In today's uncertain and constantly-changing business environment, the very best fleet managers - such as Automotive Fleet's 2003 Fleet Manager of the Year Josie Sharp - implement fleet programs that contribute to the achievement of overall company goals.

"Perhaps the place that fleet managers can contribute the most is really managing the corporate goals with fleet programs," says Jim Frank, president of Wheels Inc., a fleet management company based in Des Plaines, IL. "It's important to step back and ask 'Why do we have this fleet?'; 'What is the employer trying to accomplish with this fleet?'; and 'Have we built programs that are well-synchronized with the requirements that the company has to be successful?' The best, most-efficient fleet program in the world, if it's not supportive of corporate goals, is not a great fleet program."

Frank, who was interviewed prior to AF's awards brunch held May 4, 2003, in Philadelphia, said that while these corporate goals differ from company to company, the need to incorporate them in fleet remains the same throughout the industry.

"You see companies that are focused on cash flow, others that are focused on reported profitability, and others that are focused on employee retention, hiring, productivity, and/or satisfaction," Frank says. "All of those things dictate different policies and different programs. The fleet manager who gets that right is probably doing the most exceptional job."

Frank believes another important trait common among today's best fleet managers is flexibility. Since corporate objectives change rapidly, the fleet manager needs to be able and willing to adapt at the same pace. This is especially true in mergers and acquisitions, where two (or more) different fleets with different cultures and goals need to be integrated.

Sharp of Aventis, for example, successfully implemented the consolidation and integration of the Hoescht Marion Rousel and Rhone Poulenc Rorer fleets.

Fleet managers who build credibility within their organizations and who are able to effectively communicate ideas and objectives both up and down the corporate ladder are usually best able to anticipate and react to change.

"Anticipation becomes that much more important," he says. "You can't do things at the last minute because you don't have time to think and plan. You've got to be looking ahead trying to figure out what the issues are going to be and trying to prepare yourself because you're not going to have a lot of time to respond to some of the things that happen so quickly."

Frank also believes that general management skills are an integral part of a great fleet manager's repertoire. In particular, communication skills are crucial. Good fleet managers know how to communicate their positions and influence corporate decisions.

"Ultimately, it's about accomplishing corporate goals and objectives and the fleet manager is in a fairly unique position to be able to translate those needs and goals to specific programs."