Greg Tepas is the CEO and president of EMKAY, a nationwide, full-service fleet leasing and management company, headquartered in Itasca, Ill. The company was founded in 1946.
Tepas was named CEO and president of EMKAY, Inc., in 2007 after his father, Gary Tepas, who headed up EMKAY for nearly 30 years, stepped down to become chairman.
Prior to being named CEO and president, Greg Tepas was the fleet management company's executive vice president and COO. He joined the company in 2003.
In his first interview with AF, Tepas discussed his strategic plans to grow EMKAY and offered insight into his long-term views of the commercial fleet leasing market.
AF: Since being appointed CEO/president almost seven years ago, how has your long-term vision for EMKAY evolved? How will the company evolve in the coming years, and what initiatives will you implement to bring this about?
Tepas: Since I was appointed president/CEO of the operating company in September 2007, the vision has not evolved that much at all. We are building off of the platform and legacy my father built, with our current mission to be the premier provider of fleet management.
While we have been fortunate to see a great deal of growth for the business, it is really our dedication to our mission that drives us every day. I am blessed with a great team that has been instrumental in bringing new ideas, technology solutions, products, and other innovations to enhance our business, which is based on this mission — all while incorporating a proactive approach. We create solutions for our clients that are "Simple. Better. Different." from that of other fleet offerings. Technology is a driver of how we go about that. The vision is to create a lasting organization; providing premium services to highly satisfied clients by highly satisfied employees. We have core initiatives around growth, efficiency, innovations, growing our people, and lastly, delighting the customer in our five-year plans.
AF: Since your acquisition of JPL Vehicle Management Services Canada in 2011, EMKAY has dramatically expanded its footprint in the Canadian fleet market. Could you bring us up-to-speed as to how this expansion has unfolded and outline your long-term strategic goals in the Canadian fleet market?
Tepas: The acquisition in Canada allowed us to migrate to a growth strategy there, with "brick and mortar" as well as "feet on the street." Previously, we relied on Canadian fleet company partnerships to accommodate clients when they needed a Canadian solution, so this is much more robust and puts more control over service and technology.
EMKAY had been looking for the right acquisition opportunity in Canada for quite some time, and we feel fortunate it finally came to fruition. The acquisition has worked out extremely well, where we not only retained the majority of the portfolio, but are growing with a lot of new Canadian clients, as well as cross-border account expansion. We have created solutions for North American clients, which has been extremely well received by the market, including a single technology platform and North American account management solutions, as well as other products designed for cross-border fleets. In 2013, we were pleased to open three Innovation Service Centers (ISCs), which provide a unique environment to showcase our technology, products, service approach, and client solutions — all while providing a place where our clients can have working meetings with us. We have built an incredible Canadian team, led by industry veteran Paul Turner, who is taking it to the next level. Canada is now a strategic element of our business, and we believe the opportunities are vast. We are only scratching the surface.
AF: EMKAY has implemented a series of ongoing technological solutions in its business during the past decade that continue with the relatively recent launch of the vehicle maintenance e-authorization platform and the first driver order submitted via an iPhone. How do you foresee EMKAY's technology platform evolving in the future, and in what tangible ways will this benefit your clients?
Tepas: Businesses have to innovate to stay alive and move forward. Creating a better and more efficient client experience has been the key driver behind our technology focus over the years.
It is exciting to be in an industry where technology can make such a huge difference, and we have several major areas in which we are focusing. This includes implementing new technology solutions, such as electronic authorization in the maintenance world, which is likely to advance to accident repair, as well as how we work with our dealer network to purchase out-of-stock vehicles. Further, we are building solutions that leverage the proliferation of data that is coming from the vehicle — whether it be from an outside telematics provider or through the manufacturer — which provides driver behavior and other vehicle data that is important to clients. Then, of course, since we live in such a mobile environment today, we continue to invest and develop in that space as well as having several different apps for drivers, fleet managers, suppliers, and our field staff.
The hard part about technology is the rapid pace of advancement. The good part about it, however, is that we are building things today that we thought of several years ago. Even though we may be perceived as technologically advanced to the outside world, I actually feel like we are behind based on all of the ideas we have yet to implement. I can't wait to bring more of these ideas to market.
AF: EMKAY was named to Inc. Magazine's 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. list. What is driving this growth and how are you looking to sustain it?
Tepas: Like most businesses, we look to grow. We have a passionate team that understands our mission, carries out the strategy, and sees where the growth opportunities excite them and fuel their passion. I view it that we are simply continuing what was started with decades of hard work by my father, and building on it. His desire to have a very strong balance sheet has afforded us acquisition opportunities, which created more opportunities for the business to develop and expand.
As we invested and expanded our technology solutions — and other client services, such as analytics — we have morphed into more of a consulting company backed by technology to a certain extent. This approach has created additional interest in EMKAY. Ultimately, we will continue to grow from our roots of finding solutions for our clients that save them time and money. By doing the things the market demands — taking care of our clients, coupled with acquisition activity — we have translated opportunity into growth. Expansion has been fun — a lot of work and it has not been easy, but it has been fun. Being a private company, however, we can think strategically about what is best for the business long term, and top-line growth is not always the most important.
AF: What programs and services are EMKAY implementing to enhance its truck fleet management capabilities and to increase the size of its truck asset portfolio?
Tepas: Truck has been a segment of our business where there has been more demand. We have built unique medium-duty solutions, and we will continue to invest in this area of the business. We see this as opportunistic, and we have new strategies in this area to provide additional unique solutions to expand it. This includes integrated solutions with DOT compliance, telematics, innovative financing solutions, and then, of course, maintenance solutions specific to truck.
Naturally, we are developing some innovative technology solutions to tie it all together easily.
AF: During your presidency, EMKAY has developed a strong emphasis on fleet sustainability and implemented its goGREEN fleet program. What is the next evolution in corporate fleet sustainability programs?
Tepas: Sustainability is important in many aspects. I am incredibly pleased to see so many vehicle solutions today, giving the end-client a variety of choices. And, more importantly, they have all developed more fuel-efficient vehicles. Our green solutions complement any fleet's inventory to achieve their corporate sustainability objectives. Chris Tepas, who is our CMO and EVP of the client experience, has done a tremendous job driving the vision and building out these solutions.
AF: How are driver safety and accountability changing the fleet business? How is EMKAY working with its fleet clients to make them safer?
Tepas: Fleet safety is likely the single largest topic today with our clients. In fact, the adoption rate on our safety product offerings surpasses that of all of our other products combined. I don't see that slowing down anytime soon, and we have produced new tools to help with the demand for safety.
With that said, the manufacturers have made enormous strides in producing vehicles with more safety built into them — many of which I believe will become standard. We are consistently consulting with our clients on policy, vehicles, vehicle options, driver behavior, training, and other techniques to minimize accidents.
AF: What role does your client advisory board play in influencing the types of products and services you provide as a fleet management company? What are some examples of how client input has influenced the direction of your company?
Tepas: It is huge! Our Client Advisory Board (CAB) is extremely instrumental, as is listening to our clients as a whole. Our best ideas come from areas they talk about, and it is our job to translate what they say into solutions.
Listening and understanding are critical to progress. I wish we could wave a magic wand and implement all of the good ideas we take away from our CAB and from what our clients say. There are countless examples of when our CAB changed a direction we were planning to take, telling us they'd rather see it differently.
One example that stands out was years ago, when we were about to implement our fleet dashboard; several clients mentioned they desired a vehicle dashboard more. So, guess what? We built the vehicle dashboard with it. I would let you know of some recent examples, but I'd be sharing too many secrets of what is to come.
AF: What do you see as being the top five trends currently facing the fleet management industry, and how will these trends going to play out in the future?
Tepas: Here are my top five trends:
1. Regulating technology in vehicles: Whether the technology is brought into vehicles or is built into the vehicle, it is going to continue. People are going to want to be able to communicate with the outside world when they are driving, as they have for decades now. Some of the newer mobile technologies make it more robust, and figuring out how to make it work safely is no small task. This will be a challenge for fleets to find the balance of leveraging the positive attributes of technology while minimizing the issues around safety.
2. Safety: Fleets will continue to work to drive down accidents and be safer, in part by leveraging technology to do so. There will continue to be vehicle safety advancements, which will continue particularly as vehicle-to-vehicle communication becomes more prevalent over the next couple of decades. For now, however, people will leverage data for driving behavior while putting more safety-related advancements into the vehicle. Costs for these will come down over time.
3. Technology to manage the fleet: We will be obtaining more data points than ever before; combining data from telematics and inside the vehicle with other basic fleet data, it becomes very powerful. Now, however, it is possible to put together driving behavior, driving patterns, diagnostics, mapping, etc., with the purchasing of fleet maintenance, fuel, etc. The challenge is to create simple, yet robust, solutions that can be leveraged by fleets, embraced by the driver, ultimately increasing safety and reducing costs.
4. A broader mix of manufacturers: There are more manufacturers in fleet than there were a decade ago, and this will likely continue. There will be more choice for fleets, and that may increase complexity.
5. CAFE regulations: The vehicle type, size, drivetrain, and other factors will all be highly dynamic and will be progressing rapidly.
AF: Are there any other topics that we didn't cover that merit further discussion?
Tepas: My time working within this industry has been fascinating and very rewarding. I have met some incredible people — a lot of very smart, dedicated people who really care about what they do at the end of the day. It has been fast-paced, with a lot of change. Initially, coming from a technology company, I thought this industry might be slower paced — quite the contrary! I can't wait for the future. It is an exciting time at EMKAY and in the fleet industry in general. I feel lucky to have the opportunity.