At a Glance:


Fleet managers have a lot on their plates — and their minds:

  • Being labeled as “the car guy.”
  • E-mails from employees at all levels.
  • Balancing work/home life.
  • Losing staff.
  • Constant demands from upper management to cut costs.



Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.: The fleet manager eases into the cubicle chair.


I love the early mornings; the offices are clean, the coffee is fresh, the phones are quiet, the day is new ... well, I love it until I log into e-mail. Jeez, don't these people have anything better to do than e-mail me asking what their wife's eight-year-old car is worth? Here's a good one: We've sent this guy a half-dozen notices to get that state inspection renewed, and he e-mails me that he got a ticket. Great, another in the never-ending series of reports that some department head needs yesterday - and, of course, she copies my boss.

I guess they're not all bad. I remember when a driver who had an accident called me for help. He was pretty shaken up. We do have an accident management program, but I've been there, and believe me, when some idiot runs a red light and t-bones you, you're not thinking what the fleet procedure is, so I walked him through it, and he's nice enough to e-mail his thanks. Too bad he didn't think to copy my boss.

Voice mails are next. There are seven between 6:30 last night and now. A lot is going on out on the West Coast. Heck, I completely forgot to send one guy the price on the upgraded sound system he wants to buy. Have to get that one out first thing. Now that's weird; the dealer calls a driver and tells her the new car is in, and when she goes to pick it up, it isn't there. Add that to the list for the morning call to the lessor.

I like people as much as the next guy, but wouldn't it be nice if the place was this quiet, this peaceful, all day long? I could sure get things done then.

Friday, 6:15 p.m.: The fleet manager is packing up to head home for the day.

That was an absolutely brutal meeting. I only have one staff member, and I get the word that we're cutting back and I have to give him notice. Jason has been with me for almost four years and is one heck of a worker. With the economy still in the dump, gas prices rising, and my boss hitting me up daily for cost-saving ideas, I couldn't have got through the past 18 months without him. He's a class act, though - took it like an adult, and I'll be on the phone first thing Monday to see what I can do for him.

Now what? I've got three conference calls beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday, yet another meeting with the policy committee before lunch, and I still haven't finished the selector numbers yet. A day in the life, eh?

Ah, I didn't check the cell phone, and I'm running on fumes. I hope the Chicago office doesn't call and the phone dies in mid-sentence, again. I can't believe Little League is starting already; I love taking Alex out to the ball field - he's growing up so fast. All this travel I have to do in the next month or two, I hate missing his games.

Now that Jason's gone, how do I make myself promotable if there's no one here to step into my role? That job in strategic sourcing is right up my alley - I hope they don't pass me by, simply because they don't want to have to recruit and hire a replacement from outside.

I really like working here and love the job, but sometimes I wonder if all they think I am is some kind of clerk, or backyard mechanic who isn't up to more responsibility. Sure, they told me "go to college, get your degree," and I did. Yet, here I am, worried that I'll be stuck in this cubicle for the rest of my career.

On second thought, stop whining - I could be Jason.

Thursday, 2:45 p.m.: The fleet manager leaves the conference room after the meeting ends.

Did I say I love this job? A meeting where we were actually able to accomplish something, and management actually listened to me! Better yet, we will finally go forward with the new upfits to the service vans. No more calls about the ladders sliding off onto the hood, or complaints about the tool bins. I'm actually looking forward to calling Stephanie this time, and giving her the good news. All in all, a good learning experience; I learned how much I really didn't know about upfits.

I'm thinking now might be a good time to bring up the GPS route planner software. When I rode with the service tech last month, he seemed to spend a lot of time trying to find the next call location. If we can implement the routing program, it'll all be mapped out for him before he leaves the shop. I can work the numbers and come up with a cost savings.

One more conference call, and another meeting, and it's time to head home. Time sure flies when you're having fun.[PAGEBREAK]

Day two of the NAFA I&E. walking the floor of the show.

I gotta find the booth that's making the popcorn! Pretty good show. Wow. Is that Karen? I haven't seen her since the conference last year! I hope the job got better for her; or maybe not. If she moves on, I'd like to give it a try. Company car, expense account, a bonus, lots of travel. Hey Karen, feel free to change careers.

Seems like I know fewer and fewer people here each year. Must be getting old. That's the part of the conference I enjoy the most. It's like an annual family reunion, seeing people I haven't seen in a long time, swapping stories (and complaints), networking for ideas, laughing over a few cold ones. I wonder how many of them won't be around next year - jobs lost, companies sold, people moving further down the career path. Heck, sometimes I wonder if I will ever be moving further along. I hope so; this fleet thing, it gets in your blood, and it's tough to leave it.

Finally, the popcorn! Lots of traffic at this booth. I remember getting a proposal from this company a few years ago. We weren't ready to make any moves then, but our current contract expires this year, so maybe it's time to ask them to come and visit again. I've read they've got some very interesting new programs, and I'm curious about the details and pricing.

Jerry asked me to play golf tomorrow morning; I'm really tempted, but if I'm going to complete the conference report the boss wants, I'll have to pass, and attend the sessions on my schedule. Heck, I might even learn something.

Monday, 1:15 p.m.: after lunch with the new boss

This is going to be interesting. The new boss is smart, but the signal is clear that she's determined to "clean up Dodge City" and has some pretty strong opinions about cars. This is the third one in seven years, and I end up having to teach them "Fleet Management 101" every time. At least the previous two were willing to admit they didn't know beans about fleet management, and deferred to my experience and expertise.

But this one, I'm not so sure. I guess you don't reach upper management without confidence in your skills, but it seems to me you need to temper that with the ability to recognize what you don't know. She's got plenty of the former, but not much of the latter.

I got the old personal anecdote - "Why do we replace our cars so soon? I have an eight-year-old car, and it runs just fine." Using personal experience as a basis for fleet policy. Nothing new there, but it looks like I'm going to be working on a replacement cycle justification pretty soon. She did say that she respects my expertise, but it was half-hearted at best, and spent much of the rest of lunch outlining her "plans" for the departments that report to her. Ouch!

I really hope she doesn't start talking about reimbursement. Not that I'm worried about being able to justify our fleet program, but it'll just be another distraction. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. After all, she's getting a company car, and she did mention she had one at her last job, so she must recognize the benefit. The meeting of her department heads she mentioned will be interesting. Tom, over in corporate services, has been dreading this; he claims to have done some "research" on her, and says she's known to be a real cost-cutter. He's terrified he'll lose Marsha and Dave, the only staff he has. Welcome to my world, Tom.

On the plus side, she seems to have a great sense of humor, and expressed interest in my family. I like managers who recognize a nice work/home balance. And, she's a hockey fan so we've got that connection. All in all, I think that if I just keep doing the job, and have my ducks in order, not much will have to change.

Wednesday, 11 a.m.: after the meeting of department heads.

See, Tom? Much ado about nothing. "I'm not going to come looking for you," she said. "None of you would be where you are unless you're able to do the job, and do it well." Whew! My own little bit of paranoia is gone. Of course, there's that replacement cycle justification she still wants to see, but that isn't going to be much of a problem. I've still got the notes and numbers from the last analysis, so I can just freshen it up a bit, double check the numbers, and I'll be ready.

She's confident, all right, but I guess I was reading too much into her questions at lunch the other day, thinking she would be determined to put her personal imprint on our fleet operation. I do feel badly for Marlene in accounting. Looks as though she'll be scouting around for some automation. She should have been doing that on her own, but I understand her reluctance. I know I've always had that nagging feeling that if I find a better way to do things via an outside supplier, it would plant the seed of total fleet management and I'd join Jason out there looking for a new job in a tough economy. I'll give Marlene a call, maybe join her for lunch tomorrow, and try to ease her fears.[PAGEBREAK]

Tuesday, 3:30 p.m.: the fleet manager heads to the office after a manufacturer ride & drive.

I love these ride and drives. From a practical standpoint, it gives me the chance to try out new models hands on, see how they handle, sit in the back seat, check out the trunk space. But getting behind the wheel of that big police cruiser, man, that was fun!

I really want to see if we can downsize a bit, but I just don't see how the reps will fit all our materials and samples into the trunk and I don't want them to have to load up the back seat with boxes. The new minivans are interesting, and the EPA numbers are a bit better than the four doors we use now. We'll see how their crash-test scores look.

Whenever I talk with Eric, I get new ideas. He may work for a competitor, but he's always willing to help. They're putting roof racks on their SUVs so drivers can stow materials on roof carriers when they know they'll have passengers. I'm not sure I like that idea though. It looks weird and drivers would have to drive around all day with everything up top, just because they're taking two guys out to lunch. I think I'll pass.

I suppose I'm lucky I haven't been inundated with "green" initiatives. Those electric vehicles are cute, they ride nicely, and with the tax credits the cost is manageable. But I'd hate to have to take two people to lunch in the back seat, and forget rooftop carriers - we'd have to give our people trailers to fit the overflow from that small trunk. Also, it seems resale depends on when they hit the market. If gas prices are high, it's great; but when they're low or falling, resale suffers. Maybe as the years go by, they'll end up being more than just a quick solution to $4-per-gallon gas, and become another solid option for fleets.

Sunday, 9:45 p.m.: thinking about the coming IAS 17 lease accounting standards project.

I love surprises (not!). I especially love when I get a call from the boss at 4:45 p.m. on a Friday, asking me to meet Monday after lunch to discuss the new international lease accounting standards, what they mean, and how I think we should handle them. That way, I can spend half my weekend boning up on and preparing notes.

Here's what I think: it's much ado about nothing. You have FAS 13, which is very specific and provides pretty clear arithmetic criteria. Now, you have the new regs, which leave a great deal to interpretation. It's like, "if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it's a duck." Absent calculations, the auditors are going to look more at the intent of the transaction, rather than having a clear definition, and it's pretty clear that our open-end lease has the economic impact of owning.

That said, I've looked at our balance sheet, and even with a fleet the size of ours, putting the asset and corresponding liabilities the vehicles represent on it won't have much of an effect at all. Adding a fleet book value of $20 million into assets amounting to billions is a drop in the bucket. Same goes for the liability side - we have billions in both short- and long-term debt. It was more or less convenient to be able to book leases as an expense, but I really don't see any reason to change what we're doing if the new regs don't permit it.

I'm no accountant, but it's pretty interesting stuff, overall. What bugs me is that management asks me for this kind of input, which I like, but they are so quick to mandate that I end up doing things I know are wrong. That nagging pigeonhole, that I'm the "car guy," is tough to shake. It seems no matter what I do, how eloquent my input is, or how detailed my analysis, I get a pat on the head and a quick thanks. If I didn't really love what I'm doing, I'd have been gone a long time ago.

Wednesday, 11:20 a.m.: working on next year's budget.

There's a lot I like about this job: the people, the cars and trucks, it's fun. However, if there's one thing I can do without, it's budgeting. You're basically "damned if you do and damned if you don't." Try to be realistic and you get rejected, asked such questions as, "Where are your cost savings? I need more than that." Try to sandbag it and you get called out, too. "Four dollars per gallon for fuel? You can't be serious. It's $2.25 now, it isn't going to nearly double." I've never been one to just take last year's numbers and add 3 percent for inflation. I take this seriously. The company has to put these budgets together to determine how much working capital will be needed, how much will come from operations, and what they'll need from the banks. But tedious? This is the definition of tedious.

We got burned, big time, back in '08, when our fuel budget (biggest category in our variable costs) was exhausted before the end of October. So, when I thought I should be cautious about fuel for '09, and built in some extra dollars, we ended up almost $1 million under budget. Naturally, I had to take an axe to fuel in '10, just to get it approved. It's a "crap shoot," to be sure.

Then, there's the brilliance of management, wondering why we can't save a ton of money by just using that adorable little compact car some VP's daughter drives. I end up having to not only submit the budget for approval, but include a justification why their brainstorms won't work.

I know it'll be rejected, but I'm going to try to include a staffer in the departmental budget. With the extra 300 vehicles the acquisition brought in, I may end up working 24/7 next year trying first to consolidate everything, and then just trying to keep up with a dozen additional phone calls and e-mails every day. But hey, like Dad always said, "You don't ask, you don't get." It's worth the effort.

Friday, 5:15 p.m.: heading home for the weekend.

Gotta leave "early" today - big weekend. It's been so long since we've all been able to get away, even for just a weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it. Lie on the beach, play with the kids, get a little sun, just relax.

It was nice to get the budget approved, even though, as I expected, the staff request was shot down. Nice in that it's behind me and with the holidays coming soon, I'll be able to relax just a bit, maybe do some of the more analytical stuff that I've been putting off.

All in all, it's been a good year. I miss Jason and all that he did for me, but business is business, and let's face it, everyone has had to sacrifice. A lot happened; I got a new boss to train, the new upfit program put in place, lost staff, and had the usual projects and reports. As frustrating as things can be, I wouldn't trade this job for any other. I get to drive all kinds of cars and trucks, see the new models before they're out on the dealer lots, and deal with all kinds of people both in and outside the company. The days go quickly (too quickly, sometimes), but at the end of the week, I always feel like I've accomplished something. Sometimes, I get an e-mail from a driver who I've helped out, thanking me, and that's what makes it all worthwhile!