Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Having the Money-Saving Touch

Valero’s fleet administrator, Randy Burwell, has a knack for finding ways to save the Texas-based refinery company money and keep the fleet working at peak efficiency.

September 2012, by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

Being praised for having the “Midas Touch” is common in today’s business world. But, while there are many who can make money, there are few that can save it in a way that benefits the bottom line and operations at the same time. This flipside of the Midas Touch has been the theme of Lead Buyer and Fleet Specialist Randy Burwell’s 14-year tenure at San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corporation.

This has led to a win-win situation, netting the refinery company millions of dollars in savings while keeping the fleet running at peak efficiency.

Saving Money From Day One

Burwell joined Valero with the acquisition of Ultramar Diamond Shamrock in the late 1990s.

Almost immediately, Burwell found that he could save the company money by reamortizing Valero’s vehicle leases. This was the very first task he gave himself when he officially took over Valero’s fleet in 1999.

“This was huge for us,” he said. “It cut our monthly expenses by $21,000.”

It could be easy to dismiss this out-of-the-gate success as a result of a lucky set of circumstances, but Burwell brought with him the kind of experience and set of values that makes the ongoing quest for efficiency second nature.

In addition to his fleet experience at Ultramar Diamond Shamrock, Burwell had more than 17 years in the car rental industry, which required a 93-percent uptime of vehicles and had extremely tight margins.

“I brought some of the concepts I learned in the rental industry with me to Valero,” he said.

He also took to heart a lesson from his father — who worked for Exxon.

“He said, ‘you’ve got to produce,’ ” Burwell recalled. “I’m always trying. I have a passion to make things happen.”

In many ways, too, Burwell is simply reflecting the well-established cost-efficiency culture at Valero.

“Valero’s efficiency goals have been in place for a number of years,” said Steve Rehwaldt, sr. manager print specialty & fleet services for Valero.

“The goal reaches all departments and inspires them to seek out efficiencies. By minimizing fleet cost, efficiencies are realized in all departments utilizing vehicles.”

Off and Running

After this initial success, Burwell implemented other changes to the fleet that have saved Valero money and helped the fleet at the same time.

His utilization program moved vehicles from location to location as they were needed. For instance, if there was a spare truck in Oklahoma with low mileage, he would move it to a refinery in Texas that was cycling out a truck, avoiding the expense of buying another vehicle and the inefficiency of having a viable fleet asset that wasn’t being efficiently utilized.

The program proved popular with drivers because it meant they would regularly receive a “new used car or truck,” Burwell said.

As with many fleets, Burwell instituted rightsizing in the sedan fleet. He switched from V-6 Ford Taurus models to four-cylinder Ford Fusion models.

The switch netted the company a savings of 6.5 cents per mile, or $547,000 in lifetime savings over a 47-month period.

Of course, this was a big change for the drivers who were used to and liked the V-6 engines. But, Burwell did his homework ahead of time, which avoided much of the pushback he could have experienced otherwise.

“The transition was pretty darn smooth,” he said.

One of the big benefits of the smaller engine was more power. The 175 hp Fusion delivered 22 hp more than the V-6 Taurus.

Helping eliminate potential pushback, which could have had serious implications for fleet efficiency, Burwell involved the company’s drivers in the choice of the new vehicle. He e-mailed the drivers the Fusion’s specifications, including interior room and horsepower output, inviting comments or questions.

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