Prior to serving as the director of Fleet Management for Hillsborough County, Florida, Robert Stine, CAFM, CPFP, served in the United States Air Force for 30 years. His service spanned the globe; while these deployments often took him away from holidays, birthdays, and other life events, Stine said his service also gave back in a way that helps him better serve Hillsborough County and his fleet team today.
“Like other vets will highlight, it was our honor to serve; it gave us a sense of purpose,” he said. “As an aircraft maintenance officer, I had great respect for our young — very young — technicians that worked 24/7 in extreme environments to keep our front-line combat aircraft operational. I quickly learned about ‘asset management’ in overseeing diverse aircraft fleets and learning how to balance scheduled maintenance requirements versus operational commitments.”
During his 30 years of service, Stine also learned a great deal about leadership, which continues to influence his approach to fleet management.
“I was taught as a young lieutenant to take care of your people and they will take care of the mission,” he said. “Thus, our fleet core values are ‘teamwork, pride, and mutual respect.’”
These values have resulted in many successes for the Hillsborough County fleet, including being named the No. 1 2021 Leading Fleet (see page 14). Now, Stine’s service-before-self approach has led him to be named Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year. The award is sponsored by Element Fleet Management.
Taking Care of the Team
When asked about the secret behind his success, Stine said there is none, other than “just being persistent, listening to your team, and collectively brainstorming good ideas.”
Stine’s approach to process improvements is a prime example of these guiding tenets. Using Lean Six Sigma principles, he seeks input from all members of the team on ways to reduce “no value added” operations, with the ultimate goal of improving customer service. Technician feedback has led to efficiency gains by doing simple things like moving low-dollar consumables to work bays, parts kitting, parts delivery to work bays, ordering parts from work bays, realigning work bays, and ensuring technicians have the tools and test equipment they need to do their jobs.
Beyond efficiency improvements, Stine was also able to improve the working environment by listening to and following through on technician recommendations, including purchasing energy-efficient lighting to improve illumination and large ceiling fans for air circulation. Taking care of the team in these ways has improved engagement in the department and in turn promoted better service to customers.
“Fleet managers provide leadership and advocate for the resources our teams need to take care of our customers. We were able to fund many projects that increased the quality of life for our workforce and complete projects that led to efficiency gains for our customers,” Stine said. “As a result, our daily point of sale and annual department leadership surveys resulted in 98% positive ratings.”
Stine’s collaborative approach to finding ways to reduce expenses and increase productivity has yielded some impressive financial results. “Our successes have enabled us to keep our labor rates and markups competitive with peers and at or below our fiscal-year 2010 rates,” he said.
Of course, 2021 wasn’t all successes — it had its challenges, too. Stine said chief among them was keeping his people healthy throughout the pandemic as well as dealing with supply chain disruptions that resulted in delays and price increases for replacement parts, new vehicles, and new equipment assets.
“As COVID-19 spread across Florida and the Tampa Bay region, at times the local COVID-19 positivity rate was over 23%,” he said. “We were able to shift to a hybrid telework schedule for our staff personnel, but couldn’t telework our technicians, service advisors, fuels delivery operation, in-house parts vendor, etc. With five repair facilities located throughout the county, we knew that if one of our technicians became infected with COVID-19, it could shut down the entire work center due to mandatory quarantine periods.”
To keep the team safe, Stine’s department spent $75,000 on personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, plastic barriers, computers, and more. Stine considers keeping the department open during this time his biggest accomplishment.
Ensuring Customer Care
While Stine actively seeks feedback from technicians, he also asks for it from fleet customers. To encourage communication and a sense of partnership, he hosts recurring customer meetings to provide them financial, utilization, and replacement data on their assets. “It is a great partnering effort that builds trust and helps us understand our customers’ expectations and needs,” he said.
As a result of his two-way communication with customers and technicians, Stine has been able to implement some major improvements, not the least of which was a $12 million capital investment in three new repair and fuel facilities. Two of these sites opened in 2021 and the third is set to open in 2022.
“We were successful in working with fleet members and architects to plan, design, and help oversee the construction of three new satellite repair and fuel facilities for countywide customers,” Stine said. “These new sites will replace antiquated repair facilities and increase our fuel storage capacity.”
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stine also took action to support customer needs, including installing 135 air purification systems on fire apparatus and transit buses, installing plexiglass shields in transit buses, disinfecting customer vehicles, staffing the Emergency Operations Center, finding assets to support customers who were limited to one person per vehicle, and supporting quarantine sites.
Considering Stine’s dedication to his team and customers, it’s no surprise he already has plans in place to benefit both in the year to come.
“We will continue to look for ways to streamline internal processes and keep those projects that we already reviewed in the ‘Control’ phase of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control [DMAIC],” he said. “We will work with APWA [American Public Works Association] inspectors to recertify our fleet to maintain our accreditation. And we will prepare for the CY-2022 hurricane season by enhancing our ability to respond to contingency threats and increasing our repair and fuel storage capacity.”
Caring for the Planet
Just as Stine works to be a supportive partner of his team and customers, the Hillsborough County fleet is also doing its part to be a good global citizen by pursuing renewable energy sources and making environmentally focused decisions for the fleet.
“By partnering with Facilities Services, we installed 10,000 feet of solar panels on three of our fleet facilities,” Stine said. “We have actively pursued hybrid and all-electric vehicles and will continue to do so as they become more available in the market. Likewise, we have developed and advertised driver behavior practices that can lead to energy conservation savings.”
Success Is a Team Event
Although Stine may have taken home the title of Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, he underscores that it’s not an individual accomplishment. “As the other nominees would highlight, the award goes to our teams,” he said. “Success is a team event that starts with support from your family, your peers, and your leadership. I am fortunate to have a loving wife and family who supported me during my 30-year military career.”
Stine gives credit to all levels of his organization for the Fleet Manager of the Year award. “All of the members of our department from entry-level technicians, staff support personnel, supervisors, and managers can claim a piece of this honor,” he said. “Likewise, we have great support from our vendors, including our parts vendor who maintains on-site supplies and personnel. Finally, we have a very supportive chain of command that appreciates the various cost savings efforts that we implement annually.”
While Stine is grateful for the title, he is perhaps more grateful for the light it shines on his team’s accomplishments. “I’m proud to join the ranks of so many accomplished fleet leaders that have been nominated and/or have won this recognition. Likewise, I’m proud that this award helps validate the accomplishments of our department,” he said. “The award coincides with our department winning the No. 1 Leading Fleet in the nation. These awards bring visibility and recognition to our workforce who have difficult jobs working in harsh conditions to ensure our customers have the diverse general and special purpose vehicles and equipment they need to accomplish their unique missions.”
Success may be a team event, but one has to think Stine’s personable leadership style deserves credit, too.
“It’s important to be friendly, approachable, honest, and consistent,” he said. “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”