Fleet News

7 steps to a successful fleet career, according to female fleet professionals

Female fleet professionals have shared advice and provided their seven top tips on how to get ahead in fleet. 

 

Many women in senior fleet positions have had the right mentor.

Sarah Gilding, head of vehicle fleet management at South Yorkshire Police, who got into fleet 11 years ago after moving from the criminal justice department, says: “My boss Nigel Hiller, the director of finance, has been very supportive and has believed in me and my ability.

"That has really helped. Throughout the police service the head of fleet tends to have a technical engineering background, but Nigel saw fleet management as being more than that.”

Gilding says her main challenge was “having the belief in myself”.

“I did perhaps feel because I wasn’t an engineer or a technician that I needed to prove what my skills were,” she says.

Lorna McAtear, who has worked in fleet at E.On and now Royal Mail, says she has been “lucky” to have the right support in both companies.

She says: “There has always been someone who believes in me more than I do and picks me up when I fall down.”

She joined Royal Mail Fleet in 2014 as head of fleet performance in the West Region, responsible for 2,000 vehicles.

Within five months she moved into the central fleet team, looking after the supply chain and last year became head of supply and internal accounts.

Her colleague Sally Warren, head of fleet maintenance, first joined fleet as a sourcing manager in 2001 and then undertook a variety of operational roles within Royal Mail Logistics where she managed 1,000 HGV drivers. She was given a mentor and benefited from senior executive sponsorship.

“That was key in the early days when there was lot of resistance to bright females in operations,” she says.

Julie Summerell, managing director of TR Fleet, adds: “If you’ve got a good mentor, whether that be female or male, who says, ‘come on, you can do this’ it gives you confidence. Don’t wait to be offered a mentor, go and ask.”

Julie Jenner, former chairman of ACFO, says she had a “brilliant mentor” when she first took on fleet.

“He looked after the global fleet for the company and was very experienced and I just used to ask him questions all the time. He was a member of ACFO and he said, ‘go and join’.”

 

Joining industry bodies such as ACFO, ICFM, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Fleet Industry Advisory Group (FIAG) and attending industry events helps to build knowledge and contacts.

Both Caroline Sandall, deputy chairman of ACFO, and Sarah Easton of ESE UK Consulting, believe maintaining and investing time in their contacts has helped to develop their careers.

For Gilding the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) has played an important part in her career, being both chairman of the North East region and a member of the technical committee.

“That widened my contacts and I learnt a lot from their other police fleet managers’ experiences,” she says. “I learnt about the test of vehicles and policies around MOTs. It upped my knowledge and confidence.”

Consider wider automotive groups too, such as Deloitte’s Women at the Wheel, which launched last year with the aim of getting more women into senior positions in the automotive industry, and Cox Automotive’s Women with Drive programme (both welcome men to attend), which champions equality or the broader Everywoman, set up by Maxine Benson and Karen Gill, which holds annual awards with the FTA.

 

Industry-specific training courses can give ‘credibility’ as well as develop knowledge and skills.

Skanska’s fleet risk and compliance manager Alison Moriarty says: “When I moved into fleet for me it was important to get qualifications as background knowledge but also you have that gravitas that people know what you’re talking about.

"That’s why I did my International Transport Manager CPC and Julie (Madoui, head of fleet and transport at Skanska) encouraged me to do that.”

Madoui did her CPC training at the beginning of her career and more recently the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) training as procurement is a big part of fleet.

For Gilding, doing the ICFM’s training and presenting on her fleet gave her confidence that she was “not totally out of step” with what other fleet professionals were doing and gave her “another perspective” outside the police.

She also has a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualification has helped her with a “basic grounding in HR, the management of people and leadership”.

Internal courses can be beneficial, too.

Jenner did internal development courses around negotiation when she was a fleet manager because “you’ve got a whole variety of people you have to work with”. 

“When I first joined Nokia I didn’t prepare for the different levels of people you would be dealing with.

"You could be dealing with a driver then you're dealing with a board director where you're presenting a case for making a significant change. I didn't have that skillset so that's important to try to develop.”

For Summerell being selected for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme, which is “like a mini MBA” was a real boost and has given her “the encouragement to make difficult decisions”.

Samantha Roff of Venson credits a retail management scheme she did instead of going to university as an important part of her development.

 

Sandall, Easton and Jenner all highlight listening as a key skill.

Jenner says: “One real turning point for me was when I was at Nokia. My line manager at the time, HR director Trisha Robinson, said to me, ‘when you’re in a meeting you’re keen and excitable but sometimes it is better, rather than trying to speak all the time, to sit back, let everybody else say their piece, jot your notes down for the comments they are making, and then when it’s quiet step in and make your points’.

"I get more out of listening to clients and then working on what I’ve heard rather than being so excitable and wanting to get my point across right from the start.”

 

For Moriarty “dogged determination” has helped her progress.

“You’ve got to accept that there might be knockbacks some times and you’ve got to let them ride over you and carry on,” she says.

Val South, fleet manager at Xerox, agrees: “I think you’ve got to be pretty hard-nosed. Not everybody likes decisions that companies make about cars and they don’t like the tax they’re paying so they can be pretty vocal. You have to learn not to take it personally.”

 

Sometimes it’s necessary to change jobs to progress.

In her 40 years in fleet, Summerell has “probably touched every element of the fleet supply chain” from rental to leasing to dealers, and been in charge of a 1,200 vehicle fleet for a merchant bank, where her claim to fame was having the largest Porsche fleet in the UK at one point.

She puts her career moves down to there being “no clear path” to board level roles. But she has always made sure that “every time I moved, I moved upwards”.

Eventually she felt the only way to become an MD was to set up her own company.

Working for a company with the right values and culture is key. Madoui says one of Skanska’s values is diversity, which covers different social backgrounds, ethnicities, disabilities, genders, ages, religions and sexualities.

“You need to have a diverse team because having all one sex or one race doesn’t give you that balanced input,” she says.

“It doesn’t give you the challenge across the team and having a mixture allows people to put forward different ideas and they should be listened to.

"There is a lot of training of managers in this organisation in terms of the benefits of diversity and what a good team mix can add to the business.”

 

Having passion for what you do is fundamental, according to South and Madoui. Madoui believes what has “pushed her on” is the fact she “really enjoys” her job and the industry.

She says: “You get up in the morning and you can’t wait to get on and make a difference.”

 

This article is part of the Women in Fleet series including features on how female representation is chaging the fleet sector 

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