This year’s recipient of Automotive Fleet’s Professional Fleet Manager of the Year honor has 30 years’ experience. He also has a great sense of humor, a wealth of knowledge, and a knack for skillful negotiation

What you first notice about Greg Tarring, fleet manager of Philip Morris U.S.A., is his enthusiasm. It is apparent when he talks about motor vehicles, the relative merits of auto manufacturers, or the logistics of ordering a thousand new cars and trucks each year. It’s only later that you notice other aspects of his personality: skilled salesman, shrewd businessman, and committed corporate citizen.

In his 20-year association with Philip Morris, Tarring has received several honors: In 1993 he received the Philip Morris Chairman’s Award for outstanding contributions to the company; and in 1988, he received the Philip Morris Companies’ President’s Award for his contribution to fleet operations. These honors, Tarring says, resulted no only from his ability to trip costs with the company’s lessors and manufacturers, but from making the sales force a top priority.

“Financially, we met, and in good years, even surpassed expectations, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the sales force hadn’t received the support they needed to place product and service customers.”

Why Fleet Management Chose Tarring

Tarring has enormous respect for his peers in fleet management and is grateful to be honored. “It’s not an easy business to be in,” he answers. “Everyone out there who manages to meet the needs of his or her company’s sales operation when cost cutting is everybody’s top priority deserves this award as much as I do, but don’t think for a minute I’m not happy I was chosen!”

Automotive Fleet is honoring Tarring for the numerous cost-cutting programs he has implemented, for his successful negotiation of supplier alliances, and for the accolades he has received at Philip Morris.

Tarring says his greatest accomplishment has definitely been the receipt of the Chairman’s Award. “I was honored at an awards dinner, and it was a fantastic experience. When your senior manager recognizes and thanks you for doing a good job for the company, it means a great deal.”

From Farleigh Dickinson to Manhattan

Tarring graduated with a B.S. in business management from Farleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ. After a start in banking, he progressed to accounting and finance before sighting a job posting that would change his career. “I happened to see a job in purchasing at a food concern that had a medium-sized fleet,” remembers Tarring. “The fleet got larger, I liked the business, enjoyed the networking and friendships. And then I was offered a job with Philip Morris as fleet manager.”

Today, he reports directly to the sales department and oversees a fleet of approximately 3,800 vehicles.

Single Sourcing Proves Viable for Philip Morris

Before 1991, Philip Morris Companies Inc.’s domestic operating companies (Kraft, Miller, and Philip Morris U.S.A.) made annual purchases from Detroit’s ‘Big Three.’ In 1991, challenged to make further savings in fleet operations, Tarring and his counterparts were ready t5o alter the course of the operating companies’ several fleets.

The Philip Morris Domestic Fleet Council, which began in 1979 with a group of Philip Morris’ domestic operating companies, had never seriously considered selecting a single-source supplier. Tarring explains, “Finally, in 1991, we took a hard look at our operations, and asked for more efficiencies. At that point, each company was operating with three motor companies and we came to an agreement to join forces and go out and bid the industry to see what king of reward we could obtain from a single-source agreement. We chose companies, three domestic and one foreign that were capable of meeting all of our needs. After a lot of negotiating, a lot of figuring and refiguring the financial angle, a lot of effort to meet the individual needs of each operating company, we chose what we agreed was the most promising company of the group. In retrospect, it seems simple, but believe me, at the time it wasn’t so easy,” concludes Tarring with a laugh. “Kevin Hampton, who was my counterpart at Kraft at the time, and many other individuals worked long and hard to make this a success.”

Tarring is asked how else these alliances might have benefited the Philip Morris operating companies, other than by reducing costs. “That’s an interesting question.” he says. “Obviously, we were looking to maximize our efficiencies. I think that by having these alliances, we keep away from a multiple selector list with numerous vehicles, so it’s eliminated a great deal of paperwork, numerous specifications, and confusion in the office and in the field. From our standpoint, Philip Morris U.S.A. now has one vehicle to upfit versus three. Last but not least, it allows us to be more involved with senior management at the motor company with whom we’re doing business.”

The Lure and Benefits of Global Fleet Management

Philip Morris has been a leader in the global fleet management movement, especially between its North American and European operations. Tarring observes that “after realizing our successes achieving a domestic agreement, the same methodology was presented to Europe. We have counterparts in Europe, and the first step was coming to the realization that not all of us know everything about Europe; nor does Europe know everything about U.S. operations. So we picked representatives from each domestic operating company and also from the operating companies in Europe to analyze our success in the States and see if single-sourcing could work in Europe.”

Tarring’s counterparts in Europe were successful and have gone from using multiple manufacturers to a primary vendor.

The Global Fleet Council operates as one might suppose: “by face, fax, phone, letter, or whatever it takes,” says Tarring. “Domestically, our people are spread throughout the States-Kraft Foods is in Chicago, and Miller Brewing is in Milwaukee-and I stay in touch with our European contingents through visits or over the phone. We chat on a regular basis; discussing changes in the industry, new methods, alternate suppliers, and so forth. Right now, we’re scheduling a global fleet meeting for the beginning of June.”

Client Advisory Boards Provide Impetus for Ideas

Tarring has served on the General Motors, Ford, and GE Capital Fleet Services’ client advisory boards. He firmly believes the benefits of such associations far outweigh their shortcomings. “In each advisory board, you have access to senior management, you see how the individuals you’re working with are planning for the future, how they are setting priorities and determining objectives. You’re right in the midst of things, and many cases-and I’m speaking about motor companies in these instances-you’re privy to new model designs, and your input on what would make a better vehicle is really valued. For me, it’s been a very rewarding experience. I’ve also increased my knowledge base with our lessor, GE Capital Fleet Services. Our meetings have given me advance insight into their plans and permitted me to point out areas where I think there is room for improvement. Working together we can sustain the momentum for positive change.”

Replacing Vehicles Proves to Be Added Efficiency

With its fleet of approximately 3,800 vehicles, of which 1,000 are passenger cars and the remainder are mini-and full-size vans and a scattering of light-duty trucks, Philip Morris stands to realize considerable savings when the right cost-cutting procedures are implemented.

To further maximize the resale value of its vehicles, Philip Morris has tried a number of approaches. Tarring elaborates, “We are currently using our lessor’s services through auctions and wholesalers, and so forth. We’ve also shopped the market ourselves. We do random sampling, utilizing wholesalers and dealers its extra effort, but it helps us evaluate the results our lessor is getting for us.”

‘Drive to Win’ Safety Program Raises Safety Awareness

Since 1980, Philip Morris has implemented a safe driving program called ‘Drive to Win.” To further stress the importance of safe driving, a community grant program was instituted in 1991; it recognizes safe drivers in five-year intervals.

“This program allows our safe drivers to make a tangible contribution to various organizations and be recognized for their achievements,” adds Tarring.

What’s in Store for Fleet Management?

When asked what he foresees for fleet management, Tarring chuckles. “You’re asking me to be a soothsayer?” Turning serious, he asserts, “That’s a really wild question. I see the resurrection of large dealer bodies coming into the business and the superstore coming into the fleet arena. It’s not unlikely that we will see companies buying directly from superstores and arranging for alternate financing through them. I also see new trends in outsourcing and unbundling. And I see some different companies coming to the fore to handle these opportunities more aggressively. It used to be that the management companies would handle everything. Now we see the clientele, who are the purchasers of vehicles and services, moving in different directions.”

The greatest challenges facing the industry today, Tarring believes, “are to economize, to get out there with the best product for the market at an extremely competitive price, to provide alternate financing, to make the best car for the job, and to stay on the cutting edge of trends in the industry.

How does Tarring stay on top of developments in the industry? “Through a large network program,” he responds. “And I think NAFA (the National Association of Fleet Administrators) has been very instrumental. I think Automotive Fleet has been very helpful in announcing different trends in the industry. And I do read other auto publications to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry.”

The Lighter Side of Tarring

Any man who loves New York City as much as Tarring does can’t be all bad.

“There’s just something about the city,” he says, “an energy.” He also loves cars, and, oh yes, his job. “I think I’m good at what I do. I have some people who respect me, and I try to treat everyone fairly. I love the negotiations; I love the different facets of the business.”

And then he breaks off into his trademark laughter. “I guess I still find it fun!”