Like most who are now a part of the government fleet world, Gary Horwald, fleet manager for the City of Santa Barbara, Calif., started his professional life as a mechanic. He always had an interest in figuring out how things worked, and after spending time in private industry, he eventually moved into management in the public sector. Although he basically had no prior knowledge the position of “government fleet manager” even existed, he has come to love what he does and finds great enjoyment in learning something new every day.
Informing Decision Makers
The current challenge he is facing is the planning and funding of new vehicle purchases. This requires a great deal of money and years of strategizing.
“It's very tempting for government agencies to suspend setting aside money for future vehicle purchases when the budget gets tight,” he explains. “I don't know that I have overcome this challenge or that I'll ever overcome it; I think it's a continual battle, and requires constant effort to keep the challenges and benefits in front of the decision makers.”
He has prepared a 25-year strategic plan to show his projections for vehicle purchases and where potential shortfalls lie. This ensures ample time to adjust and make changes.
“It's a lot like your 401k plan. You have to think about how much you’re going to need, what you’re going to need it for, and how much you should be putting away right now. There's a lot of assumptions that go into that kind of planning, and it’s the same with vehicle replacements.”
Keeping up with constant changes in vehicle technology can also alter replacement plans. For instance, you may start planning for a sedan similar to what you already have in the fleet, and then new hybrids and electric vehicles come out down the road at a higher price. He finds it can sometimes be difficult to garner support for alternative fuel vehicle purchases because of this.
Horwald’s goal is to keep decision makers informed as to how his replacement program works, as well as the downsides of not keeping up on setting aside money for future purchases and the benefits to the organization in the long run.
“There’s only so much you can do based on today's price. There may be technology that comes out in the next 10 to 15 years you're not even thinking of today. It drives the cost up. The challenge becomes how to get buy in from the stakeholders on setting aside additional money to be able to support that goal, especially if it’s not really something they're concerned with. My job is to sell them on why it's important and the benefits they will realize, and that we’ll realize as a community. You have to take into account everybody who's touched by the decision.”
Fighting Budgeting Challenges
This has been made even more challenging by the uncertainties brought about by COVID-19. He is currently working on a two-year budget plan to secure funding for future vehicle purchases and make up a funding shortfall.
“We need to increase our contributions to our replacement reserves to be able to fund that into the future. Doing that at this time in light of the pandemic is especially difficult,” he says.
He’s trying to come up with creative ways to fund this, which includes finding another funding source for fire truck replacements to free up money being set aside for the purchase of those vehicles to make up shortfalls elsewhere.
This can be difficult when decisionmakers aren’t always thinking about fleet.
“They know they have to give people the tools they need to do their job, but it's not at the forefront of their minds. Trying to keep it there is a challenge, and we are always looking for potential solutions to solve it.”
Investing in Good People and Tools
The job of a fleet manager is to think about where you’ve been, where you are headed, and what goals you need to meet to get there. Horwald says there are two components that are the most interesting about what he does. The first is the group of people he works with that help him achieve these goals.
No matter what the industry is, as a manager, you must be thinking about how you can better develop and support your staff so they have the knowledge and equipment they need to do their job and do it well.
“You want to get the best out of your people and help them succeed at whatever it is they choose to do. This provides the added benefit of them wanting to give you their all. It’s about building a relationship based on trust and having the backs of the people that work for you.”
The other aspect of the job that interests him is the planning and purchasing of new vehicles and equipment. This keeps him up-to-date on the latest vehicle technology and makes him aware of how far vehicle development has come.
“To me, it’s fascinating. When I see vehicles and equipment I ordered many years ago starting to cycle out, it’s amazing how much has changed with the newer models.”
With smaller vehicles, this is a continual occurrence, but these changes become even more apparent in longer term vehicles and construction equipment. He mentions he’s starting to see some of the same changes happen in this kind of equipment that happened with smaller vehicles many years ago due to clean air requirements.
Learning from Peers
Horwald’s advice to up-and-coming fleet managers is to stick with it.
“We all face similar challenges, and that’s why it’s so important to network with your peers and learn from them so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.”
Don’t be afraid to adapt good ideas from other organizations that have figured out a potential solution to a similar issue by putting a solution to the test and demonstrating the success of the idea.