Tim Coxwell CAFM, CPFP, fleet management division director for the Leon County, Fla., Sheriff's Office, got his start as an industry vendor. When he was asked to participate in the recruiting and hiring of the next fleet manager for the Sheriff’s Office, he was convinced it was time for a life change. After discussing what the job description, hours, and pay would be, he made the switch from running retail automotive repair shops to running a fleet; a change he’s very thankful he decided to take.
Pursuing Hybrid Workers and Vehicles
While the benefits obviously didn’t hurt, it was the ability to take on the project of modernizing and rebuilding the organization that truly intrigued him. Since his start in 2013, the fleet has grown from just under 500 vehicles to just under 600, and from two employees to six.
Everyone on his team is ASE certified and cross-trained – Coxwell dubs them ‘hybrid workers.’ They order, receive, and invoice their own parts, schedule repairs, open and complete work orders, as well as maintain a fuel island and the facility. On top of being an administrator, Coxwell also conducts data analysis and reporting, mentors employees and other people throughout the state of Florida through the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA) and Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators (FLAGFA), and even turns wrenches and does diagnostic work on vehicles.
“The most interesting part of the job for me is what I call ‘bringing a new shade of green’ to the fleet. I’m very interested in introducing hybrid vehicles and planting the seeds to acquire electric vehicles in the future,” he says.
The department has replaced most of its aging Chevy Impalas with new Toyota Camry hybrids, which have helped it save a great deal of money and fuel: about 41,000 gallons per year, in fact. Depending on the price of that fuel, the vehicles could save the department anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 annually. It’s also swapped 13 regular SUVs with 13 Hybrid Toyota Highlanders, which are estimated to save another 12,800 gallons of fuel.
“Going green is our responsibility. People look to us to be leaders in the community; not just in the way we behave in public, but also in how we drive and what we drive. 90% of communication is nonverbal, and when a citizen is riding on the interstate alongside one of our vehicles, I want them to see we are using hybrid technology,” he explains.
Like many other government fleet leaders, Coxwell struggled with staffing in the beginning of his fleet career. Some industry mentors encouraged him to study for and obtain certifications to help gain stronger credibility while making his case for needing more employees.
He enrolled in the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program and got his certification within a year. About a month or two after completing the NAFA certification, he did American Public Works Association (APWA) coursework for the Certified Public Fleet Professional (CPFP) test and earned it as well.
“In the process of doing the homework for those tests, I learned how to properly determine what my staffing levels should be, and was able to present it in a plan to the Board of County Commissioners, Chief Administrative Officer, Undersheriff, and Sheriff. Eventually, over a period of annual budget battles, we’ve increased our staffing level from two technicians to six, with a final goal of nine.”
As for advice for other up-and-coming fleet professionals, he says he regrets not starting the certification process earlier.
“If I had started earlier, my fleet would certainly be in better shape than it is today, because I would have started doing things according to the industry standard from the beginning.”
The value of obtaining certification is significant. Fleet managers with certifications can earn about 27% more than uncertified fleet managers can.
Not only does it help your paycheck, it also improves your ability to promote your goals and aspirations, according to Coxwell.
“The designation establishes credibility amongst your peers. CFOs and accountants have the CPA, lawyers have the state bar, and fleet professionals have the CAFM or CPFP. When you're going into meetings and asking for things the budget office isn’t used to, it can put them off. The certification process teaches you how to speak their language. You're able to find common ground during meanings. With that designation behind your name, it lets them know they're dealing with a professional. The majority of accountants think the fleet guy has got a wrench in one hand and a sandwich in the other, and that's just not the case anymore.”