The Holman Automotive Group recently announced that Melinda “Mindy” Holman was named chairman of the board, and ARI President Carl Ortell assumed the role of CEO. A 29-year employee of Holman, Ortell has been the president of ARI since 2010.
Chris Conroy has been appointed executive vice president of Holman and president of ARI. Conroy joined ARI in 1994. During his 21 years with Holman, he has held a number of leadership positions at ARI in Canada and the U.S. Most recently, he was executive vice president, global operations, and oversaw ARI’s expansion into Europe.
To learn more about how these organizational changes will impact ARI and Holman Automotive, AF interviewed Conroy and Ortell. Here is what they told us.
AF: Could you describe to our readers the new management structure at Holman Automotive and the genesis of the decision to implement this change?
Ortell: The Holman organization has grown significantly since it was founded nearly a century ago. And, while very successful, we were essentially running separate businesses with little or no real connection. Our new “ONE Holman” structure was developed after a discussion among the leadership team and the Holman family.
This is a natural evolution for the company that will allow us to leverage our talent, resources, and knowledge across all of our lines of business, which, in turn, will allow us to become an even more flexible and dynamic organization. Structurally, this means we’ll be adopting a matrix management approach. This will allow us to achieve global collaboration among our different businesses through strategic integration of capabilities and provide us with even better transparency into our operations.
AF: How do you plan to build a “ONE Holman” one-business mind-set as Holman Automotive serves many different entities, ranging from commercial fleets to consumers to governmental entities? What is your road map to develop synergies between the five automotive businesses?
Ortell: Our future is most certainly about building a “one-business” mind-set that serves consumers, businesses, governments, and other entities in various markets, industries, countries, and regions. By doing this, we will position the organization for future success. And, while each of our businesses serve a different segment of customers, there is a common thread that ties them all together. Rather than see these businesses and our customers as separate, we are looking to focus on those commonalities.
Currently, each of our businesses has completed or is working on the development of a rigorous, long-term strategic plan, and I expect all of those plans to be finalized and in place shortly. Once that is complete, we’ll spend the second half of 2015 developing an umbrella strategy for ONE Holman, and the understanding and insight we gain from that process will guide us through the next several years. There are opportunities for collaboration among our different businesses that we can already see.
For example, we vigorously support learning and professional development across all of our businesses, and it is our goal to take all of the best practices and core knowledge from each of these programs and create one universal global learning center that will provide each and every employee with the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. This is just one example — there are many other opportunities like this and we plan to uncover and capture those opportunities going forward.
There are also benefits to be gained by sharing the best practices used among our internal departments as well — whether it is marketing, finance, human resources, or technology and innovation. As leaders, one of our responsibilities is to provide people with the opportunities to learn from and communicate with each other so we are maximizing our knowledge and our talent company-wide. This benefits the business and, more important, it benefits our customers.
And, at the end of the day, that is our primary focus: creating value for the customer. We believe that, by putting our best and brightest together and asking them to devote themselves to creating meaningful value for our customers, success will be the natural result. Are we interested in increasing revenues and finding efficiencies? Yes, but our top priority is understanding the needs of our customers and providing them with products, solutions, and service that meet their needs and exceed their expectations.
AF: In addition to the goal of creating a “one-business” mind-set, what are your other short- and long-term goals as CEO of Holman Automotive?
Ortell: Supporting the organization’s culture company-wide is very important to me. One of Holman’s core values is to hire the best people and to provide them with the training, tools, and support they need to excel in their careers and provide value to our customers. We already have several platforms and programs — including ARI University and Holman University — that provide our people with the opportunity to learn and grow. The leadership team and I are fully committed to building on the success we have had with regard to learning and development because we know that by doing so our company will be stronger, more innovative, and better prepared for the challenges of the modern global marketplace. Our focus is on our people and their development and growth — this will help us better deliver value to our customers.
The senior leadership team and I are also committed to helping the organization grow in new and innovative ways, whether that means expanding into new markets or introducing new products or technologies to our customers. Our technology and innovation team is one of the finest in the world. At ARI, we’ve led the way in developing new ways to manage fleets and the data they produce so that companies have a fully transparent view of their own operations, which helps them lower overall total cost of ownership. With our new structure, our technology and innovation team will be looking for ways to deliver efficiencies and create processes that help our customers company-wide.
That said, I want to emphasize that some things are not changing: The values that were established by our founder, Steward Holman, more than 90 years ago will continue to be the values that guide us as a company.
AF: Chris, as president of ARI, what are your short- and long-term goals to grow ARI’s fleet business?
Conroy: First, it is an absolute honor to take on the leadership of such a dynamic organization. Often, changes in leadership occur when a business is struggling or requires a change in direction. That is definitely not the case at ARI. I, along with the ARI leadership team, inherit a vibrant and healthy business. Our mission at ARI remains the same: sustain a company that is a pleasure to work with and rewarding to work for.
We’ve recently completed our global strategic planning process, which has provided us with a clear path forward, supported by well-defined, executable goals. We continue to be focused on the client experience, bringing the power of people, processes, and technology to bear so that we don’t just have happy customers but, instead, have raving fans. In North America, we continue to focus on bringing new and innovative products to market, especially with regard to driver safety.
Now, more than ever, safety is a priority for our clients and they are very interested in understanding how technology can be used to keep their drivers and the public safe. We’re developing solutions that will help fleets manage this challenge and lower their risk using the latest in interactive technology.
In Europe, we continue to introduce the idea of unbundling products and services in order to deliver a higher level of transparency and cost savings into fleet operations. This is the norm for North America, and it’s a concept that we feel will be embraced by European companies looking to have a better understanding of their fleet and their bottom line. Throughout other parts of the world, we will continue to seek new opportunities to grow our business where we feel it makes sense.
AF: What have been the key factors responsible for ARI’s growth?
Conroy: Without question, the biggest factor behind our success is our people. We are incredibly proud to have been named, for the third consecutive year, to Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, coming in at No. 36. This recognition, and the success we have experienced as a company, is directly related to the commitment of our people: their commitment to delivering the highest quality customer experience and best-in-class fleet management to our clients. This commitment from our people has allowed us to expand to new markets like the UK and continental Europe.
I think our investments in technology have also served us extremely well. Through our early strategic planning exercises we identified that investing in technology and our infrastructure would yield results for us and our customers. This led us to develop the groundbreaking in-memory database that serves as the foundation for ARI insights and ARI analytics. The investments we have made in technology, combined with the knowledge and commitment of our people, have really helped ARI stay at the forefront of the industry and grow successfully as a company.
AF: How will ARI leverage the new Holman Automotive one-business mind-set to further grow its fleet business and enhance its competitive posture in the marketplace?
Conroy: Sharing knowledge, best practices, talent, and resources across all of Holman’s businesses will only serve to bolster ARI and allow us to offer more comprehensive support to our customers. The Holman organization is made up of five complementary businesses with long-tenured and knowledgeable people who are as dedicated to their customers as ARI is. The one-business mind-set will make it easier for ARI to tap into that knowledge and bring it to bear on behalf of our fleet clients.
AF: What is ARI’s strategy to further expand its penetration into the commercial truck market?
Conroy: The North American commercial truck market is undergoing significant changes with the introduction of the newer, more agile European-style vans; the adoption of newer and lighter materials in the construction of work trucks; the continued introduction and evolution of advanced technologies; and the continued adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles. All of these changes present opportunities as older models age out and companies must decide what new styles and technologies best suit their needs.
At ARI, we see this as an opportunity to help fleets understand what the latest options are, to listen to their concerns and understand their business needs, and to develop solutions that help them maximize the long-term investment they will make in their fleet. Options are multiplying and becoming more complex. As a result, now more than ever, fleet managers need a trusted partner who can advise them on how to use the newest, most advanced offerings in the marketplace to their advantage.
I think there are also opportunities in helping companies manage and interpret the data that is now available to them. Nearly every vehicle now has the capacity to return large amounts of information — everything from how a driver may be driving to fuel consumption to maintenance concerns. That data can provide a fleet manager with real transparency into operations, which, in turn, can help in controlling expenses and downtime — but only if you have the right tools to make it all make sense. At ARI, we continue to invest in technology, developing new solutions and improving the ones we already offer, such as our ARI insights portal, so that the data a fleet returns is manageable and a fleet manager can quickly and intuitively understand what is happening with their fleet, where costs may be rising, and what adjustments need to be made to keep expenses low.
Safety also continues to be a significant concern for all fleet managers, and ARI has a new and innovative program — ARI Driver Excellence — that will help companies better manage risk. From proactively identifying risky drivers to quickly reacting when they are involved in a motor vehicle infraction or collision, we can help companies identify issues and develop a strategy from our full suite of ARI-developed online training modules. We’ve found that this can really impact a company’s bottom line and, more important, improve the safety of a fleet and its drivers.
AF: What do you foresee being the next step in ARI’s European expansion? What is ARI’s strategy to grow its European business?
Conroy: We’ve just completed comprehensive strategic planning for the European market, and that has provided us with both insight and direction with regard to our plans for the coming years. We remain focused on delivering the same kinds of transparent solutions we offer in North America in Europe as well. This is a change for many businesses operating there — many are only familiar with the standard, full-service lease, which bundles all of the maintenance and services that may be needed for the life of the vehicle into one single payment. ARI is offering something completely different: pay-as-you-go pricing and full transparency into a company’s fleet operations so they have a complete understanding of costs and expenditures. We want to work with each client so that we understand their fleet and their business needs so that we can tailor a solution and services using technology, transparency, and flexibility to meet their needs, deliver meaningful reporting, and lower costs.
It is our intent to deliver these services in more countries in Western Europe than we are today. Investment and expansion in Europe remains a strategic focus for our organization.
AF: What is your near- and long-term forecast for the fleet market?
Conroy: I think companies and fleet managers will become increasingly strategic. Fleets will continue to be a critical business asset, but the increase in the adoption of technology of all kinds will allow fleets to rely more and more on hard data to develop their fleet policies and make purchasing decisions. Telematics, connected-car technologies, and data analytics will all come into play as the value of data begins to offer returns on the investment, and this will change how fleet managers approach their jobs — the data will empower them.
I think fleet managers will also begin to think more globally. Even if the fleet that they oversee is limited to a single region or country, world affairs are affecting how we do business — from the price of fuel to how we share information. As technology and communication makes the world “smaller,” savvy fleet managers would be wise to not only be alert to changes in the global economy but to consider best practices from around the world.
AF: What do you foresee as the greatest challenges facing commercial fleet managers as we move toward the close of this decade, and how can a company, such as ARI, assist them in meeting these challenges?
Conroy: In many ways, things are as they always were: fleet managers are looking to get the most from their fleet vehicles at the lowest cost. They want efficiency. They want value. They want dependability. They want insight. The challenge moving forward will be to determine what innovations and technologies will help deliver on all of those things as companies become more global, operating in multiple markets, and, as fleet managers are required to be more strategic, coordinating with multiple departments like risk, HR, and finance.
We find that our clients are growing, expanding into new markets, and into new regions. They need processes and technologies that help them see exactly what is happening with their fleet quickly, so they can act when issues arise, and can understand what changes they can make to keep every vehicle on the road, running efficiently. This is easier said than done. Crossing borders means changes in laws, rules, and regulations, as well as concerns with taxes, currency, and reporting. Companies need strategic partners with experience. and an understanding of the tools it takes to manage the complexity of running a large, global fleet.
They also have pressures from multiple departments. There is always the constant pressure of having to do more with less, but modern fleet managers may have to work across departments, coordinating fleet policy and strategy with legal, risk, finance, and HR. Having tools that provide information about the fleet quickly and simply is a must. Similarly, having the capacity to communicate with drivers is just as critical. Take, for example, a fleet that develops a change to its safety policy. Communicating that change across a large fleet spread across multiple geographic regions and ensuring that your drivers have read the policy change can be a challenge unless you have the right structure in place and are working with the right partner who understands the latest technologies.
We see opportunities for growth as the industry becomes more complex and our clients become more global. That kind of growth can only mean that positive opportunities will develop, and, at ARI, we are prepared with the next generation of technology and the most knowledgeable professionals who are ready to tackle whatever challenge a client may present to us. But, at the end of the day, our main priority will still be to provide our customers with the best advice, the best solutions, and the best value. We feel if we do that, we will earn our customers’ trust and their continued business.