Managing company vehicles is challenging and rewarding. Fleet managers generally enjoy what they do, and the profession can be a springboard to greater responsibilities. But, if there is one aspect that can make the job nerve wracking, it is managing executive vehicles.
Fleet managers face a number of challenges when working with executive fleets that just don’t exist elsewhere: executive egos, demands for special attention, keeping high-line vehicles on the road, tending to personal needs, and providing hands-on assistance. All of these demands can leave a fleet manager with a splitting headache. But, there are ways that, with proper preparation, the task can be handled smoothly and relatively painlessly.
Defining the ‘Executive’ Vehicle
How an executive vehicle is classified differs from company to company. The bulk of the regular fleet will often have different levels on the selector — from sales/service, to supervisory, to management, and sometimes up to the director or vice president level. Clearly, a branch manager or other supervisory vehicle isn’t normally classified as having an executive vehicle; however, at the director or vice president level, the challenges begin to show. Logically, the higher up in the organization, the more speed bumps there will be when managing executive vehicles.
Thus, the first step in managing executive fleets is to define exactly what vehicles qualify for each executive designation. For the most part, fleets limit executive vehicles to those that are purely compensatory — vehicles provided as compensation rather than those that are mission-centric.
A sales or service representative needs transportation to do the job. So, too, does the branch manager or other direct supervisor and perhaps even a regional director or field vice president. Whereas most “C-level” (CEO, CFO, CIO, etc.), senior line management (president, senior, or executive vice president), and then senior divisional or business unit level management tend to receive these executive level, compensatory vehicles.
Building C-Level Relationships
Dealing with authority-minded egos among senior managers is one of the biggest challenges to running a smooth operation in executive vehicle management. Managers don’t achieve the highest levels of their profession due to humility. C-level managers are rife with strong, confident personalities — which leadership requires — and this can be intimidating for a department manager trying to both serve them and execute company policies. This is where relationship building becomes an important first step.
It isn’t likely that a fleet manager will have a close relationship with the CEO or any other senior manager; there are simply too many layers and levels of responsibility between the two. That said, some contact is inevitable, and taking advantage of that contact can provide a foundation upon which a successful executive fleet program can be built.
Everyone, no matter what they do, likes to be asked for their opinion, and this is particularly true with executives. Fleet managers should develop a level of comfort and familiarity with senior leadership to manage executives’ vehicles with ease.
It is a natural reaction to be intimidated by a C-level executive — sometimes it’s warranted; often it isn’t. Most senior executives will be cooperative and respect the fleet manager’s time and expertise; however, there are occasions when they don’t require immediate, personal attention, yet still bully their subordinates simply because they can.
This kind of behavior can be alleviated when the fleet manager has had some level of casual, personal communication. Finding common ground such as pastimes, hobbies, family activities, or sports may be used as leverage when an uncomfortable situation occurs.
Another challenge is time constraints, both for the executive and for the fleet manager. It works in both directions. For example, when the fleet manager sees that the executive’s vehicle is due for service, he or she isn’t available. Conversely, when the executive sees his or her vehicle is due for service, the fleet manager isn’t available.
Delegation is key (by both parties) to addressing this challenge. Most senior executives have an administrative assistant who handles (or can handle) scheduling. Build a relationship with him or her.
No matter how loyal and protective a secretary might be, he or she will always be more accessible than the executive. Work on the same kind of relationship building — stop by the office with a dozen donuts or fresh coffee now and then. Ask about family or common interests, and make certain that he or she knows how important access to an executive’s schedule is.
At some point, you may request that the executive’s administrators provide you with a weekly schedule. This will help a fleet manager schedule maintenance, cleaning/detailing, and repairs around an executive’s schedule.
Know the Local Network
As much as a fleet manager needs to have the vehicle program applied at all levels, the fact is executive vehicles must necessarily take precedence. Whatever a typical fleet driver’s downtime is worth, the executive’s is worth more. This is where having a local network becomes important.
These relationships might take a number of forms. For example, most fleet lessors have their own “selling” dealer networks, which they use to order a customer’s vehicle to be drop shipped to the driver. This relationship should be used to both sell and deliver an executive-level vehicle for a faster turnaround time with an executive.
It is also a good idea to have routine service performed at that local dealer, even if the fleet is under a maintenance management program. A local dealer will provide high, touch service that a typical maintenance shop cannot, including pickup and delivery and courtesy cars.
In addition, if the executive’s home is a long distance from a local dealer, consider seeking out another shop closer to his or her home. This shop should be used as an additional option to the one near the company office. And, in most areas, there are mobile detailers who will wash, clean, and detail executive vehicles onsite (either at the office or at home). Scheduling regular upkeep on an executive’s car, on their time, shows executives that the fleet manager can be accommodating. It may also persuade the executive to take proper care of his or her vehicle.
Keep in mind that these relationships may need to be in more than one location because some executive vehicles are not located at or near the corporate office and others may be in use by family members, if personal use is permitted (which, for executive vehicles, is almost always the case).
Local shops and other vehicle services used for an executive fleet can be enhanced by sending additional business their way. Make sure all of the employees at the company’s facilities and offices know who is providing fleet services as well as how, when, and where they may use those additional service shops.
Making Vehicle Selections
There are a number of ways the compensatory vehicles that executives drive can be chosen:
- Traditional selector: A choice of vehicles with different levels if necessary (e.g., C-level, executive/senior VP, and director).
- Monthly allowance: A fixed monthly amount; sometimes a percentage of the executive’s salary.
- Dollar value: Rather than a fixed monthly allowance, the driver may choose any vehicle he or she likes with a set price cap.
Selectors are not as common for executive fleets as are allowances (monthly or unit cost) because these vehicles are usually purely compensatory while allowances provide the executive with the flexibility he or she needs to drive his or her vehicle of choice. If the fleet manager has the ability to determine the method used, the monthly allowance or unit cost programs will help set fleet manager relationships with executives on the right foot.
In the event that the fleet manager inherits a selector for executives, it is a good idea to provide the widest choice possible. Even with a large number of executive vehicle selections available, it will still be manageable.
Replacement schedules for executive fleets can be as short as yearly, and as long as the normal fleet replacement policy (time/mileage algorithm). Because executive vehicles are generally luxury, high-line models, the depreciation curve is not as steep as it is for the general fleet, so an annual replacement with proper amortization, shouldn’t be a problem.
Prepare for the Headaches
So, what are the headaches that can plague the fleet manager who must manage executives’ vehicles?
Personalities/egos: It’s difficult enough for a fleet manager to have to deal with a senior executive in the regular course of doing business; it’s more difficult still to have to deal with something as personal and valued as a company car. Executives, by their very nature, are strong willed and even use their status to bully subordinates. This can make a fleet manager’s life miserable.
Secretaries/administrative assistants: Most senior executives at the C-level almost always have someone who handles their day-to-day schedule, screening calls and holding back visitors. Dealing with them can be even more frustrating and intimidating than dealing with the executive they work for. While they may lack authority as it pertains to the company’s operations, they do have complete authority, regarding their supervisor’s time.
Scheduling: The fleet manager has a primary job, which is managing the fleet. It is a demanding job and often entails travel, meetings, conference calls, and numerous other responsibilities. Getting a fleet manager and an executive together can be a daunting task, especially for something as routine as service maintenance or dealing with a recall.
Selector versus dollars: An executive vehicle is a very personal perk. Executives, the same as anyone else, have strong likes and dislikes as it pertains to the vehicle they drive. When fleet managers are compelled to use a selector, choosing the vehicles that go on it can create a great deal of angst and frustration for both parties.