The fleet industry has lost some real all-stars in recent months. Dick Malcom from State Farm, George Survant from Time Warner Cable, and Dave Meisel from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. just to name a few. The institutional knowledge drain is picking up speed and will continue to do so as the baby boomers start riding off into the sunset. Some segments of the fleet industry are in better shape than others but overall there will be some real challenges for some fleets in the not too distant future.
Blame it on outsourcing or blame it on the relentless drive for corporate efficiency. Either way, the result is much smaller internal fleet teams and a woeful lack of bench strength in many institutions. The public sector seems to be in much better shape since they tend to insource more, tend to have larger staffs, and tend to have solid transition plans in place. The private commercial fleets are a different story. I can think of a lot of companies where the fleet manager is a one person band, managing hundreds or thousands of vehicles with no support, except, of course, for the sourcing executives who parachute into fleet annually when it comes time to review contracts or figure out how to whack 20% out of the budget. But that’s not the same as managing a fleet.
When that fleet manager sets sail for that nice condo on the 14th fairway at The Villages, those sourcing executives are going to be in a real bind. Spec’ing vehicles, deciphering telematics data, picking powertrains, negotiating fleet incentives, or figuring out how to keep drivers safe and on the road are not simple tasks. Fleet management companies can add a lot to make the process run more smoothly but that’s not like having 10 to 20 years of institutional knowledge sitting in that fleet decision maker seat.
There seems to be a steady stream of new CAFMs being minted but the majority seem to be coming from the public sector. As fleet becomes less of a career and more of a job function at many large businesses, we’re seeing a steady decline in professionals and a steady increase in part timers who are managing fleets while wearing three to four other hats. That’s not necessarily the end of the world though. I’ve met some truly impressive individuals who are managing fleet in the few open moments they have when they aren’t managing travel, safety, risk, or sales. But the jury is out whether those folks will be able to handle the nitty gritty details of managing a fleet when the time comes.
If you are a one woman or one man band holding down the fleet for your employer, I hope you are taking the time to keep an eye out for the person who is going to fill your chair when you decide to move on. It’s a big responsibility to keep your fleet running smoothly, to keep your vehicles on the road, to keep the balance sheet respectable, and to keep your drivers safe. It’s not something any business should take lightly.
If you disagree, let me know.