At A Glance

With many experienced fleet managers retiring, public agencies are filling these positions through:

  • Training and grooming internal candidates for the role.
  • Conducting a nationwide search for a fleet manager.
  • Hiring fleet supervisors from other agencies.
  • Hiring individuals from other areas of the auto industry.
  • Hiring retired fleet managers full-time or contractually.

Experienced fleet managers often comment about how difficult it is to find a replacement when they retire, and those retirements may become more frequent. Government Fleet’s 2012 salary survey of public fleet managers shows that 13% of fleet managers are 61 years old or older, and 49% are between 51 and 60 years old. As many fleet professionals approach retirement age, how are agencies handling their departures, and how can they ensure a smooth transition?

Identifying the Problem

Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent at the City of Troy, Mich., summarized the problem: “Experienced fleet managers are getting ready to retire, and the pool of replacement managers is somewhat reluctant to take the reins because of all the responsibilities of a fleet manager.” These new responsibilities have emerged as the role of the fleet manager became more professional and budgets have been slashed. Fleet managers aren’t just responsible for repairing vehicles and managing a technician staff anymore; added ­responsibilities include being able to communicate with city management, city council, and department heads; preparing budgets; writing reports; and being pressured to do the same amount of work with fewer staff and a reduced budget, Lamerato said.

He noted that not only are baby boomer fleet managers retiring, but the staff members they have trained to take over may have taken early retirement packages.

This has led a few public agencies to allow their staff to retire, and hire them back for consulting work while the agencies search for a replacement, or while the new fleet manager is training. According to Lamerato, this could be a good option for agencies facing a “brain drain,” allowing the agency to pay a flat hourly fee for the expertise of a professional who truly knows the fleet.

“They know fleet inside out and know where to save money, where the connections can be made, know the people to talk to [in order] to get better prices. That’s not built in two- to three-week transition period,” Lamerato said.

In addition, it’s not uncommon to hear about esteemed fleet managers retiring and then getting hired by another agency.

Lamerato also said more agencies are requiring applicants to have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which aren’t necessarily accurate indicators of a good fleet manager.

“A lot of really good fleet managers, the education they had was from a trade school and on-the-job experience,” he said. “A lot of successful managers I know don’t have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.”

What’s more, the financial stability of a municipality can be a concern for experienced fleet managers looking at other positions. Potential candidates can now use the internet to look up whether an agency’s fleet is fully staffed or furloughed, as well as the agency’s benefits packages, its bond rating, and its fleet replacement fund, Lamerato said.

That’s a lot for a public agency to consider when recruiting a new fleet manger. And aside from rehiring those who have officially retired, what are other ways public agencies can prepare for a staff transition? Whether planning a departure or just making sure employees have a path for advancement, having a transitional plan or ensuring a new fleet manager gets adequate training can help the fleet run smoothly during a staff change.[PAGEBREAK]

Benefiting from an Internal Program

An internal training program that identifies talent and provides training allows a second-in-command a chance to head up the fleet. At the City of Beverly Hills, Calif., a City program allowed Fleet Services Supervisor Craig Crowder two years to transition into the fleet manager role. A few years ago, the City decided that with upcoming retirements, there would be vacancies in key positions within five years. As Crowder explained, the City wanted to “provide avenues for people to succeed to those positions so the City wouldn’t be strained by somebody leaving and with nobody there to fill the void.”

City staff asked department heads to ­identify the key positions, then set up training and education programs to allow one selected candidate for each position to transition into those roles, Crowder said.

In June 2011, Crowder, after an extensive evaluation process, was selected to be in this “bench strength pool” to replace Fleet Manager Rene Biadoma, expected to retire in May 2013. The evaluation process had identified areas where Crowder could receive training. Crowder chose Biadoma as his mentor.

“It worked well for us because we work together on a daily basis anyway. Rene and I would have discussions periodically about what I needed to do to get familiar with something, to sit in his seat and do the stuff he does on a daily basis,” Crowder said.

As a supervisor, Crowder handles workflow, vendors, and personnel on the shop floor. Biadoma oversees all this but more closely works on policies, procurement and writing specs, and working with user departments.

In addition to training at work, Crowder is continuing his education by working toward attaining a bachelor’s degree and taking management training classes provided by the City. With two years of preparation and mentored by Biadoma, Crowder has been able to benefit from the City’s transition program.

Having the Best Recruit the Best

At Sonoma County, Calif., Fleet Manager Dave Head and his supervisors wanted a smooth transition for the fleet after his retirement in April. With Jose Obregon, director of General Services, and Gene Clark, deputy director of General Services, Head set out to recruit the best in the industry from across the nation. Their search proves that the profession has become more complex in the past two decades and having a current fleet manager in on the hiring process can help provide an industry perspective.

“Usually the outgoing manager is not part of the recruitment for his replacement,” Head said. “We’re kind of unique in that Jose and Gene thought it was important that we get this going while I’m still here so I can help them find the right person.”

Obregon, as department head and Head’s direct supervisor, had specific requirements for the new fleet manager. He was seeking an individual to be able to successfully manage the operation while being aware of industry best practices. The candidate would also need to be well versed in the changing environment outside of the fleet. “They need to be cognizant of some of the issues out there, whether they’re already in play or maybe developing in the future. [These include]meeting mandates from regulatory agencies and ensuring that the workforce is adequately trained,” Obregon said. Lastly, he was looking for someone with strong leadership and management skills, someone who would “hold employees accountable but also be sensitive and empathetic in dealing with challenges that come across their desk,” Obregon said.

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In a shift in responsibilities, the new fleet manager reports to Clark. Clark had his own criteria for the position. These include the ability to lead a diverse team on the shop floor, to handle and report data accurately, and  be dedicated to customer service.

“Dave’s got a very wide spectrum of customer base. How do you keep them happy?” Clark said. “How do you give them the best value so they feel they don’t have to go somewhere else, to another shop?”

Head was looking for someone who had the skills to effectively manage the fleet at an operational level, who could, for instance, decide if a service the fleet provides continues to be cost-effective. “To determine which core service we provide in-house and which we outsource, they have to understand the process of how to make that determination,” he explained. The team was also looking for someone who understood how vehicles and equipment work in order to communicate with shop supervisors.

The 64 applicants were first screened by Human Resources to see if they met minimum job requirements. A panel reviewed the 40 remaining candidates, choosing nine. These nine candidates were interviewed by another panel that asked questions specially geared toward skill sets the fleet manager needed to have. The final step was an interview with Obregon and Clark.

Panelists reviewing candidates included well-known fleet managers in Northern California, and Southern California as well.

“If you want to recruit the best, you need to have the best doing the evaluation,” Head explained. And it’s not just prominent fleet managers interviewing the candidates — it’s also one of the County’s toughest customers. The assistant sheriff was there representing the police fleet.

Head said the process is a bit more difficult than it was when he applied more than two decades ago, but that’s because the job itself has changed. “Twenty-three years ago, the only thing we were trying to do was maintain vehicles and equipment. We weren’t involved in policy, we weren’t involved with discussions with senior administrators, and we weren’t expected to have the kind of data we are expected to have now,” he said.

While Head helped choose the panelists, he wasn’t involved in the interviews since Assistant Fleet Manager David Worthington was applying for the job. In March, Obregon announced that Worthington had been appointed the new fleet manager. He began his position April 16, after Head’s retirement.

Finding New Opportunities

Depending on the public agency, it’s not always possible to have the outgoing fleet manager involved in finding his replacement. However, that doesn’t mean new fleet managers are on their own. Depending on their situations, they might be able to reach out to the experienced industry professionals who taught them in the first place.

Ron Lindsey, CPFP, fleet operations superintendent at the City of Anaheim, Calif., and Mario Guzman, CAFM, fleet administrator for the City of Boynton Beach, Fla., both stepped up to become fleet chiefs at new agencies after working under the supervision of two high-profile fleet managers. Lindsey was previously fleet services manager at San Bernardino County, Calif., working under esteemed Fleet Management Director Roger Weaver, CAFM, CPFP, CPM. Guzman worked at Palm Beach County, Fla., under NAFA Fleet Management Association past president Doug Weichman, CAFM, director of fleet management. Both Lindsey and Guzman felt it was time for them to move on and when an opening came at another agency, they applied for and got the jobs.

Lindsey worked in the public sector for seven years. He moved to the City of Anaheim with Weaver’s blessing in February 2012, replacing a retired fleet manager. He doesn’t hesitate to call Weaver for advice if he has a question.

Guzman worked at Palm Beach County for 13 years, beginning as a technician at 20. After years of work, he decided on a change of pace, enrolling in school part time to get his bachelor’s degree while taking an opening as an automotive support specialist. He was promoted a few times, and he kept taking on additional responsibilities.

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“They did some rearranging within the County and I had to run a satellite shop. And that, I think, helped me out the most” in being ready to run a fleet, Guzman said.

The opening at Boynton Beach came at a time when he felt he was ready for the change. He moved to the City in August 2012.

“He was my mentor,” Guzman said of Weichman. “I call him now and say, ‘What do you do about this?’ I always ask him questions about things he’s gone through.”

These fleet managers benefited from being trained by some of the best in the industry and having worked at some of the best fleets.

Looking to the Industry

Even if you don’t previously have a strong connection to the fleet industry, you can still benefit from its expertise. Facundo Tassara, fleet operations manager for the City of Ormond Beach, Fla., found the industry in a surprising way ­— a Google search.

Tassara’s father owned a vehicle maintenance shop and during college, he started working in the office part-time.

“It grew on me. I really enjoyed working with customers and around cars,” Tassara said.

After 11 years managing the shop, he decided to leave to get his master’s degree in public administration.

His experience with public fleets consisted of managing and handling paperwork for General Services Agency (GSA) vehicle repairs, as his father’s shop was an approved repair facility. When he was ready to move on, Tassara typed in “fleet” and “manager” into Google search.

“You can imagine when you type in ‘fleet manager,’ the kind of stuff you get online, and so information just started coming from everywhere,” he said. “At the time, this position was available in Ormond Beach.”

The prior fleet manager had retired, so Tassara looked to media and other fleet professionals for help on fleet issues. He reads various fleet publications and is a frequent contributor to Government Fleet’s FleetShare, a free online community for fleet professionals. Tassara’s quest for knowledge is notable, and he’s been learning about green initiatives and local fleet events, proving that while knowledge is often attained on the job, relying on the industry is another way to acquire training.

The apparent retirement of a generation of experienced professionals can be alarming. However, industry knowledge doesn’t have to disappear. Through adequate training, smart hires, and connection and communication with this close-knit industry, the public fleet sector can help transition in a new generation of fleet professionals ready to step up.

Ready to Move Up?

What does it take to become a fleet manager today, and how can employees show they’re ready for the promotion? On the public fleet side, where many stay at their jobs for a long time, it might be a question of timing. However, it doesn’t hurt to prepare. Fleet professionals and hiring managers say:

  • Show you want to go above and beyond the job description.

  • Talk to the fleet manager about taking on additional responsibilities.

  • Understand the roles and responsibilities of the person above you in the organization. That will allow you to acquire the knowledge to compete for that job when the time comes.

  • Take any training or leadership training classes employers provide.

  • Take management classes at a community college, or classes on whatever skills you want to develop. Work on that on your own, before a position is available.

  • Have integrity, drive, and determination. Be resourceful. Take initiative.

What have you learned?

Fleet managers, new and experienced, talk about the lessons they’ve learned since becoming a fleet manager.

New: Facundo Tassara, fleet operations manager, City of Ormond Beach, Fla.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Often times I find myself working with vendors or co-­workers who have been in the fleet industry for a long time. The knowledge held by these professionals is invaluable to your fleet and most certainly can help newer fleet managers understand complex issues.

  • Stay current. A broad approach to making sure your fleet is up to par with certain things such as charge-back rates, training, safety compliance, and technology.

New: Ron Lindsey, CPFP, fleet operations superintendent, City of Anaheim, Calif.

  • Delegation is good. You cannot do it all, even though you think you can. To be truly effective as a fleet manager, you must “let go” of some things and allow your staff to work with you to accomplish your goals.

  • Walk the floor. We get so wrapped up in budgeting, data, and planning that we tend to forget that we need to motivate employees. Get out there and talk to the guys (and gals) “in the trenches” doing the often unrecognized work that keeps your organization running.

Experienced: Dave Head, fleet manager (retired), Sonoma County, Calif.

  • Take care of your customers. They’re all important, even the ones with small budgets.

  • If you hear yourself say, “But we’ve always done it that way,” it’s time to review the way you do things. Always search for better way to get things done.

  • Don’t be afraid of technology, new ideas, change, or making a decision. You can always go back and change a bad decision; you can’t fix no decision at all.

  • A good technician with positive behavior is worth twice as much as a great technician with poor behavior.

  • Learn to be a good public speaker. It will come in handy someday.

 


Sources:

  • Gene Clark, deputy director, General Services, Sonoma County, Calif.
  • Craig Crowder, fleet operations supervisor, City of Beverly Hills, Calif.
  • Mario Guzman, CAFM, fleet administrator, City of Boynton Beach, Fla.
  • Dave Head, retired fleet manager, Sonoma County, Calif.
  • Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent, City of Troy, Mich.
  • Ron Lindsey, CPFP, fleet operations superintendent, City of Anaheim, Calif.
  • Jose Obregon, director, General Services, Sonoma County, Calif.
  • Facundo Tassara, fleet operations manager, City of Ormond Beach, Fla.
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