“Becoming One” was the theme of the announcement of ARI’s acquisition of Fleet Support Group.  Pictured  with founders of FSG Geoffrey Bray (left) and Ina Bray (3rd from left) are Kathy Mullin, VP and general counsel of Holman Automotive, and Brian Bates, senior VP, finance and CFO of ARI.

“Becoming One” was the theme of the announcement of ARI’s acquisition of Fleet Support Group.  Pictured  with founders of FSG Geoffrey Bray (left) and Ina Bray (3rd from left) are Kathy Mullin, VP and general counsel of Holman Automotive, and Brian Bates, senior VP, finance and CFO of ARI.

In December 2011, ARI (Automotive Resources International) announced its purchase of UK-based fleet Support Group Ltd. (FSG), Britain’s largest independent fleet management company. FSG was founded in 1987 and provides fleet management services to more than 55,000 cars and trucks in the UK. FSG shares ARI’s family-owned heritage. Geoffrey Bray, chairman and founder, was recently elected to the UK Fleet Hall of Fame.

AF Editor Mike Antich recently spoke with ARI President Carl Ortell to learn more about the acquisition. The following are excerpts from the interview:

AF: What is the history behind the acquisition of FSG?

ORTELL: For years, we have been thinking about how to expand our brand globally in order to satisfy the needs of our growing portfolio of multinational customers. We wanted to be able to offer the same high level of responsiveness and service anywhere in the world. 

Starting in the 1990s, we established our Global Fleet Services alliance with leading fleet management companies. GFS, or Global Fleet Services, is that global alliance and continues to be an important part of our strategy.

However, in Europe, our clients had unique needs in each country, and, at that time, working with one fleet management partner meant inconsistent service levels from country-to-country. We developed ARI Global Fleet Consulting to address this opportunity. Working from offices in Brussels, Zurich, and Stuttgart, our experienced consulting team can partner with multinationals to develop and implement the most effective pan-European and global fleet management plans.

The FSG acquisition came about after we conducted an in-depth study of the UK fleet market and found this opportunity to expand our unique brand of customer service-driven fleet management. We saw that FSG was already a recognized service leader. Plus, they had a culture very similar to our own. Together, we had the makings of a great team! 

We negotiated with FSG throughout 2011.  So, when we announced the acquisition in December, we were more confident than ever that ARI UK will deliver the utmost value and the highest level of service.

AF: Are you looking to make additional acquisitions in the European market?

ORTELL: Because our business model is based on working strategically with our valued customers, we listen to their fleet needs today and for the future. We believe there is a unique opportunity in the European market today, and, as a privately held company with a history of continuous investment, we will be positioned to serve our customers and complex fleets as they grow. 

AF: What types of fleets are represented in FSG’s client portfolio?

ORTELL: They range from major multinational companies to local UK firms and government entities.  FSG has clients that include some of the UK’s best known organizations, including Dun & Bradstreet, Balfour-Beatty, Network Rail (a national rail system), Travis Perkins and WH Smith. These mesh nicely with our client roster and with our strategy of serving companies with complex fleet needs.

AF: What types of services does FSG offer its fleet clients?

ORTELL: FSG focuses on maintenance management, accident management, licensing/renewal management, and fleet administration outsourcing.  It is also one of the few companies in the UK that has a truck maintenance offering for vocational and complex fleets. 

FSG has pretty much all of the service programs you would find in the fleet management world.  It has an award-winning driver safety program called RiskMaster. That program includes uninsured loss recovery and third-party claims handling, among many other features. We believe RiskMaster is an exceptional global product.

FSG also remarkets vehicles on a limited basis, and we intend to bring full remarketing services using our state-of-the-art processes and technology to the UK market. In fact, we intend to expand and enhance all of the offerings in the UK, except funding.  We have no immediate plans to do any leasing.

AF: Another major program FSG offers in the UK is Masterview. Can you explain its features?

ORTELL: Masterview is a very unique service in the UK.  It utilizes online, real-time photos and video as part of the FSG maintenance and accident management programs. The images show customers damage and maintenance issues at the time of service on-site at the repair shop. Masterview is another product we are studying to determine its practicality for the North American market.

AF: How are you going to grow FSG in the future?

ORTELL: Fortunately, FSG has already established a very strong and loyal customer base. So, we started with a strategic plan that builds on FSG’s and ARI’s common strength of surpassing the expectations of customers that have complex fleet needs, including large and multinational  fleets, trucks or equipment, a demanding supply chain, critical data integration needs and reporting issues, and more. 

We are now cross-training our teams, expanding our UK sales force, integrating and enhancing our systems and processes. Our goal is to deliver the same leading-edge technology and consultative approach that’s made us a leader in North America.

I have been meeting with our UK clients since the start of the year, and it is clear that fleet decision-makers have an urgent need to improve the capture and analysis of real-time data for vehicles and drivers. So, our just-announced data analysis technology tools that analyze data 3,600 times faster than any other reporting tool available today will deliver a whole new level of value to UK, North American, and multinational fleets. 

AF: Will there be any changes in FSG management?

ORTELL: First, FSG founder Geoffrey Bray has committed to remain as chairman. His position in the UK fleet industry is legendary, and his insight into the UK market is unsurpassed. 

Also, Mark Bryan, formerly director of ARI’s call centers, was promoted to vice president of European integration. Mark has re-located to the UK and is working with Geoffrey and his team on the integration process.

However, our goal is to have in-country management. In our experience, that’s the best way to ensure that we thoroughly understand user needs and a changing market.  ARI senior management in Mount Laurel, N.J., will provide the necessary direction and investment in technology, processes, and people. We will also look to leverage our leadership as a global fleet management services provider. 

This is the formula we’ve applied in Canada, where we are now the largest fleet management company. We are very strong in Mexico, too, because of our strong Mexican management team there. We will continue to lead in the UK fleet management business using the same approach.
To get there, however, we begin with an open exchange of ideas and opinions from our talented management teams on both sides of the Atlantic. We are in the midst of bringing teams from various departments back and forth between our operations to learn from each other. Over the next few years, we will integrate people into various aspects of the business to get the most from our expanded talent pool. 

We intend to invest a lot of money on technology as we have continuously done in North America. We want more connectivity of people, processes, systems, and culture. Our “Partners in Excellence” program, or PIE, as we call it, is being rolled out in the UK. PIE establishes and tracks fleet-specific performance goals that substantiate our promise of “service excellence.” Everything we have in North America will be brought to the UK and tailored to fit. We will bring new ideas and programs that have never been seen before.

We want the ARI name to be synonymous with unsurpassed service excellence for companies with complex fleet needs anywhere in the world. What makes the synergy between our two companies so good is that FSG brings to the table a passion for the delivery of great customer service just like ARI.