On June 5, at the pinnacle of his fleet career, for one of the few times in his life, Jeff Booton was not prepared. He knew he was one of three finalists for Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, and he had followed instructions to find a seat in the front row of the Honors Celebration at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference in San Diego. But from the time he joined his fellow nominees onstage to the moment his name was called a second time, Booton was certain he would not win. So he didn’t know what to say.
At a glance
Jeff Booton’s accomplishments in six years as Denver International Airport’s fleet director include:
“I didn’t think it would happen,” said the newly promoted senior director of maintenance for the Denver International Airport (abbreviated DEN). “I figured I would just thank a couple folks. And when I got off the stage, I had to ask my coworker, ‘Did I come off all right?’ ”
By all accounts, the impromptu speech was a success, and Booton and his fellow directors and fleet staff were left to revel in the honor — at least for the duration of the trip home. Back in Denver, Booton was still finding his feet after transitioning out of the director of fleet management role. The new job not only oversees the fleet division, but also facilities, technical, and airfield maintenance. It’s only the latest challenge in a lengthy fleet career that includes 27 years of service in the U.S. Air Force.
When he joined the DEN team in 2012, Booton “brought the attitude of integrity above all else, service above self, and excellence in everything he does,” said Mark Baker, senior vice president of Airport Infrastructure Management (AIM). “When you focus on making sure your people have the right tools and resources, the result is high-performing teams.”
The Military Man
Booton was born and raised in a small Wisconsin town and joined the Air Force immediately upon graduating high school. His first year was spent in training, first in mechanic school and then on the job at his first base. He would average one move every two years, making a total of 13 stops in a worldwide tour that included Japan, South Korea, Guam, Italy, and Germany. He continued his education and advanced quickly, from mechanic to supervisor to trainer, and would ultimately manage more than 8,000 vehicles worldwide.
Military fleet operations are highly structured, so toward the end of his enlistment, he pushed himself to learn more about the civilian side of the fleet industry.
“I knew someday I’d be looking for a job. You always kind of know it’s coming. Then, all of sudden, you hit that point. It was time for me to move on,” he said.
Booton retired from the Air Force, joined his kids in Tampa, Fla., and started looking. He met with recruiters, “demilitarized” his resume, and sent out about 100 applications. Denver International made an offer and Booton thought it was a great fit. (“I was Air Force. This is an airport.”) Knowing his background could lead to certain assumptions, Booton was cautious in his approach.
“I didn’t want guys thinking I wanted to make it into a military shop,” he said, so he prioritized engagement and sought new ideas for lean practices. “Guys on the floor can come up with ideas, bring them to the office, and figure out solutions, and we’ll say, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot, see what happens.’ That’s not militaristic.”
Trust the Process
Booton’s 2012 arrival heralded the launch and eventual completion of a number of long-term projects DEN’s management team credits with a near-complete overhaul of the fleet operation. Matt Conway, director of administration for the AIM division, said Booton has empowered managers and staff to think big and effect real change.
“He has a good sense of humor, but he is very thoughtful about his decision-making. He likes to base decisions on good metrics, good data,” Conway said. “They’ve really been able to step outside the box and do some neat things under Jeff’s leadership.”
The airport’s fleet includes more than 1,700 pieces of rolling stock, including 616 on-road vehicles and 342 off-road vehicles, all operating on a $10.4 million annual budget. Booton counts sedans, pickups, buses, snow-removal and construction equipment, loaders, cranes, and emergency vehicles among his charges. He was sure there were countless efficiencies to be found, and from his first days on the job, he sought more effective processes, greater visibility, and more accurate, useful data.
“I’m trying to get us standardized on a maintenance ‘theory,’ so to speak,” Booton said. “Get data that’s clean, and we can make good decisions.”
In 2017, two highly ambitious projects came to fruition:
- Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS): Developed over an 18-month period in collaboration with the airport’s enterprise asset management system provider, DEN’s CMMS revolutionized the way service is tracked. By creating a new physical and virtual workflow, Booton’s team eliminated “lost” work orders, reducing the total number of open tickets from more than 800 per month to less than 300. The average amount of time work orders remained open fell by 40%, and the ability to source parts proactively led to a 43% reduction in average acquisition time.
- Microsoft Power BI: A new partnership with Microsoft’s business intelligence unit has given DEN’s directors the ability to create custom dashboards fed by multiple databases and displaying clear metrics. The system helps Booton’s team identify trends. When a low ratio of preventive maintenance (PM) to corrective maintenance (CM) work orders emerged, the team dedicated more hours to PM and wound up reducing CM work orders by 22%, saving 6,500 maintenance labor hours.
But that’s not all Booton accomplished in his six-year run as fleet director. A new PM plan cut labor time by more than half and raised the shop’s monthly completion rate to 98%. Revising the airport’s take-home and operator care policies reduced fleet mileage by 245,000 miles and fuel costs by $38,000. A Regional Air Quality Council grant helped fund telematics adoption, saving $100,000 on hardware and installation.
“He doesn’t back away from making the tough decisions,” Baker said. “He brought that mindset of continuous improvement.”
New Job and Future Plans
Booton believes the other two finalists for the award were equally qualified — and in fact, they got their start the same way he did. He noted that both Dan Berlenbach of Long Beach, Calif., and Washington County, Ore.’s Tom Keyser, also served in the Air Force. He said both men are “terrific” individuals and fleet managers, and both have influenced his work.
He also acknowledges the work of his team in making the fleet run successfully, making his latest promotion bittersweet.
“It was tough for me to take this new job. I loved being down in fleet so much,” Booton said. “I owe thanks to all those guys, from the wrench-turners to the admin folks. It’s a really good group.”
Booton hopes a renewed focus on training will help the airport retain its best technicians and supervisors in a highly competitive job market. They will need to continue firing on all cylinders, he said, as DEN continues to expand its footprint and build for the future. Baker is confident Booton will continue to lead the way toward greater efficiency, productivity, and employee engagement.
“Some folks read well on paper but don’t translate well in the real world. What you read on Jeff’s paper is really only a corner of the picture of the person,” Baker said. “For him to be recognized in this way, you can’t help but feel that, this time, they got it right.”
About the Award: The Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year award recognizes fleet managers performing well in 10 key categories: business plan, technology implementation, productivity, policies, preventive maintenance program, utilization management, replacement program, customer service, fuel management, and recent accomplishments. This year it was sponsored by FCA, and a panel of 10 fleet managers judged the contest.
Not Just Any Airport
Denver International Airport (DEN) is one of the world’s most distinctive — and heavily trafficked — transportation hubs. Here are some fun facts about the place Time magazine once called “America’s Best-Run Airport”:
- Denver International is the fifth-busiest airport in the U.S. and the 20th-busiest in the world
- More than 61 million travelers flew into or out of Denver International in 2017
- DEN is America’s largest airport, with a campus that covers more than 52 square miles — more than twice the size of Dallas/Fort Worth International
- Runway 16R/34L is America’s longest public takeoff-and-landing strip
- The Jeppesen Terminal’s famous roof is comprised of 54 fabric-covered “peaks” that reflect Denver’s Rocky Mountain locale and the teepees once inhabited by native Coloradans
- “Blue Mustang” is a 32-foot, 9,000-lb. fiberglass sculpture of a rampant horse that has greeted airport visitors with glowing red eyes since 2008
- An onsite solar farm boasts a total annual capacity of 10 megawatts (or 16 million kilowatt-hours) of solar electricity.