Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Abbott Maximizes Fleet, Minimizes Costs & Increases Driver Productivity

Through its GreenFleet Initiative, Abbott improved its average domestic vehicle fuel efficiency by nearly 20 percent compared to 2006 and reduced gasoline consumption by more than 600,000 gallons per year.

November 2009, by Cheryl Knight - Also by this author

With a corporate mission to serve global healthcare needs, Abbott, based in Abbott Park, Ill., is devoted to discovering new medicines, new technologies, and new ways to manage health. The company's products span the continuum of care, from nutritional products and laboratory diagnostics through medical devices and pharmaceutical therapies.

Abbott's comprehensive product line encircles life itself - addressing important health needs from infancy to the golden years. The healthcare giant operates sales, manufacturing, research and development, and distribution facilities around the world.

The company, which employs 72,000 people and markets its products in more than 130 countries, is recognized for its global reach and ability to serve customers around the world. To accommodate company sales and service employees in the United States, Abbott operates 6,500 vehicles.

Vehicles utilized within the fleet include sedans, small SUVs, and minivans. The fleet team reports to Abbott's finance & administration department.

The five-member fleet team includes the global travel and fleet director, corporate fleet manager, fleet project leader, fleet/limo program specialist, and global travel & fleet analyst. This team maintains a comprehensive knowledge of Abbott's corporate mission and how the fleet supports that mission. Critical to the operation's success, the fleet department remains 100 percent in tune with Abbott business units' needs, exhibits strong analytical and customer service skills, and supports the company's senior leadership.

"The fleet organization's mission is to maximize value, minimize cost, and enable driver productivity," said Cathy Tillman, director, global travel and fleet. Tillman is responsible for strategy, policy, and management of indirect spend and service levels for all elements of Abbott's global travel and fleet programs.

Teamwork & Recognition Key to Operational Success

The fleet team's key external partnerships include fleet management company PHH Arval and preferred manufacturers. Crucial internal partnerships include fleet liaisons in the business units, expense reporting and finance support groups, and IT.

Of course, facilitating an open and effective relationship with senior management also is essential to a successful fleet operation. In fact, Tillman believes to be successful, senior management must be engaged in and supportive of fleet management activities.

In addition, each business unit's fleet liaison communicates regularly with the fleet team. When dealing with large-scale issues, fleet management communicates with the respective business unit's senior leadership to ensure a good understanding of opportunities or challenges that may impact the unit's business.

Assessing fleet financials and ensuring they stay in line with company goals is always top of mind for the fleet team.

"We consider total cost of ownership and also routinely assess lease terms and our replacement policy to optimize total cost of ownership," said Diane Lopez, manager, domestic fleet. Lopez is responsible for oversight and management of the Abbott U.S. fleet program, executive automobile and executive limousine programs, and the RideShare and employee shuttle programs.

"Our mission is clear and never changes, which helps us stay within company goals," Lopez added.

Best Practices Allow Streamlined Operations

Along with a steadfast mission, the fleet team relies on several best practices to ensure a streamlined and cost-effective operation, including:

■ Enabling a safe driving environment through vehicle selection, driver training, and safety awareness.

■ Ensuring quality vehicles, program processes, and customer service.

■ Promoting employee productivity.

■ Contributing to the corporate goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

■ Saving money.

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