Fleet Visionary recipients accepting their awards at the AFLA 2019 conference are flanked by...

Fleet Visionary recipients accepting their awards at the AFLA 2019 conference are flanked by Mike Antich of Automotive Fleet (far left), Brendan Keegan, CEO of Merchants Fleet (second from left), and Tom Coffey, senior VP of sales for Merchant Fleet (far right).

Photo by Andy Lundin.

The Fleet Visionary Awards recognized 10 honorees at the 2019 Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sept. 18.

The honor is open to those who have brought a new perspective to running a commercial fleet with the result that the fleet is more operationally efficient, cost-effective, safer, or any combination of these by introducing new methods, efficiencies, and/or technologies.

The award, exclusively sponsored by Merchants Fleet, is designed to recognize and celebrate new voices in fleet management.

Sharon Etherington, manager, regional procurement services, Roche Diagnostics

Sharon Etherington, manager, regional procurement services, Roche Diagnostics

Fleet Visionary of the Year: Sharon Etherington

Roche Diagnostics

Etherington was named the Fleet Visionary of the Year due to her ability to take on challenges head on, and to work tirelessly until a positive outcome is delivered.

When Roche Diagnostics’ parent company set an ambitious fuel economy goal of 36.7 MPG for its U.S. fleet, the fleet made strides by standardizing one diesel model to support the new goals. However, just as Etherington took over the fleet, progress was interrupted when that model abruptly became unavailable.

Sharon was tasked with finding new fuel-efficient vehicles while keeping drivers safe and satisfied. Sharon determined   the best answer was a switch to hybrids as it met multiple needs for the fleet team and supported the needs of the Safety Health and Environmental team. But with this change, Sharon also wanted to be sure to select vehicles that also promoted driver satisfaction.

She designed a selector that gave drivers multiple choices: four popular midsize hybrid sedans, and two newly selected SUV hybrid’s in Q4 2019. The fleet is now 86% hybrid. To reach 100%, Sharon’s focus will continue with Fleet, but also focus on campus site vehicles. 

Her choices fit well with all her fleet stakeholders. Her company reached a 37.2 mpg average with the Fleet vehicles, and emission pollution is reduced.

James Keding, director corporate transportation, Patterson Companies, Inc.

James Keding, director corporate transportation, Patterson Companies, Inc.

James Keding

Patterson Companies, Inc.

When Keding joined Patterson Companies, they were amid a long-term upfit optimization project for the company’s dental branch. Keding quickly took the reins and led the project to its successful completion. 

During the project, on-site visits were completed to gain more information from the field about the upfits that were being utilized. Through this and an accompanying scorecard process, it was determined a simplified upfit could be implemented at a lower cost with similar results, and the order form local branches used to request vehicles and upfits was also simplified so it was easy to use. 

The streamlined upfit also reduced order-to-delivery times by two weeks. Through his efforts Patterson Companies has realized cost savings and greater efficiency. The project resulted in a savings of more than $4,500 per upfit over 220 units, resulting in a nearly $1 million savings total for the year.

Joe H. Suarez, senior director of fleet services, Florida Power & Light

Joe H. Suarez, senior director of fleet services, Florida Power & Light

Joe H. Suarez

Florida Power & Light (FPL)

After two separate safety incidents related to bucket truck overloading, Suarez challenged vendors to develop an engineered solution that would automatically alert operators to potential overload conditions. A former lineworker in his early career, Suarez understood the level of technology required to protect operators and ground crews from aerial boom failures. Suarez challenged two aerial boom truck manufacturers to create the first load alert system (LAS) in the electric utility bucket trucks, with improved truck designs for Transmission and Distribution crews. After an extensive pilot and testing process, Suarez’ vision was realized: both companies delivered.  

Soon, the first bucket truck with a LAS was delivered to FPL’s fleet. The LAS system tracks and records overload conditions, permanently storing the data and giving FPL safety leaders and Fleet the opportunity to investigate and correct potential overload situations and to ensure that the equipment is safe to operate. More than 300 bucket trucks in FPL’s fleet feature the LAS.

SuYvonne Bell, senior commercial operations analyst, Gilead Sciences

SuYvonne Bell, senior commercial operations analyst, Gilead Sciences

SuYvonne Bell 

Gilead Sciences

In her brief fleet tenure, Bell has already utilized her skills in operations and project management to elevate two very different fleet programs.  She researched, aligned optimal and analytical services for these programs and the field-based sales, managed market and medical affairs drivers.  

Bell also managed market employees, particularly in the areas of fleet management, vehicle replacement schedule, performance benchmarking, action plan tracking, training and vendor management.  She worked closely with fleet vendors to increase driver productivity by reducing time out of territory due to vehicle maintenance issues.  Embarking on a comprehensive approach to fleet management, she developed and implemented fleet services initiatives such as employee driver handbook, fleet calendar of events and bi-annual fleet vehicle inspections that were aligned with the company’s overall objectives.  

Bell partnered with internal stakeholders to evolve her current company’s fleet program by implementing a refined fleet program policy, transitioning to a new FMC, standardized the vehicle ergonomic assessment process, and developing diverse vehicle selectors.

In 2017, Bell was awarded Gilead Sciences Commercial Operations Vision Award.  

Kelly Pierce, manager of fleet, Hargray Communications Group

Kelly Pierce, manager of fleet, Hargray Communications Group

Kelly Pierce

Hargray Communications Group

Pierce joined Hargray Communications as its manager of fleet in September 2018, and has already established himself as an expert fleet resource and a leader within the company.

Since joining Hargray, Pierce has managed the fleet through four business acquisitions that have doubled the fleet’s size and expanded its footprint into Alabama and Florida while also reducing monthly operating expenses. Today he oversees 329 vehicles across South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. 

He has internalized safety equipment installations that have improved safety and produced16% savings over 10 months. He launched a defensive driver program that is now part of onboarding for all new Hargray employees, and Driver Safety Scorecards for the entire fleet are reviewed in monthly certifications to directors. Through communication and education, Pierce has consistently increased the fleet’s monthly score. 

Angelica Garcia, purchasing coordinator, Edward C. Levy

Angelica Garcia, purchasing coordinator, Edward C. Levy

Angelica Garcia

Edward C. Levy

Garcia had a vision to transform efficiencies at her fleet. She recognized that certain activities were becoming obstacles in reaching her overall fleet’s goals. 
She took the lead on streamlining processes and outsourcing specific operations, such as consolidating billing and vehicle ordering templates; moving from manual to automated processes; and leveraging technology tools to monitor the status and results of her fleet’s activities. 

The biggest changes were to the ordering and remarketing processes. Before ordering was manual for the fleet office and drivers. Now, the process is easier for both parties and provides drivers with the flexibility and control of ordering the vehicle and paying for any upgrades themselves. This change eliminated approximately 1.5 hours of labor on each new vehicle ordered.

Garcia’s vision and efforts have saved the fleet office more than 90 hours annually of administrative work and helped increase driver satisfaction.

Alex May, senior manager, Rollins

Alex May, senior manager, Rollins

Alex May

Rollins Inc.

May runs a tightly controlled fleet focused on saving lives and looking toward the future. 
Rollins was an early adopter of telematics to monitor safety and is now toward the future. May believes the information that new safety technologies provide, such as whether automatic braking or lane assist engaged or if there was human intervention will be integral to the future of safety.  

As a result, Rollins vehicles are equipped with in-vehicle safety technologies such as lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. May worked with each OEM to truly understand the technologies. He is dedicated to educating and training his fleet drivers on these new technologies to ensure they are used properly.  

May is also looking ahead to different mobility needs and thinking about how Rollins can safely move their drivers and their equipment from place to place. 

Jody Suiter, manager of fleet operations, BrightView Landscape

Jody Suiter, manager of fleet operations, BrightView Landscape

Jody Suiter 


Suiter has been in fleet for six and a half years. She began her fleet career with ValleyCrest and then transitioned to BrightView roughly four years ago when ValleyCrest and The Brickman Group merged to become BrightView. 

At that time, she took over management of the combined fleet. 

Her responsibilities during the merger included taking the complete fleet function of two different companies and developing and training different groups to use combined systems. 

Suiter was involved with the rebranding project for the more than 10,000 vehicles and trailers of the new combined fleet. Her primary focus has been upgrading processes into technology-based applications; such as ordering systems like fleet management and fuel company dashboards.

One of her major achievements has been on cost reduction opportunities to realize future savings. Implementation of industry best practices has set her company on track to reach $5 million in savings over the next 12-24 months.

Samantha Dinges, global data management and analytics leader, Avanos Medical

Samantha Dinges, global data management and analytics leader, Avanos Medical

Samantha Dinges

Avanos Medical

Dinges oversees 350 vehicles across North America, but her expertise also extends to sales, forecasting, and mergers and acquisitions.

She has put this diverse background to use as she led the fleet team through three assumption and regulatory conversions due to corporate mergers and rebranding as the company evolved from Kimberly Clark to Halyard Health and now, Avanos Medical. During her time Dinges facilitated, coordinated, and executed on several Lean Six Sigma and process improvement initiatives. This has included incorporating several Kaizen events, where she quickly implemented process improvements that further leveraged their supply chain so they could focus on their core business and profitability. 

Dinges also pioneered initiatives that  led to increased fleet optimization, cost savings, field sales satisfaction level, and employee retention. She has also been promoted twice during her six years at Avanos. Her leadership in fleet established her as a source of expertise within Avanos and she continues to pursue leadership roles.

Ashley Jach, logistics specialist, Sunrise Logistics

Ashley Jach, logistics specialist, Sunrise Logistics

Ashley Jach

Southern Produce Distributor

Jach joined Southern Produce Distributors initially in the sales department, but shortly took over domestic transportation without having any prior experience in transportation. 

Following the passing of Southern Produce Distributor’s owner, and a subsequent bankruptcy, in addition to her role 
at the time, she took on the position of international transportation and director of sales.

She worked through Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the COO and ultimately decreased transportation cost, among other duties that were related to sales and transportation. She also handled the impacts of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, which affected produce the company managed, by working closely with coworkers, brokers, and drivers.

Jach helped improve quality of commodities exported last year by changing the air flow/temperature and humidity settings during transit, continuously studying the effect of temperature on fresh produce in Refrigerated units.

Related: The Next Chapter

About the author
Andy Lundin

Andy Lundin

Former Senior Editor

Andy Lundin was a senior editor on Automotive Fleet, Fleet Financials, and Green Fleet.

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