For over 60 years, the Betagole family has owned and operated Mike Albert Fleet Solutions. The post of president has always been held by a member of the family. However, in an effort to accelerate growth, the family has brought in Jeffrey Hart — a well-qualified professional from outside the family — to bring a fresh perspective to the company. Bob Betagole, the former CEO of the company, also announced that his daughter and former president of the company, Marty Betagole, would become the company’s new CEO.
AF: Congratulations on being named president of Mike Albert Fleet Solutions. As president your responsibilities are not only operational but also strategic. With this in mind, how do plan to position Mike Albert Fleet Solutions for the future and what is your strategy to get there?
Hart: Thank you. I’m very excited about being part of the Mike Albert team and would like to start by thanking Marty and Bob Betagole for this wonderful opportunity. Mike Albert has a rich 60-year history based upon integrity, hard work, and client service which we will continue to carry forward.
I have been extremely impressed with the Mike Albert team. Their knowledge and passion for the industry is unparalleled and I’m very confident in the foundation we have today and the future we will have tomorrow.
As we start to lay out our future, we will continue to put our clients front and center. We are actively in the process of re-evaluating our client satisfaction surveys from the last 12 months, completing our client focus groups, and doing a very thoughtful assessment of how we best serve our industry and clients. It is clear our clients continue to value the insights and services we provide.
We also see a very strong need to continue our investment in technology. The technology investments will be made to enhance our data warehouse and analytical tools while also optimizing our services. Our clients don’t have time to understand all the complexities of managing and optimizing a fleet. They turn to Mike Albert for the insights, optimization, and management of those aspects of their business. No matter if you have a couple vehicles or 2,000, our clients are looking to us for that expertise.
AF: What is the current management structure at Mike Albert Fleet Solutions?
Hart: I am also excited to announce that we just completed realigning our management structure to allow us to be more
client-centric while also placing a greater focus on technology.
The new management team is as follows:
- Marty Betagole, CEO
- Jeff Hart, president
- Terri Wallace, vice president of Client Services
- Anne Pezel, COO
- Brian Brown, vice president of Information Technology
- Bruce Shaffer, CFO and Human Resources.
AF: Tell us a little about what you did prior to joining Mike Albert Fleet Solutions.
Hart: I started my career at Reynolds and Reynolds in 1985 in customer support and then quickly moved into IT writing software and managing developers.
Through my 15-year career at Reynolds and Reynolds, I was provided a tremendous opportunity to grow my skill set including quality control, product management, and general management. I learned a number of helpful skills that have served me well as my responsibilities grew, like strategic planning, resource development, project planning, product development, delivery excellence, client services, etc. In 2001, I joined Cadence Network, Inc., a web-based utility, telecom, and lease expense management firm, as president and CEO.
In 2009, I was hired as the president of OneCommand, and named CEO in 2011. Over the course of my career I have also been involved or led 13 M&A deals.
AF: Could you summarize for our readers the types of products and services you offer to commercial fleet customers?
Hart: Our products and services are grouped to support our customer’s vehicle lifecycle.
First we assist with the vehicle acquisition stage offering tools to help them choose the best vehicle and acquisition method for their business and situation.
Finally, once the vehicles are in service, we assist with services like upfits; driver support; maintenance; fuel management; accident management; compliance; risk & safety; roadside assistance; driver training; telematics; title & licensing; toll management; and transport services.
Once the vehicles have reached the end of their lifecycle, we assist with disposal, remarketing, and strategically assist with their total cost of ownership.
By assisting our clients with choices relative to their vehicle lifecycle, we are better positioned to optimize their overall fleet and measure the impacts of specific choices.
AF: What is Mike Albert Fleet Solutions’ assessment of the current fleet market?
Betagole: Fleet management is becoming more complex as vehicle inventory and maintenance continues to be a challenge, regulation continues to change, and technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in how we do business. Due to the growing complexity of the fleet industry, our clients prefer to focus on their core business and rely on our insights, services, and technology to ensure they have a highly effective fleet strategy. They want to ensure they are purchasing and selling the assets at the right time, effectively managing their vehicle lifecycle, and ultimately controlling their total cost of ownership in support of their overall business objectives. Best-in-class businesses will continue to focus on their core business while relying on our expertise to manage their fleet.
The complexity of fleet management will continue as it has over the past several years. We also believe resource constraints will likely accelerate with the new administration now in Washington.
AF: Mike Albert has been a strong proponent of closed-end leasing. What are the advantages of closed-end leasing and where do you foresee future growth?
Betagole: While Mike Albert has been a strong proponent of closed-end leasing, we provide flexible options for our clients and open-end leasing actually represents a majority of our portfolio.
The closed-end leasing segment for overall commercial market has continued to shrink due to a number of factors:
- Historical residual gains in the resale market of off-lease vehicles has motivated customers and prospects to move to open end lease structures versus closed end to take advantage of gains on resale.
- Private Equity ownership structures have influenced the market as well. The desired capital structure for leases for this ownership structure is focused on EBITDA impact, thus more capital leases.
- Traditional markets that have used closed-end leases in the retail industry have moved to reimbursement models due to immediate cost pressure and perceived cost disadvantages of leasing versus reimbursement.
While these factors have negatively impacted the closed-end market in the past seven years, our view is that the market is beginning to shift the other way. The significant returns that companies had with the resale market are gone as a result of the seasonally adjusted annual rate projected at an all-time high. We see many clients beginning to re-think their overall fleet strategies, exploring closed-end leasing to shift the burden of risk to companies like Mike Albert who has tremendous expertise in residual management.
AF: How do you position Mike Albert Fleet Solutions vis-à-vis other fleet management companies? What market segments are you targeting in the commercial fleet market? What are your strengths as a fleet management company?
Hart: Our differentiator is our people and approach. One of our company values is “customer centric,” which we live every day. We recognize that developing the right fleet strategy aligned to each customer’s overall business goals is key to Mike Albert being a truly valued business partner. Each customer has unique needs. We embrace their fleet challenges and approach the issues like it was our own company. This passion consistently creates long-standing partnerships. Our ability to develop these plans is supported by our commitment to having strong data and analytics tools, nimble business processes, and teammates with strong business acumen that understand our business and clients.
In terms of market segments, our value proposition is fairly flexible. Mike Albert works with clients where fleet is core to the success of their business and proactive insights and a deeper partnership are needed, but we also engage clients who simply need help with tactical areas like maintenance. Markets can range from sales organizations to landscapers to HVAC contractors to municipalities and beyond.
AF: What are the strategic goals that Mike Albert Fleet Solutions has in place that you would want to share with our readers?
Hart: Our first priority is to provide unparalleled client satisfaction and our growth goals will always be based upon our client requirements. We are currently focused on expanding our services, delivering valuable industry insights to our clients, while also investing in cutting-edge technology. Expanding Mike Albert services entails adding services that help our clients manage the complexity of fleet. Insights will help our clients make better informed decisions from purchase through disposal of their vehicles, while reducing their total cost of ownership. We are ultimately a technology-enabled services company; technology investments will play a critical role in our future. Mike Albert Fleet Solutions has a strong appetite for geographical expansion and will evaluate various strategies to achieve that objective.
AF: What fleet industry trends do you foresee driving change in Mike Albert’s corporate strategy both near-term and long-term?
Hart: A few trends that we’re watching closely and the reasons why we think they’re so important are: company recruiting challenges, fleet complexity and materiality, and alternative-fuel vehicles.
Even though not a new trend, companies in all industries struggle to recruit qualified staff to support their business. Fleet can be leveraged as a tool in the war on talent and play a role in our clients finding and keeping top personnel.
We often see fleet as a top-three business expense, yet clients don’t have strategies to drive improvement given the complex nature of the fleet business. As a result we are continuing to develop predictive modeling methods and developing our teammates to help our clients better plan and leverage fleet to meet their overall business goals.
As the manufacturers launch more low- emission vehicles, our clients are seriously evaluating these alternatives. We are closely following performance metrics, resale values, and overall client satisfaction with this segment to determine how significant of a position we will take with this vehicle class.
AF: In what areas do you see growth opportunities for Mike Albert Fleet Solutions?
Hart: A couple areas come to mind. One area is the under-50-unit fleet market. The industry is focused on the larger fleets, and as a result the smaller fleets are underserved. We see tremendous opportunity as this segments growth is outpacing the GDP and our clients do not have the internal resources to manage a fleet by themselves. By building a fast, efficient business model for this segment, we can provide an experience similar to larger fleets without much of the overhead.
Partnerships are another area where we see growth opportunities. Our clients are often part of associations specific to their industry and rely on them for direction, coaching and tools. We’ve found that partnering with these groups helps us scale our products and services so we reach and assist a broader group.
We expect the following market trends to continue; the war on talent, baby boomers retiring, and administrative staffs being consolidated or performing multiple functions. We at Mike Albert will continue to work with companies to develop unique programs that better enable them to deal with these market changes.
AF: Are there any new fleet programs or services that Mike Albert Fleet Solutions will be introducing in the near future?
Hart: We are very excited with our 2017 plans, and look forward to announcing new innovative solutions throughout the year.
One new project we are very excited about is a recently introduced program called Express. Express is a new dedicated team solely focused on smaller clients and their specific needs. Some of the changes include dedicated client managers, fast credit approval, electronic signature to speed contracts and approvals, and proactive communications to ensure our clients are fully informed throughout the year.
AF: What is your long-term vision for Mike Albert Fleet Solutions? Where would you like to be 10 years from now?
Hart: Mike Albert Fleet Solutions will be the market-leading provider of fleet solutions in North America. We are a technology-enabled services company, therefore, we will invest heavily in technology that allows us to provide superior client service and industry insights that assist our clients with the management of their fleet strategy in support of their broader business objectives. We will continue to invest in delivering services that assist our clients in the acquisition, management and disposal of their assets while minimizing their total cost of ownership. Our clients have their own business strategies and they rely on us to ensure their fleet strategy supports their business objectives.