Many times, when fleet managers are asked if being a fleet manager is something they’ve always seen themselves doing, the answer will be…“not exactly.” However, more often then not, their backgrounds from before they entered the world of fleet end up preparing them in ways they didn’t expect. For example, Kathy Wellik, CAFM, director of Iowa State University Transportation Services, originally started out in banking.
She eventually moved out of state for a dream job, which didn’t turn out to be what she expected. When she moved back to Iowa, her mother, who had worked at Iowa State University, encouraged her to look into the possibilities it might hold for her. Wellik got her start there as a dispatcher, worked her way up, and was able to use what she had learned being on the lending side of banking and asset management to help her grow into her current director role.
Wellik is thankful that at Iowa State University, she’s had many opportunities to experience all different aspects of fleet management, from procurement to budgeting, hiring, and rate setting.
“I feel some fleet managers don't get as much of that hands-on experience in all of those different fields because they might not have a fuel station or their own shop. Certain tasks might be outsourced. I love the fact we have the whole package here because it helps you understand how one part affects the others.”
Interacting first hand with customers has also helped her understand the impact of her role over the years. In the university setting, there are a variety of customers that all need different vehicles to fit their needs. Wellik doesn’t just buy sedans and utility trucks. She purchases police cars, too, as well as trucks for campus dining services.
“All of a sudden, they decided they wanted to sell gelato at their different locations. Well, now I need a freezer truck. You’re just learning new things every day.”
Iowa State also has a vet college, so the fleet department has upfit trucks to serve those students, too. “They are set up so students can practically do surgery in the field. Part of what I love about my job is the thrill of what's next and embracing that feeling of ‘what can we do and how can we do it?’”
Along with a menagerie of different vehicles comes working not only with fleet employees, but also students with brilliant ideas. Wellik listens to and offers them chances to help streamline processes.
Like many fleet managers at this time, one of the largest challenges she’s faced has been funding during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Her department is completely self-funded, which means she must have the full support of her team to make things work.
“I’ve been super proud of my staff. They’ve come together to help the department save money and have been so flexible, which makes a world of difference.”
When the travel ban first occurred, she sent some student staff members and a full-time employee over to the campus golf course. Due to a hiring freeze, people needed to be flexible and help out where they were needed. She’s also sent others, including herself, to the bookstore to help on busy days.
“I appreciate the fact folks are willing to go wherever it is they’re needed so we can keep things moving.”
Letting staff know you're going to do whatever you can to take care of them is vital to helping them get through a difficult time, she says. She requested those who had maxed out on PTO take time off, and worked with them to ensure the time was used in a way that worked best for them.
“Who really wants to take vacation time when you can't go anywhere? But they were willing to do that. One employee wanted to take partial days, and another had childcare issues so we were able to switch up his hours to accommodate him. Flexibility is the name of the game. Take care of your people, remain positive, and let them know you're there for them. You will get through it together as long as you all have mutual respect for each other.”
Investing in Talents and Passions
If you notice someone on your staff is particularly skilled at something, it’s wise to invest in supporting and enhancing that talent. One of the mechanics Wellik oversees had a knack for applying graphics. Noticing this, Wellik and the university saw it as an investment to send him to school at 3M in Minneapolis to learn how to do wraps.
Wellik’s department has now partnered with the university’s printing department for wraps and signage not just on vehicles, but campus buildings as well.
“Since the other part of the business is a little slow due to infrequent travel, this has allowed us to make sure employees have work. He’s wrapped a mobile sales unit trailer for the bookstore and dining trucks, too. It’s something he’s passionate about and gives him a little bit of a break from the normal routine. It has the added benefit of being able to help other departments as well. We simply found his passion and invested in it.”
Working Together for Best Results
A challenge that comes with moving from the private to public sector is adjusting to the pace at which decisions can be made.
“In a state university setting, there are more stakeholders you need to bring into your decision-making process. Therefore, it takes longer, so you need to factor in more time for your ideas to become reality.”
Compromises can be made, as long as you come at it from an auditing mentality.
“When it comes to audits, for instance, you need to be able to explain everything if you're ever asked. That's how you need to think about your decisions. You better be able to explain what the decision to purchase or invest in something was based on.”