The nature of award ceremonies lends itself to reflection. For the 20 nominees of the 2013 Professional Fleet Manager of the Year award, it certainly required self-reflection on their role and where they have demonstrated value for their unique fleets. For all of us watching, voting, and cheering on our favorites, it also causes us to pause and reflect on how far we have come as an industry and why our collective roles will only increase in value.

If you have been in the fleet industry for 20 years or even just one year, you experience change on a daily basis. It is fun to think back to a time when the 1970 Pontiac GTO achieved 10 mpg and the seat belt was 14 years away from being first mandated by the State of New York.

Over the years, we have explored new blends of gasoline; the rise, the fall, and the rise again of diesel; and increases in the number of vehicle models available for our eager drivers to select as their new company vehicle.

We’ve come a long way from manually placing vehicle orders with manufacturers, typewriters, and paper files on our desks, vehicle selectors that were mailed out, and waiting for the mail to arrive to get answers to the official’s pressing fleet questions.

In 2014, Pontiac will be a memory and in 2016 CAFE requirements are in place to achieve 35.5 mpg, growing to a potential 54.5 mpg by 2025. To get there, we will discover tires with lower rolling resistance, more efficient gearing, and dual clutch transmissions. The changes keep coming. Instead of manual data entries and paper files, there are remarkable data analytics available to provide quick visibility to what matters and manage by exception. Data comes fast and expectations are high to make the right decisions with the tsunami of information.

Most industries have to deal with change, but in our industry, it seems to come from all sides. Everyone has a say in the vehicle a fleet manager decides to put on the company selector — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), local and state regulators, company drivers, and company management. Fleet management has grown from only knowing about the vehicle, to keeping drivers and communities safe while complying with growing regulations. What is next and how will the industry adapt?

On the horizon for the fleet industry are increased costs and regulations. We have all been preparing our budgets and ensuring our finance folks are aware of vehicle costs increasing with the advancements needed to achieve CAFE regulations. New-vehicle sales are approaching 16 million again; this is up from 10 million only a few years ago.

All these new-vehicle sales produce more used vehicles, which will soften the record-high resale values we have grown accustomed to. At some point, interest rates will increase. Added to these major changes will be the shift in how we account for leasing as we move forward towards the harmonization of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards. Change will come with enhanced reporting needs to satisfy new requirements brought on by these pending regulations.

Our global economy has impacted all of our lives and continues to influence our decisions on vehicle choices and our fleet policies. As you can see by this year’s nominees’ notable achievements, they all took advantage of some sort of change within their companies or industry. (See August 2013 issue of AF.)

Their stories of efficiency, innovation, and perseverance, provide examples of taking advantage of change to achieve cost savings for their respective companies.

Change is not a bad word, if you embrace it. Change allows us to stretch our imagination and think about what is possible.

How we adapt to change is by staying connected. Networking with others during industry events is an efficient way to learn about new ideas and optimizing fleet. I would suggest to not only network with fellow fleet managers, but also with manufacturer representatives, upfitters, fleet management companies, and any other partners that touch the world of fleet — and bring the knowledge you learn from others in the industry back to your daily fleet life.

Each of us has a unique perspective of the future and how we will need to adapt. To be proficient as a professional fleet manager, one must be an expert in finance, sourcing, negotiations, data mining, taxes, regulatory requirements, alternative fuels, distribution — the list goes on and on.

No one can do it alone. We rely on each other to learn, and this esteemed group of nominees is a group worth knowing and learning from.

Laura Jozwiak is the vice president of client relations at Wheels Inc.