The founders of Black River Fleet (left to right) include John Bieger, Kathy Bieger, Karen...

The founders of Black River Fleet (left to right) include John Bieger, Kathy Bieger, Karen Bieger, and Michael Bieger.

Photo courtesy of Michael Bieger

In order to be able to provide advice and counsel to a businesses fleet, one must have a record of experience and knowledge that lends itself to providing useful information.

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines a management consultant as “one that (sic) advises business or industrial firms in the conduct of their affairs and in devising and installing more satisfactory procedures for their use.”

Mike Bieger has precisely that kind of background, and his company, Black River Fleet, offers fleets of all sizes the help they need to be more cost efficient and productive.

Michael Bieger’s Background

Many of those in the fleet industry will be familiar with the name Mike Bieger. With more than 20 years’ experience as a fleet manager (Hoffmann LaRoche, ADP), Bieger has been deeply involved in fleet industry organizations such as NAFA (NAFA Fleet Management Association) and AFLA (Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association), serving as president of the latter in 2016-2017, and on the AFLA executive board for four years.

Bieger’s other accomplishments include:

  • Winner of NAFA’s Larry Goill Award, for his work in furthering development of internet-based vehicle ordering.
  • Served on GM’s client advisory board.
  • Also served on other advisory boards, including Wheels and GE Capital Fleet Services (now part of Element Fleet).
  • While at ADP, led the effort to globalize the company’s fleet processes, consolidating FMC and OEM relationships, saving over $30 million.
  • Set global GHG emissions standards at ADP, applied them to the U.S., and transitioned the fleet to 100% hybrid vehicles, reducing emissions while maintaining performance.
  • Established a global corporate wide safety policy covering all 63,000 ADP employees.
  • Recipient of the 2015 Fleet Executive of the Year award

Bieger’s brother and sister-in-law, John and Kathy Bieger, both bring additional experience and strength to the Black River Fleet menu of services. John has over 38 years’ IT international solution management experience at Hewlett-Packard and Kathy with similar years on project management and equipment leasing, while Mike’s wife Karen has more than 10 years of experience in human resources and staffing; skills extend from personnel to choosing the right supplier cultural fit as well. Kathy Bieger, the firm’s CEO and co-founder, also worked at HP on the financial side, and has a deep understanding of leasing and distribution.

Black River Fleet

Why consulting?  Where did the idea to develop a fleet consulting firm come from?

“The idea came from recognizing the disparity that exists between large corporations that can afford the expense of staffing, training and maintaining that internal expertise,” Bieger said. "And those smaller companies that can't field the expense."

Further, that internal expertise may not be available or cost effective for smaller companies, who choose not to incur the expense and head count that effective, experienced fleet management requires. “The need is very visible,” he concludes. “With the greater acceptance now of the outsourcing of fleet management by many companies.”

And why Black River?

“Black River is a river near where my brother and I own property in South Carolina, nothing more,” Bieger explained. Black River was developed over two years of careful planning, and only recently has launched and begun servicing clients in North America.

“In those cases where more extensive global knowledge and experience is needed, we have partnered with the premier global consulting team at fleetcompetence,” Bieger added.

His comment on outsourcing is one of the keys to the need for experienced consultants in the fleet marketplace. Companies are requiring departments, including fleets, to do more with less; resources such as staff and budget funds are shrinking, and even experienced fleet managers need help. Help where? What are Black River’s services?  “Black River Fleet provides four distinct services to corporate fleets,” Bieger said:

  • A “health check” of current operations, services, and contracts. A term from the IT world, the health check involves a thorough review of the current state and compares that to an optimal state for a client.
  • Market tenders where we run expert fleet reviews of the market (as RFPs) for our clients and accurately field tender submissions. We evaluate the disparate suppliers on a level playing field. This independent review provides both cost savings and service improvements for our clients.
  • We run supplier negotiations for our clients as an independent industry expert. Black River is not affiliated with any supplier, fleet management company, lessor, or service provider, giving our clients true, objective advice and counsel.
  • We provide outsourced strategic fleet management services, effectively bringing the outside expertise that many companies cannot effectively afford in house.

It matters little how large, or geographically spread, the client is, Black River provides expertise for fleets of a hundred to global fleets in excess of 10,000 units. “We are concentrating on supporting corporate fleets and will expand our service to adjacent markets as the need arises,” Bieger said.

At present Bieger said that their focus is on North American fleets, though Black River does have experience in the global market as well.

Target Market

While Black River has not limited its scope to any fleet size or geography, however it does focus on specific vehicle classes. “While we can support many vehicle types (autos, vans, crossovers/SUVs), we to tend to concentrate on passenger vehicles up to light trucks, Class 1 and 2” he said.

And while their focus is on working directly with corporate fleets, Bieger retains flexibility in addressing other markets, such as the needs of smaller, local, and regional fleet management companies, even dealers. “While we tend to concentrate on corporate fleets, we do partner with other industry service classes to assist in their needs on a project-by-project basis,” he said. “At all times we strive to stay the independent partner that corporate fleets need and desire.”

The partnership with fleetcompetence leverages their efforts globally, and Black River has “deep bench strength” of several industry experts that they partner with as the need arises.

What Do Fleets Need?

Bieger’s experience as a manager of large fleets helps to define what areas of a fleet operation are the most fertile ground for consulting services. He knows where help is needed.

“We see a strong need to support all areas of the procurement market tender process, which can yield big dividends for our clients,” he explained. “However, recently the need for an independent outsourcing of strategic fleet management has become apparent.”

He draws the important distinction between day to day, administrative and clerical functions fleets must conduct, and more strategic, management functions which direct the use of key resources such as money, staff, and time. “Black River believes that the administrative functions of the fleet can be outsourced to FMCs,” Bieger said. “But, we believe strongly that the strategic direction that controls cost and long-term direction of the fleet should stay either with the company or, at best, be outsourced to a truly independent third party.”

He recognizes that many large fleet management companies now have “consulting” staff; however, they by definition cannot be independent; they have “skin in the game” as the saying goes.

Truly independent consultants such as Black River are agnostic as to with whom they recommend the customer do business. Their recommendations are strictly focused on what is best for the client.  “We have no financial link to anyone other than our clients” he said.

As far as what it is that fleets need, that an expert consultant can provide, the aforementioned four basic and distinct services Black River offers are built around what Bieger and his team sees as those needs.

“Black River Fleet can provide the most value for its clients by being the independent industry experts needed for any number of strategic needs, from health checks to a long- term partnership providing strategic guidance in the form of outsourced strategic fleet management, setting the direction for our clients for savings and efficiency,” he said.

The Future

When asked what he sees in the future for Black River Fleet, Bieger comments that he expects  the partnership with fleetcompetence will grow and enable Black River to be a true, global fleet consulting firm.

That said, the ultimate goal is to “become the premier consultant for corporate fleets in the industry.”

The more companies restrict and reduce the resources fleet managers have at their disposal, the greater the need for help. “We bring a unique outside perspective with the rigor of IT project management and their data driven solutions, and marry that with years of corporate fleet industry experience to bring a tailored solution to each and every client,” Bieger concluded.