Michael Sims, fleet operations manager for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was awarded Automotive Fleet's 2010 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year honor. Sims was recognized April 25 in a special ceremony at the NAFA Fleet Management Association's (NAFA) Institute & Expo in Detroit. He was selected by a 32-member judging panel, including past winners, manufacturers, auctions, fleet management services, dealers, and the media.
Instituted in 1985, the award is sponsored by Automotive Fleet magazine, Wheels Inc., and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA).
"I was totally surprised and honored," Sims said. "I am grateful for a dedicated team of fleet professionals who help us manage our fleet. The other nominees were so deserving, and any of them would have been outstanding choices."
The AF Professional Fleet Manager recognizes an experienced and proficient fleet manager who has demonstrated special business acumen in developing and executing key management policies in all areas.
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.
Sharing Secrets of Success
A 36-year industry veteran, Sims directs a global fleet of more than 12,500 vehicles, headquartered in Salt Lake City. His overall responsibilities include planning and sourcing vehicles worldwide.
Sims also works on manufacturer agreements, including collaborating with purchasing to ensure vehicles are acquired at best price available; vehicle specification using four different selector lists; specification and purchase of all vehicles in the United States and Canada; and assistance on global agreements and vehicle recommendations. He also serves as the financial information source for vehicle budgets.
Among Sims' notable achievements are creating an improved lifecycle cost tool for purchasing decisions, implementing a GPS-based system that led to improved driving habits and fewer accidents, replacing the current fleet management system with a true global system, and standardizing global fleet processes by implementing rules, metrics, consolidated information, and inventories.
Sims' industry affiliations include membership in NAFA, Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association, and AFLA, serving on the organization's Commercial Fleet Sounding Board. Other activities include chairing GM's U.S. and Global Fleet Sounding Boards and serving on the Ford Fleet Advisory Board.
The secrets of Sims' success? He lists knowledge, expertise, technology, and partnerships.
"I think we won the award because our fleet is respected in our industry. We are willing to share our knowledge and expertise with others. We are also valued participants in manufacturer sounding boards and have been for the past 20 years," Sims stated.
Sims and his team are also considered cutting-edge by peers and have established partnership relationships in every area of the fleet industry. In fact, Sims said they are more than partners, they are also friends.
"Our association with our friends and partners is very important. We communicate often and share best practices," he said.
A 26-year Church staff member, Sims said working for the Church is unlike any other organization for which he had worked.
"There is a sense of dedication and purpose that far exceeds a profit-and-loss statement," Sims stated. "We in fleet move a great work forward in serving the needs of our members and bringing souls unto Christ. As a division, we share a strong work ethic and a level of dedication surpassing any level of dedication of any group I have every worked with. Call it a dedication to a higher purpose."
Family, Team, Honesty & Dedication Inspire Sims
Sims' sources of inspiration and life influences are many, but first and foremost, he values family and friends.
"I have three wonderful children from my first wife (LeeAnn), who died of cancer 14 years ago. She was my childhood sweetheart," Sims said. "I have since remarried a wonderful woman, Lori, whom I adore. We have a wonderful life together. We have 10 beautiful grandchildren."
Sims' family and faith influence every area of his life, keeping him grounded. He considers himself a people person, and friends are a major part of his life.
"I think you live longer and are healthier when you surround yourself with good friends and a loving family," he said. "I was raised in the Church by good parents who are still with us. I have two sisters and a brother. I love to travel, and I want to see as much of the world as I can."
Sims' coworkers and friends in the industry also provide him a sense of mission and community. He works with two direct reports, eight indirect reports, and 16 additional co-staff.
"We have the best team in the industry," he said. "We have 26 dedicated Salt Lake-based fleet employees, 15 area offices around the world with dedicated fleet staff, and over 100 volunteers who help us run and manage our fleet," he said. "These volunteers give us an advantage over any other fleet."
Sims considers his Fleet Manager of the Year award a team achievement. In fact, when he was nominated a few years ago for the same award, he declined the honor. In the organization, he noted, no single employee is more important or less responsible for their successes than any other team member.
"When I was again nominated, I approached my boss, Dallan Sohm, and asked what he thought about not going forward," Sims said. "He stated that if I was fortunate enough to win, it would be a great opportunity to recognize our great staff and the contributions that every member of the team contributes to our success."
Fostering Honesty & Integrity
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints emphasizes a philosophy of honesty and ethics in all its dealings. In fact, Sims remembers a time not long ago when a manufacturer overpaid the Church on a rebate.
"When we received the check, it looked like too much. It would have been easy for us to not only not find the error, but to ignore the overpayment," Sims pointed out. "When the error was discovered, the money was quickly returned without question. It was a sizeable amount."
On another occasion, the Church had 50 orders of a particular brand in its order system, when it was announced the brand was being retired. This would, of course, lower residual values, so the Church asked the manufacturer if the orders could be canceled. The manufacturer countered with a higher CAP agreement, but stated the units would be built, and the company would lose money on every unit.
"Without hesitation, we cut the higher CAP in half so that our partner would break even," Sims said. "I think our partners trust us, and we expect the same from them. We want to be fair in our dealings and be treated the same."
The Church also values its employees' expertise and integrity, the reason nearly every fleet function is performed in-house.
"We are a very unique fleet, and we do everything in-house," Sims noted. His top five best practices performed in-house include selling vehicles to end users, not auctions or wholesalers; maintenance and inventory control; accident management and repair; manufacturer negotiations, and specifying and buying; and global fleet management.
"This is why I consider this a team award. We do everything in-house," Sims pointed out. "We don't use leasing companies or wholesalers, and we are able to accomplish this because of our dedicated employees and our large volunteer staff. It is an honor to work with these fleet professionals, and I consider them to be the best in the industry."
Effectively Managing a Global Fleet
The Church's diverse fleet spans the globe. About 70 percent of the Church's vehicles are deployed in the U. S. and Canada, while the remaining 30 percent are disbursed in more than 131 countries. Vehicles are replaced every four years or 75,000 miles for trucks and three years or 55,000 miles for sedans.
"Lack of a good global system has been our greatest challenge, and we are close to resolving it," Sims indicated. "Being aware of laws unique to individual countries, fluctuating exchange rates, insurance laws and regulations, product availability, high cost of travel, consistency of processes, product knowledge, and language and time differences are all challenges."
Just beginning to implement a new global fleet management system, Sims expects to achieve a dramatic savings due to streamlined processes and cost reductions.
"Our greatest opportunity lies in the global arena," he indicated. "We have recently put great effort into improving our global processes, and while we are close to selecting a global system, we have done a lot to use our existing system more effectively."
Sims helped standardize the Church's processes, recently adding global manufacturer agreements, and is working on adding more. The fleet team divided the work into six sub-processes, including Plan, Source, Comply/Train, Operate/Maintain, Repair, and Sell. Sims is the sub-process owner for Plan, Source, and Sell.
The fleet team has also improved and refined its lifecycle cost tool for purchasing decisions, including metrics. The most critical metric is the total cost of miles driven.
The tool captures all aspects of the total cost of ownership, including purchase price, miles per gallon, maintenance costs, insurance, time value of money, and residual value. The fleet team utilizes the tool to create four distinctive selector lists.
"When we put our selector lists together, we are confident that we are making the right buying decisions," Sims added.
GPS Tool Improves Driver Habits
Sims is also leading initiatives to further increase the Church's efficiencies and maximize operational cost effectiveness. The initiatives include a GPS-based tool to improve driving habits and reduce accidents by increasing driver accountability.
"We are completing a test of a GPS-based tool we call the Driver Accountability Program," Sims said. "We have looked at a variety of systems, but few meet our minimum requirements."
Those minimum requirements include voice-in-cab mentoring, the fleet team's preferred driver feedback method over flashing lights and buzzers. The voice mentoring alerts Church drivers of hard stops, turns, and starts; speeding by posted speed by street; and lack of seat belt use.
The system also allows individual driver log-in and creates reports that classify drivers by ability and identifies drivers who need further training or removal.
"The test is coming to an end, and a decision will be made concerning the program's future direction," Sims stated. "This has been our most effective tool in changing driver behavior."
The new system is intended to reduce accidents, driver downtime and injury, and maintenance costs, while increasing fuel economy and residual value.
"The fleet industry is a moving target, and we are constantly making changes in the way we do business in an effort to stay on top of these challenges," Sims concluded. "Change and the ability to quickly adapt to current market conditions are critical to our industry."