Kenneth Jack, VP of fleet operations for Verizon Communications, took to the stage on the first night of the 2019 AFLA Conference to accept the 2019 Fleet Executive of the Year Award.
The award, which is exclusively sponsored by The CEI Group, recognized his exceptional leadership within his organization.
Responsibilities Within Verizon
Jack has been in the fleet industry for 25 years, eight of which have been with Verizon.
At Verizon, Jack’s daily schedule and duties are constantly changing. One day he may focus on vehicle maintenance operations. Another day may be spent speaking with his team and his suppliers. The next day he might speak with leadership and operations on changes that might impact fleet, or how fleet could help facilitate that change.
From a high-level perspective, Jack’s responsibilities at Verizon include overseeing acquisition, operations, policy, and maintaining all equipment, as well as managing a team of eight who together manage a fleet of over 30,000 pieces of equipment. Of that, about 24,000 units are Class 1-6 trucks, sedans, crossovers, SUVs, and vans, with the bulk of vehicles being vans and large trucks.
The target lifecycle for the company’s managed vehicles is between eight and 12 years, but that number is often stretched another two to three years, Jack noted.
The average age of a vehicle in Verizon’s fleet is just under 7 years.
Looking at just Class 1-6 trucks, sedans, crossovers, SUVs, and vans, Verizon’s annual fleet acquisition spend is about $75 million to $100 million.
Difficulties Managing a Large Fleet
There are few commercial fleets that are as large as Verizon’s. While all fleets have hurdles and problems that they need to overcome, there are certain issues that are specific to Verizon, due to its sheer size.
“A couple things come to mind, but the one that immediately comes to mind is the size of the risk that you have because you have so many vehicles out there,” said Jack.
Jack said he’s constantly concerned about vehicle safety. Everything, including vehicle-selection, ensuring proper maintenance, inspection, training, and administrative measures are always front and center, to keep Verizon’s employees and the public safe.
Another concern that comes from having such a large fleet is the consistency and quality of the repairs that are done to vehicles, Jack noted.
Hurdles relevant to Verizon’s fleet include: how spread out its vehicles are, the large territory that the company’s fleet covers, and a relatively lean fleet team.
“We know to remain competitive, we have to manage costs and I’m proud of the smart decisions Herb and his team make every day,” Jack says.
Supervisors on Verizon’s fleet team are typically responsible for hundreds of pieces of equipment and may be responsible for 10-20 technicians at five to eight garages that may take them from one side of the state to another.
Ensuring the consistency and quality of repairs in this situation is a difficult hurdle to overcome.
“We replaced our work-management system just over a year ago, partly to improve the experience and efficiency for our techs and partly to help the management team focus limited time/resources on the most critical issues using the massive amount of data we generate. We’ve done better at some of these than others, but confident our software partners will get us there,” said Jack.
The repairs being done on the vehicles managed by his fleet management company partner is another thing that’s constantly on his mind.
Jack noted there’s a lot of trust involved in working with a fleet management company. In his case, even though his fleet management company is only managing a third of his fleet, that still accounts for more than 8,000 units. He must trust that the fleet management company is sending his vehicles to quality repair shops that will meet the standards that he has for his Verizon-owned fleet.
Costs, as with any fleet, are also a big concern. Every decision involving any costs have so much weight involved due to his fleet’s size.
“There are hurdles from a supply chain standpoint,” said Jack. “You’re buying a lot of equipment, you’ve got a lot of dollars on the line, and you need to make the right decision about what to buy. When I’m planning and budgeting, we need to think about TCO, price-point, functionality, production timing, and any potential supplier disruptions.”
Jack's Initiatives Within Verizon’s Fleet
One of the biggest initiatives within the Verizon organization that Jack is working hard on is improving the utilization rate of the company’s vehicles.
While it varies, Verizon’s current asset utilization rate stands somewhere between 70% to 85%. These are figures that Jack wants to improve, but they’re also figures that are vast improvements from when he first joined.
“If I can get more work out of fewer vehicles, I can make my replacement budget go further without having to do things such as defer the replacement of something, which will eventually become a more expensive process,” said Jack.
Key to this initiative has been Verizon’s entry into the telematics market over the last few years.
“I spend a lot of time talking with our team at Verizon Connect about products and the challenges facing other fleet-managers. It’s a unique situation to both offer a product and have aninternal need for the technology as well.”
He is also actively working on securing better diagnostic equipment, tools, and training for the people who work on his fleet, with the end goal being to improve the rate that these people can complete repairs. Better diagnostics tools will be able to diagnose symptoms and reduce costs associated with replacement parts.
Despite the expertise of his technicians — Verizon requires multiple certifications for all its technicians — diagnosing and troubleshooting different types of equipment, such as diesel equipment or vehicles with mounted equipment can become increasingly complicated. Better equipment will help, even with more complicated equipment.
He is also looking to find the right combination of partnerships with suppliers, primarily parts vendors. Verizon’s fleet has somewhere around half a dozen broad categories of parts, such as OEM parts, aftermarket parts, tires, batteries, upfit equipment, etc., and Jack wants to be strategic about how Verizon manages the most necessary spares.
“I don’t want to keep too many things on the shelf but how do I keep enough stuff on the shelf within reason?” said Jack. “I don’t want to have to wait on a part to complete a repair because that can have downstream effects.”
Improved data utilization is key, as well. He has a lot of maintenance data and wants to be able to better manage that data to reach a point that he can begin to identify trends within his fleet that will allow him to better solve future maintenance issues.
Jack’s Start in the Fleet Industry
Like many in the industry, Jack did not envision fleet as the career path he would follow.
In college, Jack studied engineering, and the part-time job that would eventually lead him to become Verizon’s VP of fleet operations mainly came about due to convenience.
He began this part-time job in 1994, at Consolidated Edison, the local utility company in New York City. At Con Edison, he spent two to three days out of his week writing specs for equipment, revising drawings, and researching equipment. The plan, at that time, was to work at Con Edison for a short time while he finished his degree and eventually apply to work for one of the automakers in Detroit.
But after careful consideration and speaking to people who were working with some of the manufacturers, Jack decided to stay on with Con Edison.
He eventually sought out leadership experience and supervised one of the company’s mechanic shops. From there he moved onto supervising a specialized shop, which wanted someone with both supervising experience and an engineering background. Later, he supervised multiple shops, and eventually he was overseeing an entire region.
In an effort to gain more experience in areas tangential to fleet, he moved onto the logistics and supply chain division of Con Edison for about three years, where he ran physical warehouses and became extremely involved with the company’s response to 9/11. Later he moved on to the company’s substation operations planning division, which handled large-scale construction and infrastructure project management.
After Con Edison merged with Orange and Rockland Utilities. Jack returned to the company’s fleet department with a company directive to build out a shared services organization, including the integration of work management, acquisition of vehicles, facility management best practices, and technician training between the two companies. He served in that position for five years.
One day, he came across a copy of Fleet Financials, a sister publication of Automotive Fleet. It had a picture of Jerome Webber, VP of global fleet operations for AT&T on the cover, being honored as the 2013 Fleet Executive of the Year.
“I’m sitting in my office thinking, ‘How do you become the fleet vice president of an organization like that? He had 65,000 vehicles, how do you get that job?’” said Jack. “I thought that position was pretty cool, and I remember thinking, maybe I’ll aspire to that one day. It’s funny how a couple years later I got a call from Verizon saying that they’re interviewing people because they have a few things they need to get fixed.”
The rest was history, he said.
Kenneth Jack’s Team
With a fleet as large and as spread out as Verizon’s, who operates nationally, Jack has several people who report to him and assist him in his duties.
Herbert Pruitt, director fleet operations for Verizon, who is responsible for 273 shops, 400 employees, and the fleet vehicles operating out of them, up and down the east coast that primarily support Verizon’s legacy telecom business, is one of those people.
Lucille Delio, who also reports to Jack, oversees Verizon’s fleet project management office. This office oversees any project that impacts the fleet organization. This includes projects such as rolling out new software, enhancements to the telematics program, or any sort of new tools that Verizon’s fleet team will use internally. Her team also oversees periodic review of internal processes to ensure cost-effective, high-quality business processes across the organization.
One of this department’s current projects is rolling out electronic DVIRs (driver vehicle inspection report) for Verizon’s commercial vehicles. The project management office will oversee the development, rollout, training, scoping, and functionality of this transition to electronic DVIRs.
Steve Toeller, who reports to Jack, oversees asset management for Verizon’s fleet. In short, Toeller and his department’s responsibility is to get equipment in and out of the company. Toeller will handle tasks ranging from vendor selection, to engineering and development. He’ll interact with Verizon’s sourcing department to write con-tracts and place orders to buy equipment, oversee the utilization and capacity allocation of equipment, and when those vehicle’s life cycle comes to an end, he’ll also manage the portfolio of different resellers or auctions that the company may use.
Tammy Burks, who reports to Jack, is the fleet supervisor for what Verizon calls affiliate fleet. Affiliate fleet is the third of Verizon’s fleet that is managed by a fleet management company (Element). Burks manages the day-to-day interactions with the fleet management company and with the Verizon employees that are users of the FMC-managed vehicles to review maintenance decisions.
Wayne Corum runs Verizon’s national fleet support center. This department has all the back-office functions around invoicing, accounts payable, license and registration, insurance, tolls and violations, roadside assistance, fuel programs, essentially all the fleet’s support functions. He oversees these functions for mostly the two-thirds of Verizon’s fleet that it owns, but his reach also extends to some of the vehicles managed by Element.