The Fleet Manager of the Year award.

The Fleet Manager of the Year award.

This year marks the 29th annual Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, presented by Automotive Fleet magazine and sponsored by Wheels, Inc. and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). Many of the past winners of this prestigious award are still active in the fleet industry today. Automotive Fleet reached out to them to find out how their jobs and the industry have changed since winning the award, and what advice they have for fleet managers striving to be the “best-of-the-best.”

This group of fleet managers loves their jobs. They understand the value of networking and mentorship. And, instead of complaining about changes, they embrace them.

Debbie Mize, 1995 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Corporate Services Manager, Fleet, Relocation & Travel
  • Hallmark
  • Total Years in Fleet: 35

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

MIZE: Winning the 1995 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award increased my credibility at my company and recognition within the industry. My career has been greatly expanded with additional responsibilities; the largest are our corporate travel and relocation programs.

I love my job and all the interaction it provides with others in my industry. There are continual changes and challenges and I have had so much support from both the vendor side as well as other fleet managers. I also really enjoy helping others who are new in the industry and eager for knowledge.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

MIZE: Since winning, I think there is so much more information and statistics on our fleets available, which is so helpful in making decisions in the best interests of the company.
 
AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

MIZE: Get involved with the NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) and network with other fleet managers. So many individuals become fleet managers within their current companies and receive little training.

Manufacturers and fleet management companies (FMCs) can also be extremely helpful, especially for a new fleet manager. I think the unique piece of the fleet industry is that most of us really have a passion for it and are so willing to help others with our experiences.

Sue Miller, CAFS, 1998 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Manager, Fleet Program and Services
  • McDonald’s Corp.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 33

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

MILLER: It added tremendous credibility to my position at McDonald’s. It created a new level of curiosity about what I do and why the award exists. I’m very fortunate and grateful that my leadership supports my individual success, not only for my own personal achievement and gratification, but also for the benefits it allows me to return to my company. I love my job, primarily because it is in constant motion and engages so many layers of business and politics — the world economy, sourcing, sustainability, HR, risk, safety, legal, and finance — it is global. It is dependent upon healthy vendor relationships and management of same; there is never a dull moment!

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

MILLER: It would take quite a while to list all the industry changes and impacts since 1998 that have presented new challenges! I would have to say that 2008 and 2009 were some of the toughest years on record. The biggest change I’ve seen in fleet management is the recognition of the many disciplines fleet managers must master to be effective.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

MILLER: Build relationships across all facets of the industry. Always remain open to ideas and input. Don’t allow yourself to become comfortable with your personal skill set or vendor relationships. Work together, but regularly set goals, measure results, survey your customers, challenge yourself, your team (if you supervise), and your vendor partners. Document your successes and keep your leadership engaged in what you do — consistently. Maintain your honor and integrity. Live your life with gratefulness and respect.

Shirley Collins, CAFM, 2000 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Director, North America Fleet
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Total Years in Fleet: 26

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

COLLINS: There have been many changes. Mergers and acquisitions have increased my scope of responsibilities, as well as assuming responsibility for the North America fleet. The economy alone has created many changes in fleet, including the increase of outsourcing/off-shoring. There have been increased compliance and emphasis on safety; however, some have increased the safety concerns, especially with distracted driving. Being named to the Fleet Hall of Fame was also an honor.

The fleet community and industry is a special group of people. I enjoy working with the different facets of fleet, both internally and externally. I enjoy the challenges and changes in fleet, which require flexible thinking and ongoing automation and process improvements. Choosing the right partners has been key to my success. As my staff has decreased, the dependence on proficient suppliers to help create solutions has gained in importance.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

COLLINS: The fleet industry has changed because the economy has changed. There is a more detailed understanding of the funding of vehicles and the financial impacts to the company are needed. OEM mergers and vehicle changes have also been a big change. The biggest challenge I am currently facing is integrating Canada and Puerto Rico into North America policies/procedures, while taking into consideration the local cultures.

Consolidations (mergers and acquisitions) have increased; there is more of an emphasis on improved IT capabilities; and an increased scope of responsibilities for fleet managers including global or regional fleets. Also, due to economic conditions, there is a closer scrutiny of financial situations; creditworthiness of suppliers is now imperative.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

COLLINS: Establish yourself, not just as a fleet manager, but as a manager that is required to be proficient in many areas. Network within your company using internal contacts in risk management, HR, environmental safety, sourcing, legal, etc., and let your accomplishments be known.

Schedule frequent updates with your management so they are aware of the work you are doing and any savings you have created for your company. Also, stay in touch with current fleet best practices by taking advantage of networking and education provided by the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) and the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Finally, choose your business partners wisely and take advantage of what they can offer to assist in your success.

Jim McCarthy, 2005 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Director of Fleet
  • Siemens Corp.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 20

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

McCARTHY: Winning the Award is an industry honor, so it means a lot more to people in the industry than to “outsiders.” That being said, I would like to think that being a recipient of this award in 2005 was instrumental in my Fleet Hall of Fame recognition in 2011. What the award did for our department was equally as important, if not more so — it essentially validated (to executive management) everything that our team had been working on for the past 10 years, mostly processes tied to consolidation and standardization. No matter how much time and effort we put into quantifying and marketing our end results, outside validation is always a welcome and positive reinforcement.

I like the industry, and I truly love the people, and especially their passion for what they do. It’s not just about cars and trucks — it’s about the entire “circle of life,” from vehicle concept to recycling.

Additionally, the diversity found throughout the total cost of ownership (TCO) process is both challenging and inspiring — from acquisition to financing, from safety to telematics, from depreciation to remarketing, it covers it all. I believe our team has been continuously good at managing their collective fleets, because we don’t accept the status quo. We are always looking for ways to improve processes, to drive value-added change, and to stay ahead of the curve.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

McCARTHY: Like many in our industry, our primary challenge over the past few years has been managing change, specifically departmental change tied to reporting lines, from finance to shared services and ultimately to procurement.

Although I am not thoroughly convinced fleet is a commodity, we are well into the mix and doing our best to pound those square pegs into the round holes — a bigger hammer might help a bit, but I’m not so sure. We have found it is imperative for fleet managers to remain operationally sound and strategically savvy when they find themselves in an extremely strong procurement environment. You need to keep TCO, the customer, and the driver first and foremost in everything that you do in spite of pressures to provide year-over-year savings. When all is said and done, the real challenge is to treat your clientele like customers and not users.

For me, one of the most notable changes is that in 1998 our corporate philosophy was to “Buy American;” however, today we are having a hard time even defining what “American” really is. So, over the years those lines defining “import” have moved from well-defined, to fuzzy, to almost non-distinct, and, as a result, we are enjoying a bit more flexibility and a broader mix of potential vehicle offerings.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

McCARTHY: Treat the position as a career, not just a job — first, because it very well may become your career (for me it was an 18-month assignment that has developed into an 18-year career) and secondly, because you always perform better when you build your goals and strategies based on a long-term vision.

Remember that the landscape is under constant revision, and we need to be able to manage at the highest level of competency no matter what the “current” landscape might be. When all is said and done, it’s always about the end results. Also, don’t wait for recognition — always market your successes upstream, not necessarily to pat yourself on the back, but to ensure the value-add of your department is recognized and understood.

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Scott Mayo, 2006 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Fleet Manager
  • Scotts Lawn Service
  • Total Years in Fleet: 22

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

MAYO: Even though I lost my job at Wendy’s three months after receiving the award, and was out of fleet for five years, I do believe that being named the 2006 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year helped me get my current position at Scotts Lawn Service. I enjoy the challenges of operating an efficient fleet. I was very involved with the NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). I worked very closely with my vendors and was active on several advisory boards.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

MAYO: My biggest challenge right now is to get current on the changes that have taken place while I was out of fleet. In my short time back, I think the biggest change is the new technology that is available for the vehicles and for managing the fleet.

AF:  What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

MAYO: Become active with NAFA and AFLA. You also need to be involved with your vendors and their advisory boards. You can learn a lot by talking to your peers.

Joe LaRosa, CPA, 2008 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Director, Global Fleet Administration
  • Merck & Co., Inc.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 17

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

LaROSA: I am still very honored to have won the 2008 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award. My professional life has only changed for the better as I became more confident in achieving my work objectives and increasing my leadership skills. Additionally, the award seemed to have catapulted my desire to share and seek out best practices among my peer fleet managers and further my knowledge of fleet practices around the globe. In other words, winning the award was only the beginning of my best days in fleet management, and not the end or settlement of my achievement.

I have enjoyed working in fleet management due to the many facets of the business environment it touches upon. When I first started to learn all that entails managing a fleet process, it was the first time in my career I was able to utilize all my business knowledge, experience, and acumen. I still have this feeling today and having the opportunity to learn this process globally has been a “perfect storm” for my personal and professional growth. I believe I can still make contributions to improvements for my company around the globe and try my best not to accept the status quo, but have learned not to cross those cultural lines that perhaps would impede or cause controversy in a particular country.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

LaROSA: As fleet managers, there are ever-increasing and new challenges facing us every day. Winning the award did not make me immune to achieving my company goals and personal objectives. In fact, I became more accountable to my team and my management to achieve our goals and objectives.

The biggest change that is happening in the fleet profession today is a change in business strategy/paradigm from “administering” fleet processes to truly “managing” costs of ownership. This is met with management’s expectations that fleet is no longer considered a core competency to running a particular type of business operation and that fleet managers have to become more strategic in delivering fleet savings, but without a reduction in fleet services. In my case, there has been a shift from administering fleet internally to outsourced professional fleet management companies on a global basis. Fleet managers must then focus on managing those companies and hold them accountable.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

LaROSA: All fleet managers, new and experienced, must be constantly vigilant trying to find the best solutions for managing fleet processes. Never accept the status quo, and, for managers entering global responsibilities, try and remember to consider long-term goals rather than short-term goals.

I have approached fleet strategy in places such as the Philippines, where the short-term higher costs would far outweigh the longer-term savings in order to change to an outsourced provider.

Christy Coyte Meyer, 2009 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Global Fleet Manager
  • Johnson Controls, Inc.
  • Total Years in Fleet: 19

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

COYTE MEYER: Since winning the 2009 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award, I have been given added responsibility (allowance program), as well as additional people on my team.

I love my job. My fleet team is relatively new — we’ve added six new people in the last two years. I get to work with a team who loves their jobs and it’s inspiring to see their passion in the work they do. Some had fleet experience when they joined the team, some did not. It’s been fun being a part of their development.

I also like the challenges my job brings. It’s rewarding to present ideas and solutions and to deliver results. Also, I love networking with fellow fleet industry professionals. I believe I am good at what I do because I like what I do! It also fits well with my nature — driving accountability and results from my team and suppliers, teamwork, and open communication — all while having some fun!

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

COYTE MEYER: Current challenges include fuel costs and implementing effective and sustainable solutions to reduce our fuel and greenhouse gas emission levels. Also, driver safety is an area of concern with ever-increasing driver distraction.
The biggest change I’ve seen is technology. The data available today just keeps growing.
Also, I would have to say the available education — from the certified automotive fleet manager (CAFM) and certified automotive fleet specialist (CAFS) certifications to the college degrees now offered in fleet management.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

COYTE MEYER: Use the available resources! Pursue training and educational opportunities and connect with other fleet managers! Don’t underestimate the value of networking.

Michael Sims, 2010 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Manager, Global Fleet Planning, Acquisition & Resale
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Total Years in Fleet: 35

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

SIMS: Since winning the Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award in 2010, I have been given added global responsibilities, but not as a result of the award.

I like everything about the fleet business. I like meeting the challenge of an ever-changing industry. I like being able to make a difference and serving on sounding boards and having an effect on the way our key suppliers do business.

I also like the relationship part of the business. Developing and maintaining relationships is critical in running a successful operation. I think we, as a fleet department, are still good at our jobs as we employ best practices and are constantly looking for ways to make changes for improvement. We are not afraid of change, we embrace it.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

SIMS: Global is becoming a huge priority. It is drastically changing the way we do business, as well as changing our current processes. We are also installing a new global fleet system which is consuming a lot of time. We are also concerned about the safety of our drivers and are testing a system in our vehicles that monitors their behavior and mentors them to improve driving habits and performance.

As far as changes, there seems to be more turnover with our major partners than ever before. This makes it difficult to build and maintain trusting relationships, but, having said that, we have great business partners. As manufacturer budgets have become tighter, it is more difficult to test vehicles on a long-term basis. This is a valuable program that is becoming a challenge. We are seeing a noticeable change in the way manufacturers hold their product previews with more emphasis on product and less on entertainment. To me, this is a good change. These really are becoming business meetings as they should be.

We are also seeing a noticeable improvement in product quality. There is also more competition than ever before with the manufacturers. We have more products to choose from, but it is becoming more difficult to single source. As manufacturers have reduced their budgets, they have cut vehicle products and are specializing in certain types of products. Meeting all of your product needs with one supplier is impossible if you have multiple types of vehicles required.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

SIMS: Network, network, and network. Learn as much as you can from those who have experience. Attend fleet-related conferences, such as the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA), NAFA Fleet Management Association, Green Fleet, and others if your budget will allow it. Immerse yourself in learning the business. Subscribe to and read the best fleet publications. Make yourself available to serve on committees, sounding boards, and organizations. Don’t be afraid to give back to the industry by making yourself available. Build relationships with manufacturers and learn their product. Meet with them often and make them feel welcome and part of your team. Be loyal to your business partners and develop a culture of trust. Finally, don’t be afraid of change!

Theresa Belding, 2011 Fleet Manager of the Year

  • Senior Manager, Fleet Services
  • Forest Pharmaceuticals
  • Total Years in Fleet: 19

AF: How has your professional life changed since winning?

BELDING: Inside of Forest Pharmaceuticals, winning the 2011 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award provided for a greater interest and understanding of fleet. It certainly made my department far more visible.
I love this job because it is so diverse. Before starting in fleet, I could not have imagined doing the “same” job for 19 years. But, it really isn’t the same job I had 19 years ago. So much has changed with the industry in general, with technology, with my company, etc. Just when things appear to be mundane, something new and exciting happens to keep things fresh.

AF: What are the biggest challenges and changes you have seen in fleet management since winning?

BELDING: Things have not changed dramatically, but I try harder to prove our value. I am always looking for new ways to show that we are doing a better job at managing the fleet year over year.
The biggest change is technology: in the vehicles, in the tools to manage the vehicles, tools to communicate with drivers, etc.

AF: What advice do you have for other professional fleet managers?

BELDING: My advice for new fleet managers is to understand that you cannot do this job well in a vacuum. There are so many knowledgeable individuals willing to share their expertise, successes, and failures. Take advantage of these resources. These are peers, vendors, individuals within your organization.

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