Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

In Memoriam: Coach's Insights

Newly Appointed Fleet Managers Have Challenges and Opportunities

My August AF editorial on the perplexing plight of “newbies” caused a stir in the industry. The varied responses present a positive outlook for help.

October 5, 2012, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

My message a few months ago was expressly to try to get some kind of unity and communication between fleet “newbies” and veterans. My prose apparently awakened both ends of the knowledge spectrum, since I received more supportive comments than any of my editorials in recent years.

Fairly typical of the feedback came from Sabrina Charles from Redflex in Phoenix:

“I’m pretty sure you were talking about me when you wrote this. I am the self-trained newbie with less than 500 vehicles (115). I wear all of those hats, and I am unable to travel and network. I always feel as if I am the only one in my situation. Because as I go to Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association (RMFMA) conferences, it seems that everyone is an ‘old timer’ and knows what to do. I learned fleet by myself, and it hasn’t been easy. Any additional advice is welcomed.”

If you’ve been around this business for some years, like me, you have to feel for this young lady. She’s got heart and almost desperately needs help. In my opinion, Sabrina recognizes her limitations, but still has the wisdom to know she has to earn her stripes by her own efforts to become a true professional.

The penalty of success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you. 

-Lady Astor

The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by other people’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.

-Michael Korda

I was successful because you believed in me.

-Ulysses S. Grant to Abraham Lincoln

It also looks like her batting average is not up there when it is difficult to find a mentor or experienced fleet managers with whom to network (even when she’s seeking it).

This part was hard to understand, as I received any number of e-mails from pros who gave signs of offering networking assistance for newbies. They were forthright in sharing, as I expected would be the case; plus, they had recommendations for Sabrina that bespoke of experience.

I’m still an ardent believer in networking to gain advantage, whether it’s in the media area or fleet or any profession. It is my hope that anyone new to our business will take the time to develop networking partners as a kind of sounding board. With more than 100 vehicles, I’m quite certain that many of the major industry suppliers will be happy to support Sabrina’s learning curve. That is also one of the features of our annual Fact Book, which identifies the various regional reps who will share knowledge.

Sabrina: Discuss and read about purchasing incentives, lifecycle costs, the savings with fuel efficiencies, and remarketing values at resale time among operational routines, plus your company’s policies affecting drivers.
High on any newbie’s priority list should be getting invited to the OEM Product Previews where you can learn about the vehicles first hand — especially the ride-and-drive portion.

A recent Maritz Research study of more than 82,000 new-car buyers found that in the U.S., 11 percent didn’t even test drive a vehicle before buying it. It was 26 percent in Canada. It is hard for me to imagine a real fleet manager making a choice without a full test drive (if they really care about their drivers). It’s especially true today, when the OEMs are introducing so many new innovations and changing specs.

Lastly, newbies need to earn the confidence of their boss to allow them to attend these product previews as well as the national conferences, such as the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) and the NAFA Fleet Management Association. They are a networking paradise.

At the NAFA Institute & Expo (I&E), where more than 300 commercial fleet managers met this year, you can sign up (online) for its excellent Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) course.

With genuine motivation and initiative, any newbie can become a growing professional in a relatively short time if they work at it (and have some encouragement from management).

You can do it!

[email protected]


  1. 1. Sabrina Charles [ October 10, 2012 @ 07:47AM ]

    Thank you for the information Ed.

    I will continue to try to get out there and network when I can. I have also found quite a few groups to follow on Linkdin and have recieved some good information from that.

    I could use a mentor on the CAFS course which I have already started and am about ready to test on.

    I am feeling quite unsure of myself on the topics learned.

    Thanks Again!!

  2. 2. Joe Pellissier [ October 26, 2012 @ 08:42AM ]

    Ed, I have been in the fleet industry over 25 years now, and the one consent has always been the willingness for fleets to share information and help each other even in competitive industries. There must be something about being in a service organization that utilizes a significant amount of the company’s resources and is always under pressure to reduce expenses that bonds us together.

    I applaud Sabrina for attending fleet management meetings. My guess is that she is not putting herself out there and asking for help or advice. I am President of the Southern Nevada Fleet Association and we make a point at every meeting to dedicate time for members to bring up any current issues or problems letting the group provide answers and solutions. We also have dedicated networking time before the start of each meeting. This along with an agenda that has an educational session provides resources that are beneficial for everyone.

    If she is not comfortable asking for help in those public settings, another resource is to ask her suppliers for contacts at other fleets in her area. She could then meet one on one with other more experience fleet managers, usually in a variety of companies and different industries.

    I also applaud her for educating herself by taking the CAFS exam. These are great tool to improve general knowledge of fleets and would encourage all fleet professionals to do so. However, nothing beats learning from the day to day encountered while doing the job.

    She needs to lean on her staff to help her too. Spend time on the shop floor with the mechanics, issue parts through the parts room, enter information into the fleet system, and sweep the floor once in a while.

    We all need someone the lean on once in a while, good luck Sabrina.

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Ed Bobit

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With more than 50 years in the fleet industry, Ed Bobit, former Automotive Fleet editor and publisher, reflected on issues affecting today’s fleets in his blog. He drew insight from his own experiences in the field and offered a perspective similar to that of a sports coach guiding his players.

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