Susan Looney was negotiating by phone with a potential supplier who was interested in handling the fleet needs of Barnes-Hind Pharmaceuticals, Inc., headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. Realizing he was not getting to first base with Looney, the salesman told her to “have your boss contact me.”
“I am the boss,” Looney replied, speaking not only for herself but also for the growing ranks of women who effectively handle executive roles in a variety of auto industry areas, including fleet administration. Even though the salesman was calling from nearby San Francisco, he did not nail down the Barnes-Hind fleet account, which is handled by McCullagh Leasing, Inc., headquartered in Roseville, Michigan.
Looney was fresh out of Foothill Junior College when she came to the accounting department at Barnes-Hind eight years ago. After about three years of dealing daily with debits and credits, she was transferred laterally to fill a fleet control clerk vacancy, re porting to the fleet administrator. When her male boss left the company a short time later, Looney was named fleet administrator with full responsibility for the acquisition, maintenance and disposal of the 105-unit fleet used by Barnes-Hind salespeople all across the country.
Although most of the drug company’s salespeople make their rounds in Ford Granadas, Looney gives the drivers a choice of three models. She is planning to turn over about one third of the fleet when the ‘77s are available this fall and expects the eight-cylinder Granada equipped with air and stow-away spare will again be the most popular choice.
Barnes-Hind fleet drivers usually run up about 60,000 miles during the life of the three-year lease agreement with McCullagh. As the cars are due to come off lease, Looney gives the individual drivers first crack at buying them at their residual value, then has McCullagh dispose of the remainder at auction.
Looney recalls that early in her fleet administration career, she ran into an “unusual” number of com plaints from drivers. Suspecting she was being tested by men who thought a man should be administering the Barnes-Hind fleet, she refused to be drawn into countless long-distance arguments with her drivers. Instead, she instituted a regular program of surveying her drivers for complaints, identifying their needs and solving their automotive problems in the most businesslike way possible. The complaints (or testing) tapered off to a manageable routine which Looney now handles as part of her regular workload.
Realizing she did not have all the answers when she assumed responsibility for the Barnes-Hind fleet, Looney joined the National Association of Fleet Administrators. She regularly at tended NAFA meetings, made invaluable contacts with knowledgeable fleet people and stored up information the way a lifetime battery stores its charge.
Last August, Looney was elected co-chairman of NAFA’s West Coast Chapter. With the chapter’s subsequent division into two separate entities serving Northern and Southern California, Looney is now officially a chapter chairman (chairperson?) in her own right.
Although Looney has proven she can handle a “man’s” job and has been rewarded with the leadership post of her local professional association, she still drives to work in the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle she bought when she left Foothill Junior College eight years ago.
FROM BOOKKEEPER TO AUCTION VICE PRESIDENT
Six evenings a week during the harness racing season a voice from the top of the grandstand at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, Long Island, New York, booms out over the public address sys tem: “Starter, call your horses.” In a new building at that same racing plant at precisely 12-Noon every Thursday, the much softer voice of Roseanne Vitulano is heard to announce: “The auction is now in session.”
Vitulano came to the Raceway Auto Auction seven years ago as a bookkeeper. She learned to keep track of the cars big leasing companies were disposing of, match each car to the dealer who bought it, and make sure accounts were properly settled before buyer and seller left the premises.
Today, Vitulano is Raceway Auto Auction’s vice president and general manager, overseeing the activities of 12 auction staff people and 30 drivers. On a typical Thursday auction session, Vitulano guides some 400 cars through the fast-paced change of ownership. She was named vice president of the auction last October and since then, has increased the flow of used cars going under her gavel by an average of 125 units per week.
About 30 percent of the business Vitulano handles every Thursday is fleet disposal for such clients as Gelco Leasing, Trans-Action Leasing and Ford Motor Credit Corp. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company regularly disposes of its fleet cars through Raceway, as do a number of other firms operating large sales fleets.
Vitulano personally attends to the accuracy of condition reports (often accompanied by photos), and sees to it that auction clients are given one-day service on clean-up, mechanical and maintenance operations. Although auctions are only held one day each week, the preparations that make for a smooth-rolling Thursday are a full-time job.
Additionally, Vitulano must regularly find time to contact potential new clients and sell them on her auction’s ability to satisfy both buyer and seller. Vitulano admits she still occasionally runs into men who indicate they would prefer to do business with an auction run by a man. “But that’s their problem,” she philosophically observes. Most of my business contacts judge me on my ability, not my sex, and most people leave the auction satisfied with our service,” she declares.
THREE MILLION DOLLAR FLEET SALES EXECUTIVE
As the 1976 model year draws to a close, Shirley Rupp’s fleet sales tally approaches the $3 million mark, representing some 600 new cars, vans and light trucks she sold through the fleet department of Elmhurst Dodge in Elmhurst, Illinois. Rupp’s impressive sales record is currently running some 50-percent ahead of the 1975 model year, which was her first full year of operation after she convinced the Elmhurst Dodge management to let her set up a fleet sales department.
Rupp came to Elmhurst Dodge after seven years with Long Chevrolet, also in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst. Most of Rupp’s customers are men who buy cars for such fleet operators as Hertz, Avis, National Equipment Leasing and Consolidated Leasing Corporation. With her proven abilities to find cars “lost” in transit, solve “lost” mail problems and efficiently execute drop shipments through dealers all over the country, Rupp has long since overcome any male reluctance to do business with her because of her sex.
In fact, Rupp believes she has an edge over many men who work in fleet sales because her customers tend to be more “gallant” with her than they would be with a man. Rupp believes automotive sales work is “filled with expanding opportunities for women.” But she cautions that women entering the field must expect to start in general office work (as she did), where they can learn to deal with the endless details of the craft, then move up to the more lucrative and rewarding experience of closing sales.
Like any good sales executive, Rupp does not sit behind her desk waiting for customers to come to her with cash in hand. Instead, she regularly calls on fleet people and firmly spells out the reasons they should buy from her. “The name of the game is service,” Rupp declares, and the fact that a hefty percentage of her customers are repeat buyers is evidence that she knows how to provide the kind of service that translates to an ever up ward curve on the Elmhurst Dodge sales chart.
‘DEN MOTHER’ TO 500 SALESMEN
Like Susan Looney, Doris Doyle is a corporate fleet administrator whose cars are driven by a national sales fleet spotted all across the country. But because Doyle’s fleet is seven times as large as Looney’s, it figures that the problems she must regularly solve would be proportionally greater.
As manager of field services and fleet administrator for the Gold Body Building Products Division of National Gypsum Company, headquartered in Buffalo, New York, Doyle keeps track of a fleet of 700 cars and 40 trucks leased from Baltimore’s Peterson, Howell & Heather. Doyle works with an annual budget of $16-million, most of which is spent on the fleet and its drivers.
About 500 of Gold Bond’s 700 cars are used by salesmen who must carry bulky samples on their rounds. When Doyle replaced a number of Chevrolet Malibus and Ford Torinos with Novas and Granadas at the start of the ‘76 model year, her drivers deluged her with a flood of angry complaints about the reduced trunk space. But the fleet administrator eased her way out of the torrent of animosity by convincing the drivers to carry only a one-week’s supply of samples, which had the dual effect of saving on the cost of samples, as well as the cost of cars.
Doyle, a NAFA member, has been Gold Bond’s fleet boss for the past four years. Like Looney, her back ground is in accounting. She joined Gold Bond 30 years ago in the ac counts payable department, then spent 12 years in the budget department, eventually rising to the position of selector budget analyst She subsequently learned the right to manage the company’s field service department and at the same time, took over responsibility for the fleet. She sees her current role as “den mother” to 500 salesmen.
“Expect the unexpected and be flexible,” is the way Doyle describes the demands of her work. During the energy crisis and the subsequent decline in value of full-size cars, Doyle kept the fleet in service for 70,000 to 80,000 miles to avoid “giving away company money.” Her decision to get higher mileage out of the Gold Bond fleet proved to be the right financial move when the economy turned around and used car prices rose.
UPGRADING DAMAGE APPRAISAL
Fleet operators, leasing companies and insurers all use damage appraisers on a more or less regular basis and sooner or later, almost everyone who uses an appraiser will have valid reason to complain, either about undetected damage or “too generous” a settlement. Jeanne Mitchell, originally from Longview, Texas, but now working out of the Milwaukee headquarters of the Independent Automotive Damage Appraisers, brings an almost evangelical fervour to her mission to upgrade the damage appraisal field.
As public relations director for an association with some 300 separate offices nationwide, Mitchell maintains that only the constant striving for honest and accurate appraisals, each and every time, will ever result in the field being recognized as a responsible profession. To that end, Mitchell spends much of her time trying to get school systems to turn out better automotive trades people. She implores carmakers, parts suppliers and repair people to find ways to cut repair costs without reducing repair quality.
At the same time, Mitchell points to the great strides the IADA has al ready made in improving the quality of damage appraisal and lists such satisfied clients as Avis, Hertz, Gambles C & M Leasing, Ingersoll-Rand, and Playtex Corporation as proof that the association’s members are the best in the field.
Mitchell originally got into damage appraisal work when she became office manager in her husband’s Texas appraisal business. Appalled by what she regarded as shoddy work in her own back yard, she launched a clean-up campaign that took her to the top levels of IADA. Mitchell is by no means a feminist, but she is confident women can handle appraisals and cites a number of local IADA operations that are run by women.
“People are always going to have accidents and while we (the IADA) must be involved in saving lives, we must also be involved in saving our customers money, or we won’t be in business,” Mitchell says.
A WOMAN ADMINISTRATOR WITH TWO FLEETS
“I like doing nice things for people and providing fellow employees with new cars is one of the nicest, yet most challenging, occupations I can think of,” Patricia Grams says in describing her work as fleet administrator for the Continental Can Company – USA division of The Continental Group. Grams spends her workdays in the division’s aggressive purchasing department keeping a close eye on the 400-unit fleet leased through Gelco Corporation, Peterson, Howell & Heather, and Donlen Leasing.
Because Grams replaces the division’s fleet at the rate of about 150 cars per year, the used car market is an area of constant concern that she must diligently reckon with in her efforts to save her employer’s money.
The Continental Can fleet chief says she has few problems with the men who drive the cars and rely on her for their acquisition, upkeep information and disposal.
In addition to her automotive fleet, Grams maintains a “fleet” of 10 championship quarter-horses at her Willow Lane Farm in Barrington, Illinois. The pride of her second “fleet” is Velvet Top, a highly regarded stallion.