Market Trends

Who Will Succeed You as Fleet Manager?

July 13, 2010

by Mike Antich - Also by this author

By Mike Antich

Over the past 12 months, I have witnessed a growing number of fleet managers, many of whom I consider the pros of our business, lose their jobs because their positions were eliminated. The economy is dictating many of these decisions, but there is an underlying trend that makes me fret about the future of the in-house fleet manager function. To get a reality check, I asked a number of long-time fleet managers, who have the perspective of history, their thoughts about the future of the fleet manager position. In particular, I asked who they thought would succeed them when they retire or move on to other opportunities. A surprising number felt the future for in-house fleet managers is bleak. Others cited no "new blood" being infused into the ranks of the fleet management profession. The majority of fleet managers are primarily Baby Boomers with few younger fleet managers. Anecdotally, this appears true, especially when looking at the attendees of various industry conferences and manufacturer fleet previews. Today's fleet managers comprise a narrow demographic band and in the next 10-15 years, most will retire.

At many companies, fleet has been "commoditized" and the primary performance metric is how much expense is reduced this year compared to last. Since the onset of the economic downturn, companies are focused more than ever on cutting costs and eliminating unnecessary positions. Some companies view the fleet manager's position as unnecessary overhead to be delegated to an administrative function or outsourced. Large corporations, faced with headcount reduction as a key metric, view fleet outsourcing as a way to attain this goal. Other companies are combining the fleet manager position with other functions in the organization. Today, it is almost unheard of for anyone to be "just" a fleet manager. This trend is self-induced by fleet managers who find the only way to substantially increase their compensation is to take on new responsibilities. Other times, having more responsibilities gives a false sense of job security. As some multi-titled fleet managers discovered, this sense of security can be illusory. As corporations became flatter, entire layers of management, which in the past, were natural career progressions, have been removed, prompting many fleet managers to stay put in their current role. In addition, technology has reduced the staffing needed to run a fleet department. When fleet was a manual, paper-intensive function in the 1960s and 1970s, departments were staffed in proportion to the amount of assets under management. However, desktop computers automated much of the administrative work, and recordkeeping and analytics migrated to Web-enabled fleet management systems developed by FMCs. 

The root of today's situation was the emergence of the fleet outsourcing phenomenon of the late 1980s. Today, the weak economy and budgetary constraints are accelerating change in the fleet management profession. Prior to outsourcing, it was not uncommon for companies to employ assistant fleet managers who learned the business almost as an apprentice. Nowadays, it is rare to find an assistant fleet manager.

Company culture plays a huge role in determining who manages the fleet. Is the company inclined to outsource non-core functions, or does it believe fleet is best managed in-house? The conventional wisdom is fleet manager responsibilities will evolve into a more elevated position. But, realistically, the fleet manager position will not become too elevated in an organization since it is much too detail-oriented, encompasses many "moving parts," and requires working with a variety of suppliers, which would be very distracting if managed by a senior level manager.

At smaller companies, the person managing the fleet wears many different "hats," while at larger companies there is need for a subject-matter expert. It is at mid-size companies where the fleet manager position is in jeopardy.

A Risk-Averse Culture

Many full-time fleet managers report diminished support by their management that does not allow them to join industry associations, attend fleet conferences, or even go to local fleet previews. Right or wrong, I sense the fleet associations of yesteryear were much stronger advocates in communicating the value of the fleet manager function to senior management than today. Currently, there is a very strong focus on fleet education, which is incredibly important, but meaningless if fleet managers aren't allowed to attend professional meetings and educational events. Maybe it is because the fleet manager population is older and less willing to take risks, but they seem to be less inclined to challenge management for fear of losing their jobs.

My prediction is that senior management will have a rude awakening when the Baby Boomer fleet manager generation retires. It will be the actualization of the truism "you don't know what you have until it is gone." As an industry, it is important we remind senior management of the value of an in-house fleet manager. Since fleet management requires working with cross-functional groups, managing millions of dollars of corporate assets, collaborating in complex technology initiatives, and be a key influencer of employee productivity, it is crucial to have a strong in-house fleet manager to coordinate and manage these activities.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]



  1. 1. Mark Petersen [ July 13, 2010 @ 01:36PM ]


    Thanks for putting together such a relevant blog entry. Too often we all seem to get bogged down in the day to day activities of our jobs and our lives in general and we miss the bigger trends. The loss of fleet management experience and the general contraction of the industry may be a sign of these economic times but it doesn't mean we should just go with the flow.

    I agree it's time for everyone in our industry to do a better job at communicating to company management that they have an important resource at their fingertips; namely their in house fleet manager! It's time for everyone from our associations to the fleet management companies and unbundled service companies, and yes the fleet managers themselves to be more vocal about just how important the fleet manager position is to the organization. Like you, I fear that if we don't, company management will realize their error far too late.


    Mark Petersen

    Vice President, Business Development

    Fleets USA

  2. 2. Milt Williams [ July 13, 2010 @ 01:54PM ]

    Hello Mike,

    I enjoyed your fleet manager story, and could not agree more. I, being a Fleet Manager of a 500 cars fleet with an assistant, not that many years ago, relate to the under appreaciated positon. Now a days, as you mentioned, out sourcing and computers are far more advanced than back in the 80's and 90's. I remember filling out cars orders by hand and mailing them to our lessor. But the lessors are not going to lay down either. They also want to build their business. Total fleet management is an easy sell when your offering the reduction of staff with no change or better services, because of various systems that are now available. I have always wondered what will become of fleet based organizations, such as NAFA. Where will they pull thier membership from.

  3. 3. Al Cavalli [ July 14, 2010 @ 09:06AM ]

    your analysis is quite valid and your statement "Maybe it is because the fleet manager population is older and less willing to take risks, but they seem to be less inclined to challenge management for fear of losing their jobs" has a lot to do with it.

    However, I can't help but think that two areas continue to be overlooked. First & foremost fleet managers have too often neglected to take steps to impress management with their accomplishments & need, how the savings they produce impact the bottom line and how only in house management can have the company's best interest at heart as opposed to massive outsourcing. Too often the thinking is ...dont make waves...rather than being proactive & including upper management in fleet matters and keeping them informed.

    The other is an approach I recommended many years ago, to have fleet management assume responsibility for all aspects involving personnel ...household goods movement, hotels, air travel, all of which companies will continue to require, as well as fleet, which has not been advanced.

    While economic conditions will continue to impact our profession, these are steps that should always have been an important part of the fleet manager's responsibility.

  4. 4. Allen Mitchell [ July 16, 2010 @ 01:40PM ]

    It is true that many experienced fleet managers have lost their jobs in this tight economy. Unfortunately, I believe the blame often falls on the fleet manager. We have the requirement, explicitly or implicitly stated, to prove our worth to the organization and its management. Our level of success often depends on how well we communicate that. Spending over 40 years in management of private companies and government fleets I learned we can demonstrate value in many ways.

    Competitiveness: We must prove operations are competitive with private dealerships and peer organizations. Benchmarking shop rates, mark-ups for services, fleet costs, and employee performance will go far in demonstrating value.

    Professional Accreditation: The new paradigm for fleet managers is to have at least one professional certification. I know one fleet manager in the region certified by every organization offering certification. I personally chose the APWA CPFP exam route.

    Involvement: Much can be gained by getting involved with professional organizations, as well as local, regional and national events. I have been a member of NAFA for 31 years and APWA for 22 years. These organizations are a must for fleet professionals.

    Reengineering: Ideas for improvement come from staff, peers, online and hard-copy periodicals, and a vast network of industry professionals. Many e-mails I receive daily contain leading edge data and emerging ideas. We do our best to sift through the information and glean the best ideas that fit our organization’s culture.

    Communication: It is our mission to get credit for the great things our program is doing. If management doesn’t know you are outstanding, they will think you are mediocre at best! When we receive an award, I inform management and staff immediately and post it on our internal Web site. I let our customers know so they understand we are a highly rated, productive organization that provides value-added services. Why outsource something that valuable?

  5. 5. Ryan Mossman [ August 19, 2010 @ 07:44AM ]

    Mike - I agree that many fleet managers are up for retirement in the next decade or so. From what I’ve seen, whether lauded or not, the fleet manager position is more strategic to the business than ever. If the appropriate steps are not taken to train replacements - their leadership will be missed.

    Ryan Mossman

    FuelQuest, Inc.

    Vice President & General Manager, Fuel Center

  6. 6. Frank De Beuker [ November 25, 2010 @ 11:56AM ]

    Well guys, (and girls),

    first of all, sorry to have been "asleep" for a couple of months before commenting... ;o)

    In a very simple way : fleetmanagers are being "pushed aside" by marketing strategies !

    Some strong marketeers try to make sure the companies with big fleets outsource their fleets and make this sound as "the right thing to do". Ceo's who don't know any better, hear of a new trend and try to beat their peers in making "hot" decisions.... and lose money for their company !

    Why should outsourcing be interesting ? Bottomline it's always more expensive than a good in-house fleetmanagement. If the fleetmanager is up to scratch, why remove him ? Never forget : a thing that needs to be marketed, is a thing you normally don't need ! The need is cultivated... with one goal : PROFIT !, which your company is going to pay for...

    It's nice to see those guys with their powerpoint presentations boast about how good they can take over your fleets. The joke is that most of them wouldn't even know how to manage a fleet if it wasn't for the leasingcompanies to do the real work...

    biggest joke I've ever heard of : (really !) leasingcompany provides in-house staff to manage the fleet and to ... control its own invoices...

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