Mark Leuenberger, assistant VP, supply chain & enterprise Fleet, for Cox Enterprises, was named the 2018 Fleet Executive of the Year at the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association’s (AFLA) annual conference in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 1.
This is the second time that Leuenberger was listed on the ballot for the award, which is exclusively sponsored by The CEI Group.
Leuenberger is responsible for overseeing the success of fleet and procurement for an organization that handles more than 14,000 assets. The company is broken up into three principal subsidiaries: Cox Communications, Cox Media Group, and Cox Automotive, each of which has unique fleet needs.
“We have a national presence, so we have people all over the country ranging from vehicle technicians all the way up through area operations managers, administrators, and supervisors,” said Leuenberger. “We manage the entire life cycle of the vehicles for the Cox family of companies.”
Under his leadership, Cox’s large, diverse, divisional fleet operations were consolidated into one shared service organization. This allowed the company to achieve consistency, efficiency, and cost savings.
The award recognizes exceptional leadership by managers who hold the title of vice president or higher and have other responsibilities beyond fleet. For the award, a panel of industry judges evaluated submissions based on cost-saving initiatives, policy setting, creation of innovative programs, and cultivation of fleet manager training and management.
History in the Fleet Industry
Leuenberger has been with Cox Enterprises for 20 years, but didn’t enter the fleet side of the business until 2007, and it wasn’t until 2010 that he was promoted to his position of assistant VP of supply chain and enterprise fleet.
Even though he didn’t technically hold a fleet title during his earlier days at Cox, much of what he did back then related to practices that are industry adjacent.
“I was initially a manager in operations with our communications division,” said Leuenberger. “I worked my way up to director of operations technology. Much of the work I did in that role involved developing the GPS and the routing systems, which required me to work more with the fleet team across the enterprise.”
It was this effort that opened the door for him to enter the world of fleet.
“Then the fleet director position opened up at our parent company. I applied for the role, got the job and that’s when I began to consolidate the fleet,” he said. “I never ran a fleet before, but I had a lot of exposure to fleet operations. Our team was looking for a different perspective.”
Regarding his consolidation of the fleet, Leuenberger said the fleet team was very small when he first took over, and focused primarily on leasing the vehicles and providing support to the company’s divisions. Each location within the divisions had a fleet manager who was responsible for the design, purchase and maintenance of their local fleet vehicles. After becoming head of fleet in 2007, Leuenberger consolidated the fleet assets of all Cox divisions under the Cox Enterprises name, which led to the creation of a single fleet organization that directly manages the fleet for each division.
“None of our divisions currently manage their own fleet. We manage it for them. In doing that, we could consolidate the expertise and hire some true fleet professionals. At the time of the consolidation, many of the local fleet managers were administrators that handled a fleet off the side of the desk. Now it is all run from Atlanta,” said Leuenberger. “Now we get the buying power of the 14,000 vehicle fleet. We can negotiate prices much better with that large of a volume. We have also initiated both strategic sourcing and process standardization across the enterprise.”
After a few years of managing the fleet organization, Leuenberger was promoted to his current position, overseeing both the fleet and procurement sides of Cox Enterprises.
The Cox Enterprises Fleet
Leuenberger oversees the work of Jim Bigelow, senior director, enterprise fleet at Cox Enterprises, on the fleet side of the business, and Jeff Osborne, senior director of enterprise sourcing and procurement at Cox Enterprises, leading supply chain and procurement.
The supply chain and procurement side headed by Osborne, is divided into three areas, which includes procurement systems, strategic sourcing, and vendor management, he said. Procurement systems oversees procurement cards, travel cards, and fuel cards; strategic sourcing handles RFPs, negotiations and contracts; and vendor management handles the supplier diversity programs, supplier sustainability programs, vendor onboarding and analytics, and the overall vendor relationship processes. Overall, these operations involve a team of nearly 20 people.
Meanwhile, Bigelow handles fleet, which is divided into two separate teams: operations and services. He also has a team that includes approximately 120 people.
When breaking down the three major principal subsidiaries, Leuenberger said that the Cox Communications division contains the bulk of the fleet. Cox Communications deals with broadband communications and entertainment, provides home security and automation, commercial telecommunications and advertising solutions.
“Their fleet includes everything from broadband technician vans and bucket trucks to cable plant construction equipment. We also have other assets including, generator trailers, and fiber repair trailers,” he said. “Anything with wheels on it, we consider a fleet asset.” This also includes the many cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks in the Cox fleet.
Meanwhile, the automotive division mostly consists of sedans and utility vehicles, and is the umbrella company that is comprised of other organizations that includes Manheim Auto Auctions, Dealer Track, Autotrader.com, Kelley Blue Book, vAuto, Dealer.com, HomeNet Automotive, NextGear Capital, and other brands that service dealers, OEMS, and financial institutions.
He also mentioned that the company has a robust executive fleet, which the company uses as a perk for corporate executives, and is part of their compensation.
Leuenberger credits much of Cox’s success to the members of his team on both the fleet and procurement side of the business. Meanwhile, Bigelow credits Leuenberger for providing him and Osborne the support they need to help achieve their goals.
“When Jeff and I have challenges trying to get something accomplished, we ask Mark to take it to his leadership, or if it’s something we know requires executive involvement we can turn to him get the issue resolved with his support behind it,” he said.
But Leuenberger is also able to let Bigelow and Osborne work as independently as they need to, with regards to their operations, without needing to micromanage their duties.
“When you are looking at a fleet executive, I think he fills that role in the capacity that he allows Jeff and I to run our businesses and gives us the support that we need to take on projects,” Bigelow said.
One area that Leuenberger said the Cox fleet has been successful in implementing in recent years has been in asset utilization, an area Bigelow has focused closely on.
“Our utilization is at 95%, which is our target. And we’ve lowered our cost per mile by two cents, over the last five years, which is significant for us. We have also raised our MPG by just about two miles per gallon,” said Leuenberger. He added that 97% of the fleet is receiving preventive maintenance on schedule.
Leuenberger said that an average day for him may include tasks such as reviewing budgets and assessing employee management, but there are a plethora of other projects going on at any given moment involving fleet and procurement, which he said includes sourcing engagements and negotiations.
“I get more involved in the collaboration with the divisions, which is very important to us,” he said. “I have peers at the divisions that I’ll meet with regularly to ensure that we are adding value and things are running smoothly.”
Current Fleet Initiatives
Some of his major efforts for the company include involvement in the Cox Conserves sustainability program. This includes looking for ways to reduce the fleet’s environmental impact through reduced idle time, introducing more fuel-efficient vehicles and identifying opportunities for collaboration and cost savings.
For the sustainability program, along with water and waste goals, Cox Enterprises seeks to become carbon neutral by 2044, and its fleet plays a significant role in helping meet this goal. Leuenberger’s leadership made an impact by transitioning the company’s fleet to more efficient gasoline, flex-fuel hybrid and electric vehicles.
“We approach the Cox Conserves program in two different ways: through acquisition and then technology. We’re looking to continually buy vehicles that get better gas mileage,” he said. “We’re very interested in hybrid vehicles also. We have a large portion of our fleet that includes hybrid technologies. Almost every new sedan we buy as a work vehicle is a hybrid.”
Bigelow also emphasized that Cox’s green initiatives are essential to the fleet overall.
“Cox is a very green company, so Mark is always asking us to press the envelope as far as green technology, whether it’s straight from the OEM or with aftermarket technologies,” he said.
He added that one of the requirements for the fleet vehicle selector list is that assets get over 30 miles per gallon. On the technology side, Cox Enterprises is constantly on the lookout for tools that aid in making the fleet run fewer emissions, with a focus on reducing idle time.
“We have a very large idle time reduction program which leverages technology, like start-stop, but also includes the integration of GPS devices in vehicles that monitor idle time. We then work with our operational units, such as field services members in the Cox Communications division, to develop programs to get drivers to turn their trucks off,” Leuenberger said.
Another way that his fleet is looking to cut fuel costs is with its field service operations groups, which is integrating GPS technology into routing systems for trucks to make them drive fewer miles.
“If you have more efficient routing, you’re driving fewer miles and burning less fuel. We work with those teams to accomplish that,” he said.
Through it all, Leuenberger said that a big component driving the successes of these initiatives is using Chevin’s FleetWave fleet management system.
The system from Chevin, a company that provides cradle to grave fleet management software, can provide Cox with a report that helps assess key fleet data, including the fleets overall costs per mile and assessing vehicle MPG. The system integrates with our other data systems and then consolidates all the data into reviewable reports, said Leuenberger.
Cox is continually growing this program, which helps him assess his fleet from a strategic and tactical standpoint.
“So tactically, it helps us run the business day to day,” he said. “It also helps on a strategic level because it gives me the data to sit down with Jim to develop a more strategic direction for the fleet. This includes what we’re going to report on and what we’re going to require of our shops because of what is reported. Having all that additional data in one place just makes life a lot easier for us.”
Bigelow said that Leuenberger ultimately aims to achieve an ROI with regards to all its corporate initiatives.
“There always must to be a return on your investment, and I think it’s good that he is always checking back in with us to make sure the money we’ve spent is coming back,” Bigelow said.
He also said that the kindness and consideration Leuenberger shares with those close to him is a key piece to who Leuenberger is.
“Our nickname for him is ‘Big-Hearted Mark,’ he’s just a nice guy, and I think the key there is that he treats people the way he wants to be treated, and his legacy is always behind him, to which, when people haven’t seen him in a while, they’re glad to see him,” said Bigelow. “He’s just an overall well-respected and nice guy, and you don’t find a lot of upper leaders like that.”