When Sam Lamerato joined the City of Troy, Mich., as a fleet technician in 1974, he wasn’t looking to stay. Like many young people, then and now, he had his own path planned — he wanted to open his own repair facility for specialty vehicles.
However, Lamerato ended up staying and built up his name and reputation in the fleet industry, leading the Troy fleet to No. 1 status in 2010. He earned the Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year award in 2011 and just this year was inducted into the Public Fleet Hall of Fame. In addition, he was awarded with the Legendary Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA). The award winner is chosen by industry professionals among the Hall of Fame inductees through online voting.
What prompted Lamerato to stay in the industry, and how did he get to where he is? Lamerato talks to Government Fleet about his career path and what others can do to get ahead.
Staying at Troy
Lamerato began his career as an intern at the City of Troy, which hired him the day he graduated from the MOTECH Automotive Education Center, he recalled. He was put on the day shift, where he quickly grew bored.
“I didn’t feel I was being challenged enough and I requested to be put on the afternoon shift for the variety of vehicles and the challenge,” Lamerato said. “I worked under Fred Green, a great supervisor who really challenged me and put me on different types of jobs that weren’t so routine.” He worked on vehicles ranging from lawn mowers to road graders.
The variety of equipment made the 20-year-old technician enjoy his job. This change in work and his view of opportunities the city offered convinced Lamerato to stay.
“I saw the direction the City of Troy was going, with a new facility and opportunities for advancement,” he said. “I enjoyed the people I was working for and the type of work I was doing.”
In addition to enjoying his work, Lamerato credits his mentors for leading him to continually strive for improvement. Some of Lamerato’s biggest influences were people he met early in his career. The city manager Lamerato worked for when he started, Frank Gerstenecker, challenged department heads to step up their game. Don Spurr, his director, often spent time going over ideas with staff members.
His earliest influence, however, was his father, John Lamerato, who also worked in public administration as the general manager at the Southeast Oakland County (Mich.) Water Authority.
“I always admired him for his knowledge and ability to run an operation at the size and magnitude that he was responsible for,” Lamerato said. “He told me to always put your best foot forward, follow trends so you’re one step ahead of the game, keep positive, always be professional and ethical, and don’t settle for good enough when good enough isn’t.”
Acquiring & Sharing Knowledge
Lamerato was chosen as the Legendary Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for his contributions to the industry. His most significant and lasting contributions may be in the form of education and knowledge sharing.
In 1983, shortly after he was named the fleet maintenance superintendent, Lamerato founded a local group, the Southeast Oakland County Fleet Managers Association. He knew other fleet managers in the area had a lot of experience he could learn from, and this group still meets monthly to this day. Now, however, Lamerato is one of the old-timers, imparting his own advice based on his years of experience. Lamerato said about 12-14 people show up at meetings, but a mailing list allows any member to ask questions of the entire membership.
Throughout the years, he has been involved in educating the ranks on the proper methods of repair and management of a fleet operation. This includes co-chairing the Education Committee of the Michigan Chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA) since 1995. He also continues to speak at conferences and seminars. In fact, having built up a reputation in educating others about fleet, fellow fleet managers, mayors, city managers, and finance directors from other agencies will periodically call him because they had heard what he was doing at Troy. Lamerato said he always shares his policies and procedures with those who reach out to him.
Not only is sharing important, but listening is as well. Lamerato believes it’s essential to get out of the office not just to talk to employees but to listen to their ideas.
“Employees have a lot of great ideas, and customers do as well,” he said.
Some important changes the Troy fleet made were results of technician suggestions — the fleet has adjusted its preventive maintenance (PM) schedules to what service technicians advised, extending some PM cycles and shortening others. Another change is reducing downtime by putting procedures in place to bring in equipment on a timely basis, Lamerato said.
As for customer suggestions, the fleet has changed its hours of operation and the way it preps its vehicles for service in order to keep customers happy.
What Fleet Managers Need to Do Now
Fleet management has been changing, and the path to an established career has been changing with it. Lamerato believes that to succeed, fleet managers just can’t be excellent technicians anymore, but they need to have the “whole package.”
Not only does this person need to understand the new technologies used in the industry, but also be able to communicate effectively and be a good leader. To do this, he thinks fleet managers need to take courses on management skills, communication skills, and accounting to better understand budgets. They’ll need to master the skills of communication with not just employees and vendors, but also to citizens, city council, and bosses. And, Lamerato added, they should seek this education even if their employer isn’t paying for it.
Lamerato’s best pieces of advice to fleet managers stand the test of time: surround yourself with a good team and reach out to others in the industry.
“If you have a great team working for you, it makes your life a lot easier,” he explained.
He added, “Talk to other fleet managers; use them as your mentors. Round up a group of fleet managers in your area to meet monthly to discuss daily challenges in your operation, because there’s a good chance they’ve had the same challenge, and they could possibly help you.”