective goal to accomplish for your second year that hasn't yet been announced?
AMOS: If you mean will there be any surprise announcements any time soon, the answer is no. While I have the honor and privilege of being NAFA president right now, NAFA's direction is determined by its strategic plan, developed entirely by the 60-plus representatives who sit on the NAFA Board of Governors. My role is to shepherd the Association through the two years in which I am president, not dictate my will on the Association.
There are, of course, goals I would like to accomplish within the strategic plan toward which my own labors are directed. We continue to make excellent progress filling in the remaining education competency gaps. These new and updated education products feed into NAFA's certification curriculum, allowing it to continue to evolve and stay relevant. The strong certification program is, in turn, serving as the basis for industry partnerships aimed at collectively raising the level of professionalism and recognition of the value of fleet management. NAFA recently created an entity specifically to steer current and planned fleet certification programs with formal input from our partners.
AF: Can you provide an update on the status of these alliances and the benefits derived for NAFA members and Affiliates?
AMOS: NAFA's CAFM program has greatly enhanced its exposure and reputation as the premier fleet certification program, thanks to recent alliances with the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators (NCSFA), Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association (RMFMA), Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators (FLAGFA), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) - all of which endorse and offer both the CAFM and Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist (CAFS) programs to their members. We are in discussions about extending this alliance with other fleet associations that do or do not currently have a certification program.
In addition, one of the most important goals for the CAFM program was achieved when a partnership was made with Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., to offer college credit for the successful completion of the CAFM/CAFS program. NAFA also started negotiations with three additional universities - one on the East Coast, one in the Midwest, and one in Canada - and aims to ultimately establish partnerships in every region of the United States and Canada.
NAFA has two main goals in mind for partnerships: first, that the school accredits the CAFM and offers a mechanism for graduates to attain the credit without actually attending the school. Our aim is to make this beneficial to NAFA members by attaining more credits at a reasonable cost. And second, that some form of on-campus fleet management course is offered that uses NAFA materials in its instruction. This second goal should result in college graduates discovering a rewarding career in fleet management earlier in their professional lives.
NAFA views these partnerships and alliances as key steps towards the creation of a unified, educational standard for fleet management. Accountants have the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) as their standard; we want the CAFM to be recognized as a similar standard for fleet managers.
AF: Since corporate fleet managers already are well-represented at the regional chapters and are on the Board of Delegates, why is there a major push for an additional "Advisory Board" to represent this group, rather than some positive action to get them nominated and elected as Trustees?
AMOS: I'm glad you mentioned corporate fleet managers are already well-represented at the regional chapter and Board of Delegates levels of NAFA. There has been a misperception in recent years that we have been moving away from corporate fleets, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, our push to create a Corporate Advisory Board will continue to further an already strong relationship with corporate fleet managers. So, the advisory boards are not "instead of" other positive actions; they are "in addition to" other positive actions.
Many corporate fleet managers have expressed interest in being part of NAFA leadership, but simply do not have the time to do so. An Advisory Board will allow these members to be highly influential within the Association without facing undue time restraints. This will truly be a win-win situation for NAFA as the Association can take advantage of the knowledge and ideas of members who otherwise may not have been heard.
AF: As determined in the NAFA Board meeting last October and summarized as the "Strategic Plan Update" in December, corporate fleet issues were emphasized as dominating your planning. What are you pro-actively doing to encourage participation by this group and to make it easier for them to be represented as Trustees?
AMOS: First of all, we are communicating better. We have to change the impression some have that the Association is led mostly by government fleet managers. While almost 60 percent of the Officers and Trustees are government fleet managers, it is important to note that this is very close to the percentage of government fleet managers in NAFA's total membership.
While there is nothing in NAFA's bylaws mandating the Board of Trustees or any body within NAFA reflect the membership composition, NAFA has by policy and practice always tried to ensure equal representation for all fleet segments on its committees and boards. The composition of the Board of Trustees has always been dependent on two primary factors: eligibility and volunteerism.
To serve on the Board of Trustees, a person must have a minimum amount of experience on the Board of Governors. After that, it is entirely based on who throws their hat in the ring and volunteers to be a leader. In recent years, the majority of those proverbial hats have come from government fleet managers, despite the fact more corporate fleet managers are on the Board of Delegates.
One thing that became clear during the October workshop was that corporate fleet managers did not lack a desire to be national leaders. Instead, what they lacked was the time and resources necessary to be effective volunteer leaders. For the most part, corporate fleets are run by a staff of just a few people with relatively heavy reliance on outsource providers for fleet operational support, so dedicating time and resources to NAFA can be difficult. That's not always the case with government fleets, where we have larger staffs and can lean on them while we put time in for NAFA.
As a result, this spring we started a Corporate Fleet Advisory Board to act as a sounding board to NAFA's committees. The time and work commitment for the Advisory Board will be significantly less than NAFA's other committees, but it will be a way for corporate fleet managers to have input and set direction in all that NAFA does.
I have personally been frustrated for many years trying to understand what NAFA needs to do specifically to meet the needs of our corporate fleet members, despite having asked at every opportunity. Hopefully, this Advisory Board will help articulate those needs so we can take positive action to meet them.
We are also communicating better about NAFA's nomination process. It is clear that most people, including those on the Board, do not have a good understanding of how to become a NAFA leader. People think there are politics involved, but that's not the case. NAFA is always looking for good people to step up and get involved. We just have to make them aware of how to do that.
All that being said, NAFA is proactively encouraging all Members and Affiliates to actively participate in their Association. NAFA is their Association, and the Association's strategic plan reflects the needs of that dynamic membership base. NAFA is positioned to be the one association that encompasses and engages all segments of the fleet industry.
Basically, if you're involved in fleet, you can find a home at NAFA. With this in mind, we feel that it's critical to encourage members from all fleet sectors to be engaged, to participate, and to seek leadership opportunities in the Association.
AF: Can you tell us why the Institute & Expo (I&E) was backed up yet another day, beginning now on Saturday a.m.?
AMOS: All changes to I&E 2010 - and there are many - come as a result of input and direction from the NAFA Board and NAFA I&E planning committees. At our June 2009 Board meeting, extensive time and discussion was dedicated to the Institute & Expo. The entire Board of Governors participated in discussions on how to keep the I&E fresh and vital to today's attendees, while also maintaining the key to its strength - the highest quality fleet management education available today for all fleet sectors, while providing valuable networking experiences among the most diverse group of fleet professionals out there. The planning committee, which includes Members and Affiliates from all segments, approved the changes in June and built the show on the new platform.
Really, the primary difference is that the annual business meeting has moved from Sunday to Saturday morning. We added a few concurrent sessions to choose from on Saturday, but for years, the Institute & Expo has commenced on Saturday, with the full educational program running through Tuesday. Saturday has always featured the critically important and highly valued fleet sector workshops, as well as the Public Safety Group Roadeo. This year, we are trying an adjusted schedule to continue to better serve our attendees' educational needs with minimal time away from the office. With this agenda, Saturday will truly deliver a powerful punch to properly start the fleet event of the year.
Other changes centered on bolstering attendance at the Expo to network fleet managers looking for products and services with exhibitors who offer them. These changes included freeing up all evenings so Affiliates wishing to entertain clients have increased opportunities to do so without taking them away from the Expo or education sessions. The reality is Expo revenues pay for many Member services, education development, and legislative advocacy efforts that take place throughout the year. We Members owe it to our exhibitors to visit them on the Expo floor - those conversations, too, can be very educational and bring value to our employers.
[PAGEBREAK]AF: There were discussions about the possibility of revising NAFA's bylaws to eliminate the distinction between fleet manager members and Affiliates. What was the outcome of those discussions?
AMOS: Yes, I recently asked the NAFA Board of Governors and past presidents to voice their opinions about granting full voting rights and additional leadership opportunities to Affiliates. We also polled all Affiliates about their thoughts on the issue. The next step is to poll the Members. This isn't a decision NAFA can or should make quickly. We need to get input from everyone - Members and Affiliates - and think strategically about the impact of acting or not acting on this.
When NAFA was incorporated in 1957, it was established as a professional society for fleet managers. And, while the Association's bylaws allow participation by Affiliates, they do not allow Affiliates to vote in elections or be elected as president or chapter chair.
Affiliates are a rich source of expertise and talent, and it makes sense for NAFA to leverage those assets to benefit the Association. I think there is room for improvement in this area in terms of getting Affiliates involved and making them feel more appreciated for their contributions. I personally view Affiliates as colleagues and business partners and cringe when they get treated like "cash cows."
I can tell you when we asked Affiliates what they wanted from NAFA, the top thing on their list was "prospective clients," not the right to vote or hold office. They also wanted to contribute to NAFA's overall success and be recognized for doing so. That tells me NAFA needs to do a better job of providing outlets for Affiliates' expertise, and we need to do a better job of saying thanks. If nothing else comes of this discussion, I hope our Members do a better job of treating our Affiliates with the respect they deserve.
AF: Do you ever envision a day when Affiliates can hold leadership positions within NAFA chapters?
AMOS: Today, NAFA Affiliates play an important and pivotal role in the Association. As such, NAFA Affiliates do hold leadership positions within NAFA chapters. It is true with current bylaws and structure, Affiliates cannot hold elected officer positions. Yet, Affiliates are essential to the health and maintenance and vitality of all chapters. All other positions within the chapter leadership are open to Affiliates in good standing, and their efforts are appreciated at the local and international levels.
NAFA Affiliates can hold positions of leadership on all permanent committees chapters are required to have. These committees include the Affiliates Committee, of course, but also the Membership, Program, Reception, and Safety Committees.
On the national level, Affiliates have representation on the Board of Trustees with the position of NAFA Trustee-Affiliate. There are also Affiliates serving as vice chair on most boards, committees, and councils, as well as members of these vital groups. Their contributions to education product development have also been invaluable as Affiliates share their expertise with the fleet management industry through NAFA service.
There is no question Affiliates provide valuable leadership now despite the limitations imposed by NAFA's bylaws. I don't know yet if NAFA's members are willing to eliminate or even reduce those limitations, but we are having a healthy discussion about it, not for the first time in our organizational history.
AF: A year ago during your acceptance speech, you mentioned as a priority an extension of educational satellites such as Alaska and Hawaii. What progress has been made, and are they still a high priority?
AMOS: For more than 50 years, NAFA Fleet Management Association has challenged itself to be the pre-eminent source of fleet education, information, networking, and advocacy for the entire fleet profession. While NAFA's primary mission during this period of time has largely focused on the U.S. and Canada, the Association is looking to extend its reach across the globe.
Many countries are active in fleet management, but none appear to have a unified approach to fleet management education. By expanding overseas, we hope to standardize terminology and methodologies and enable fleets to truly harmonize global fleet operations.
NAFA has an agreement with consulting firm Mercury Associates, Inc. as a highly qualified resource to develop, promote, and deliver an instructor-led, fleet management seminar in venues outside the continental United States and Canada. The seminar will be based on NAFA's highly successful Fleet Management and Advanced Fleet Management Seminars and use NAFA-approved materials, terminologies, and recommended practices. We've spent the nine months since announcing this initiative updating the seminar materials in preparation for our expanded audience.
As a first step, Mercury will conduct a seminar in Alaska in May of this year. We will likely hold a similar seminar in Hawaii later this year, with another in Puerto Rico shortly thereafter. Following those initial forays, we hope to branch out to Asia, Africa, South America, and Western Europe when Mercury or another partner is willing.
We also have a great relationship with the Australasian Fleet Managers Association, and we hope to work with them to co-produce materials and seminars in their region.
AF: Most in the industry agree education is paramount, and earning a Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) degree should, in itself, gain vital recognition from the individual's management. However, don't you feel some part of the curriculum should specifically include "Selling Executive Management" on the total awesome responsibilities of fleet management? What can NAFA do to augment this current weak link?
AMOS: As you are aware, the certification program consists of eight disciplines of fleet management, with professional development one of the eight. As part of the CAFM curriculum, materials inform students on the importance and merits of communication, leadership, and ethics. These principles and others within the program, such as how to write an executive summary, can be overlaid to then "sell executive management" on the importance and wide-ranging responsibilities of fleet management. All the pieces are there for individual students to actively use this knowledge to further themselves.
To augment this, however, NAFA encourages all CAFM graduates to request the publicity avenues the Association provides them upon graduation. More than 100 CAFM graduate press releases may be distributed in a single year through these targeted efforts. Press releases and announcements may also be sent to employers for their newsletters and internal communications media or to inform superiors.
Most importantly, NAFA partnerships and alliances with universities such as Ferris State, with fellow fleet associations, and with industry publications, such as Bobit Business Media, have helped unify the profession, as well as elevate it.
AF: What are NAFA's current legislative initiatives? Does NAFA have concerns about current legislative proposals winding their ways through either the federal and/or state legislatures?
AMOS: NAFA's most pressing legislative initiative at the moment is restoring the federal tax credit for biodiesel. The biodiesel credit expired at the end of 2009, which now makes the cost of biodiesel more expensive than the cost of petroleum diesel fuel and affects many members of NAFA. In January, NAFA's Executive Director Phil Russo sent a proposal to allow state and local government vehicle fleets the ability to take advantage of federal tax credits to the leadership of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. In addition, NAFA sent out an e-mail to the membership urging them to write to their local senators in support of extending the biodiesel tax credit.
NAFA also recently pushed a proposal to allow an Energy and Environmental Vehicle Payroll Tax Credit be made available to state, local, government, and other tax-exempt entities whenever vehicle tax credits are available to regular taxpayers for clean fuel or low-emission vehicles.
Additionally, NAFA provides Members a monthly legislative update e-newsletter providing an overview of pending legislation and how it will affect fleets. NAFA legislative counsels in both Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Canada, are often inside the decision cycle for legislators and regulators, giving voice to issues that concern the entire fleet management community.
AF: What does NAFA view as the most pressing issues facing
commercial fleet managers today, and how is it looking to address these issues?
AMOS: In general, both commercial and public sector fleet managers have great concerns about declining employment and pressure to reduce costs. Circumstances compel many of us to reduce the size of our fleets, lengthen service lives, and alter the mix of vehicles purchased to favor smaller, less-expensive models that get higher mileage.
NAFA helps fleet managers address issues such as these in various ways. For example, the annual Institute & Expo contains more than 60 hours of educational seminars and panels created by fleet managers to deal with their most pressing issues. The sessions change every year to reflect the various industry changes affecting a fleet manager.
NAFA has also begun issuing white papers centered on topics and issues that affect fleet managers. These white papers allow us to go inside a topic with far more detail than we can in our magazine or e-newsletters.
NAFA's e-communities, forums in which members share ideas and experiences, are a valuable tool to use and discover what other fleet managers are doing or thinking about doing regarding pressing issues.
There are few situations faced by fleet managers that haven't already been faced by others. One of the greatest values of NAFA is the ability to network with some of the brightest minds in fleet management. In my experience, working with others can help you get through even the most difficult problems.
AF: Looking ahead to the next five years, what emerging threats and opportunities will the fleet industry face? In the next five years, what opportunities and threats will NAFA face as an industry association?
AMOS: Our radar has picked up such important industry issues as increasing the recognition and status of fleet managers, the global energy situation, environmental sustainability, the global automotive industry, and the impact of developing countries on North American fleet operations, and changing workforce demographics. NAFA's strategic plan includes elements addressing each of these along with several other issues. It continues to evolve as new opportunities and threats arise, and especially as new, bright leaders give of themselves in service of their profession.
As for NAFA, as a business, we are talking about new models for delivering education at all levels, further developing fleet certification programs, creating industry standards and benchmarking data, leveraging our position as the premier multi-sector voice for fleet managers, and leveraging our size and diversity. NAFA's Members and Affiliates support a 13-member professional staff that works tirelessly for us and continues to make progress even when volunteers can't.
Like the feather metaphor in the movie "Forrest Gump," it often seems as if much of what concerns fleet managers floats here and there on a capricious breeze, seemingly beyond our influence. I fear the fleet management profession is in danger of becoming too fragmented if the various associations and trade groups don't cooperate with each other when it is mutually beneficial to do so. Finding common ground can be difficult, but it exists and NAFA is ready to explore it with all comers.