Once upon a time, sales and service representatives were driving many miles to visit prospects for the product or service they had to offer. The cars they drove were varied, and, in many cases, their own or provided by their employer. There was little rhyme or reason as to how such transportation was reimbursed, provided, purchased, or maintained until one day a group of dedicated, visionary individuals in the Northeast decided there had to be a better way.
They concluded they needed to share their experiences and methods to fine tune the handling of this transportation. The Round Table Group was formed, with each member taking turns hosting monthly meetings where they freely exchanged vehicle management methods and experiences.
Then, one day they were so pleased with their group’s results they decided to go national to get more people involved to develop their profession. The National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) was born, with a $10 loan to establish a treasury.
Three-quarters of a century after these fleet pioneers first gathered, we recognize and honor the following trailblazers for their knowledge and efforts. Were it not for them, the profession of fleet management would not have become recognized worldwide as the premier source of vehicle management expertise.
These are just some of the individuals who worked tirelessly, on their own time, behind the scenes, with the vision to develop the profession of fleet management and the association now called The NAFA Fleet Management Association. In the course of their efforts, they developed the basic programs and approach to fleet management, which, while methods may differ, remains the bedrock of our profession today, attributing to the genius and vision of this “Greatest Generation” of fleet management.
Emil Ames began his automotive industry career as service manager for a Packard dealership in New York City. He was manager of the car control department for Universal CIT (UCIT) Credit Corporation, starting in the early 1940s until he retired in 1963. He managed a fleet of more than 2,000 company-owned vehicles as well as the disposition of UCIT’s repossessed vehicles nationwide, at one time through seven used-car outlets across the country. He designed a vehicle expense report, used to develop operating cost-per-mile figures and set replacement schedules at two years or 40,000 miles. He was also the first to set up a national account billing program for tires, tubes, batteries, and antifreeze with Firestone, through the use of a “charge card,” later evolving into a repair and maintenance program (RAMP) providing broader coverage.
Ames “loaned” the newly formed NAFA $10 in 1957 to start the treasury, and, to anyone’s recollection was never repaid. He served as NAFA president from 1960 to 1961 and was NAFA’s first “service consultant,” the forerunner of its executive director position. He was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2008. He passed away in the late 1960s.
Warren Begas was the long-time fleet manager and assistant treasurer for the General Adjustment Bureau (GAB), overseeing a fleet of some 3,000 company-owned vehicles nationwide. Begas was also a part of The Round Table Group. He was appointed chairman of the editorial committee and proved to be a persuasive and effective salesman, when, during the 1965 annual meeting, he reported that his first round of solicitation brought in advertising contracts worth $10,000 (more than $70,000 in today’s money). This continuing income rapidly increased the treasury, permitting NAFA to undertake many projects. In addition, he was the driving force in organizing a three-day “Advanced Seminar - Profession of Fleet Administration” in New York City with attendees from throughout the country, which was a resounding success.
Ray Breault began his fleet career in 1959 at Hoffmann La Roche, in Nutley, N.J. A Round Table Group member, Breault joined NAFA in 1960 and remains active today. He served at all New York chapter levels and on the National Governing Board, where he held all positions except treasurer, including president from 1977 to 1979. An Affiliate member of four Eastern Region chapters, Breault received the Outstanding Chapter Service award in 2004.
In 1977, Breault joined Revlon Cosmetics Inc. as national director of fleet operations. After retiring from Revlon in 1990, he joined Rental Concepts Inc. (now Fleet Response) as regional sales manager. He provided an innovative car rental program to corporate fleets in the Northeast territory. Officially retiring in 1998, he returned to Fleet Response as a part-time Northeast sales service representative, a position he still holds.
EDITOR’S ADDENDUM: Too modest to nominate himself, but without a doubt one of the great fleet managers in the history of fleet, Al Cavalli began his fleet industry career in 1948 at Universal CIT Credit Corp. (UCIT) working with mentor, Emil Ames. He joined American Home Products in 1972 as director, personnel transportation, leaving in 1977 to return to CIT Service Leasing, spending several years there as VP client relations and director, retiring in 1981. He joined Avis Car Leasing as manager of sales and service, retiring in 1989. Cavalli was also a past president of NAFA from 1969 to 1971, received the NAFA Distinguished Service Award, NAFA & NY Chapter Honorary membership and was elected to the Automotive Fleet Hall of Fame in 2008. — Editor
During the NAFA presidency of R.A. (Dick) Beltz from 1975 to 1977, the NAFCAR/NAFVAN project was initiated. It had a telling impact on the manufacturers’ forthcoming vehicle designs, which closely resembled the project’s recommendations.
In addition, the NAFA Foundation was established and dedicated to the advancement of professional fleet management, providing funding for academic research and educational programs, in conjunction with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to develop a certificate program for fleet managers, leading to the CFM (now CAFM) program.
Warren Feirer was fleet manager for Nabisco, and held the position of NAFA president from 1979 to 1981. He also served as president of the NAFA Foundation and was a recipient of NAFA’s Distinguished Service Award. During his term of office, NAFA pledged support for a nationwide “Energy Efficiency” campaign and, in recognition, received the President’s Award from President Jimmy Carter for Energy Efficiency. During his term as NAFA president, the first Fleet Manager’s Manual, a complete manual on automotive fleet management, was published.
Gerald “Gerry” Keenan was a long-time fleet manager for General Adjustment Bureau (GAB) and a member of The Round Table Group. Keenan managed the company-owned GAB fleet for 35 years before retiring in 1992. In addition to the automotive fleet, Keenan was involved in procuring equipment for use by adjusters at disaster sites. Prior to joining GAB, he served in the U.S. Army.
While Keenan never held a national NAFA office, he did serve as New York Chapter Chairman and was always ready and available when called to serve on committees and develop information. He freely offered his time, effort, and expertise throughout his membership.
Following his retirement, Keenan “founded” the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out), which included himself and such other retired fleet managers as Warren Feirer, Al Cavalli, and Ray Breault. They met several times a year for trips to auto museums, fairs, and auto shows.
In April 1991, he was named an honorary member of NAFA, and remained involved with his local chapters. Keenan passed away in April 2006.
S. Lester Landau was budget director and fleet manager for Picker X-Ray from 1949 to 1974. After leaving Picker X-Ray, he worked for English Electric from 1974 to 1979 in the finance department, until retiring in 1979 to start an independent real-estate consulting company.
He was one of NAFA’s founding members in 1957, and was appointed NAFA’s original treasurer, a post he held for approximately seven years. He set the standard for all ensuing treasurers. Landau also helped establish The NAFA Foundation, serving as its first president from 1976 through 1986, as well as serving on its Board of Trustees.
During his years with the NAFA Foundation, Landau spearheaded an effort to have fleet management become part of the curriculum at major universities. He worked closely with the administrators and faculty of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to create the Wharton Certified Fleet Manager (CFM) program. He was inducted to the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2008. Landau passed away in 2004.
Walter Langseder was fleet manager at N.J.-based Thomas J. Lipton, managing the 2,000-3,000 company-owned car fleet his entire career, until his retirement 1982. He was a fervent advocate of safe driving.
Langseder was a Round Table Group member as well as one of NAFA’s founding members. He was NAFA’s sixth president from 1963 to 1964, in addition to serving as trustee and chairman. Langseder passed away in 1998.
During J.A. Latimer’s term as NAFA president from 1973 to 1975, the Association published its Fleet Safety Manual on “How to Establish a Fleet Safety Program,” which was distributed, without cost, to all members. He was fleet manager for Pfizer & Co.
Sam Lee ran Lee Fleet Management and was the prime instigator in convincing The Round Table Group to go national. Lee began his automotive career with Chevrolet in Montreal and New York City in 1929. He joined Ruby Chevrolet in Chicago in 1935. In 1948, he organized Lee Fleet Management, Inc., in Chicago, later moving to Cleveland, where he purchased a Ford dealership, which became one of the largest fleet and equipment leasing firms in the nation. Acting as a consultant to address concerns of fleet operations, he also helped lease companies improve operations and assisted car dealers organize their lease departments.
Following the sale of his own companies, Lee organized the Fleetway System in California, installing lease departments in eight western states. This program was eventually merged into the Chevway system, organized by Lee for Chevrolet. From 1972 to 1979, he was VP of marketing for First Leasing Corp. He was an honorary NAFA member, as well as a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and California Vehicle Leasing Association (now the National Vehicle Leasing Association).
He was a signer of NAFA’s incorporation papers and was always a faithful supporter of all of the group’s efforts from the beginning. He was inducted to the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2008. Lee passed away in June 1985.
Clarence O’Dell managed Proctor & Gamble’s fleet and was NAFA president from 1967 to 1969. O’Dell was the longest serving NAFA president, taking over Les Groser’s presidency’s final two to three months after Groser stepped down, plus serving two full terms of his own. O’Dell retired in 1991 after more than 36 years with Proctor & Gamble.
During his term, the Affiliate category was established, bringing into the fold all the suppliers who supported the Association. O’Dell passed away in April 2003.
Harold Powers was fleet manager for Sunshine Biscuits’ company-owned fleet, later with American Tobacco Company, a member of The Round Table Group, and an early proponent for the establishment of NAFA. He was also a prime mover in the establishment of NAFA’s Affiliate category.
Don Rittenhouse was fleet manager for Home Insurance Co. Rittenhouse was a dedicated worker, who freely offered his time and effort in advancing the fleet management effort, and, though retired, still serves on the New York Chapter slate of officers.
J.O. Sibley was manager of U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty’s company-owned fleet, and one of NAFA’s founders. He was on NAFA’s original slate as assistant treasurer, and was a member of The Round Table Group.
Lee Westberg managed Gerber Product’s 1,000-plus company-owned fleet. He also established NAFA’s newsletter, The NAFA Bulletin (now Fleet Solutions), serving as its editor and almost single-handedly published it for several years. Westberg was NAFA president from 1961 to 1962.
George Wilson was a transportation officer in the U.S. Army during WWII. That experience served him well as fleet manager for Lever Brothers, a post he held for many years until joining UCIT Service Leasing as its operations manager, later VP of sales, before moving to Runzheimer as VP of sales.
Wilson was one of the few who worked in all aspects of the fleet industry: ownership, leasing, and reimbursement. He was one of the founding members and did much to organize the Association. He was the third vice president in NAFA’s original slate of officers. Active through the years, he did much to involve Affiliates in NAFA functions.
Female Pioneers Made a Lasting Impression
Helen Bland was fleet manager for Hallmark and served as NAFA’s first female president from 1985 to 1987. In 1942, Bland left her teaching job and moved to Kansas City, Mo., to begin a business career that spanned 45 years. After spending 20 years in Hallmark’s order department, Bland requested a transfer to the newly formed fleet department. She started as the assistant to the fleet manager, but the company began changing fleet managers every other year. After interviewing the third candidate for the fleet manager job, Bland asked the division director if she could take on the role. Bland retired from Hallmark in 1987. She was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2008.
Patsy Mance was the first women named AF’s Professional Fleet Manager of the Year in 1991. She started her 18-year career with PHH as a secretary in 1958, working in a variety of positions. In 1974, she was promoted to account executive. In 1976, she was hired as sales manager for Hertz Leasing. Two years later, she accepted a position as fleet manager for Clariol. In 1986, she was appointed manager of corporate fleet services for Bristol Myers, managing the company’s executive car fleet. In December 1993, she was again hired by PHH to manage Bristol Myers’ outsourced executive car fleet. She retired in 1995.
Marie Leohrner was fleet manager for Yale & Towne, and was the first female fleet manager and member of The Round Table Group who “opened the door” for the many women who now serve in that capacity.
In a 24-year fleet career that began in 1964, Helen Smorgans managed fleets for Johnson & Johnson corporate and 10 other J&J companies, which involved managing approximately 1,500 vehicles throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. She was co-founder of the NAFA New Jersey chapter, acted as its Chairperson, and also served on NAFA’s Board of Governors. She was inducted into Automotive Fleet’s Hall of Fame in 2009 and passed away in 2011.
Significant Non-Fleet Professional Contributions
While not a fleet manager, Robert Berke was NAFA’s first executive director. Hired in 1965, he was formerly with the Hotel Association. He took a fledgling, volunteer group, and, through his expert leadership and dedication, nursed it into a professional Association recognized nationally as the source for fleet management expertise. Berke retired in 1990 after 25 years of service.
While also not a fleet manager, Willard DaSilva was placed on retainer as NAFA’s legal counsel, and guided the Association through myriad legal pitfalls over the years. He also served on the Board of Governors of the NAFA Foundation. He retired from NAFA in 2011.
Pat O’Connor has been NAFA’s U.S. legislative counsel for the past 22 years. An experienced lobbyist before the U.S. Congress and state and federal regulatory agencies, he specializes in health, transportation, and environmental legislation.