Don Thomson, CAFM, will retire from the City of Salem, Ore., March 31, 2013. He is the City’s fleet/warehouse superintendent and is responsible for providing and maintaining all fleet equipment used by City departments. He is also responsible for the operation of the central stores warehouse. Previously, Thomson was the chairman of the Oregon Public Fleet Managers Group.
Thomson earned a BA degree in political science from Western Washington University. After college, he worked for a Caterpillar dealer warehouse in Seattle, and later as a buyer for Boeing. Thomson moved to Alaska in 1975 and took a job with Alascom, a subsidiary of RCA Corp., as a buyer and later as contract administrator.
In 1980, Thomson went to work for Matanuska Telephone Association (MTA), a local telephone utility, as its purchasing/warehouse/facilities manager. “I subsequently got into fleet management ‘through the back door,’ in a manner that will sound familiar to many fleet managers,” Thomson said. “In 1985, with little warning, our CEO called me in and informed me that I was being given the fleet to manage, too. He knew that I’d never been a mechanic, much less a shop supervisor, but said he was confident I could handle the job.”
With a lot of support from shop supervisors and mechanics, Thomson made that work for 15 years. “It was a steep learning curve, especially in the early years, because I didn’t always know how much I didn’t know,” he said. “Spec-writing, replacement cycles, maintenance intervals, and decisions whether to repair were just a few of the things I had to learn on the fly. I’m very thankful that I learned about the annual Vehicle Maintenance Management Conference (VMMC) in Seattle. It helped me grow into the job.”
In 2000, Thomson accepted the fleet/warehouse superintendent job for the City of Salem, Ore. “It’s a considerably larger fleet, with a lot of the same equipment as my utility fleet. However, we have a much wider variety of equipment, including police and fire vehicles, plus street sweepers and sewer cleaners, etc. Back to the bottom of the learning curve!” Thomson said. I’ve experienced generations of changes in emissions regulation, fuel chemistry, computerized powertrains, data systems, and other technology developments.”
Several years ago, Thomson earned the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) certification and later, Lifetime CAFM status. “I have benefited greatly from involvement with NAFA and VMMC. I owe a huge debt to the members of the Oregon Public Fleet Managers Group (OPFMG) for sharing with me their knowledge and support,” Thomson said. “Wherever I’ve gone in my fleet career, I’ve found fleet managers to be an outstanding network of sharing, professional, competent people. It’s been a great ride, and it ends with good memories and no regrets.”
By Mike Antich