Fleet News

Ask Nigel: industry events

In our regular feature, Nigel Trotman, Fleet News Hall of Fame member and two-time Fleet News Award winner, gives advice on your fleet challenges and queries.

Q: I find industry conferences and seminars really useful for networking, keeping up-to-date with what is happening in the industry and picking up best practice from other fleet managers. But it is increasingly difficult to justify time out of the office. My company’s travel policy stipulates that it must  be “business-critical” – I must demonstrate what specific action I will take as a result of going to a particular event. How can I make the case for attending fleet industry gatherings?

A: In today’s increasingly-pressured business world, I am hearing things like this more and more. ACFO members tell me that it has become much more difficult to persuade their managers that a half day spent at a regional meeting is justified – let alone a  full day at an industry conference or one of the other industry events. Too often these now seem to be viewed as ‘jollies’ and it is down to us as fleet managers to justify our attendance. Having said that,  I wonder what percentage of business travel in any company is truly business-critical.

Actually, this attitude is not entirely new. I well recall one boss telling me that if I, like my predecessor, spent my time attending all manner of industry events, then I would not be in the job long – and that was in 1996.

His comment did, however, teach me to always ask myself the following question before deciding to attend any event: “What is in it for me and my drivers?” 

This is a rule of thumb I applied over many years,  and I don’t think I often got it wrong. I learned a lot  at events that I was able to build into policy and  process that provided benefits to both my employer and my drivers.

I would suggest that key considerations you might use to justify attendance could include:
■ The opportunity to hear first-hand from, and to  question, key industry players – the recent ACFO seminar where representatives of all the relevant Government bodies attended would be a good example.
■ Presentations on key industry developments, such as the forthcoming changes in lease accounting rules.
■ Events showcasing new technology or  groundbreaking vehicles. Nothing beats seeing and driving new key vehicles that could feature in fleet policy in the future. Plug-in vehicle events are a good recent example of this.
■ Conferences and exhibitions where the above and a number of other things can be achieved in one place  on one day. I always found that these were great value  in that I met a lot of people who were key to the way  I ran my fleet in a very time-economical way.

One principle I did adopt with my 1996 manager – and later ones – was to make a point of always telling them about the benefits I felt I had gained from attending a particular event, especially anything learned which offered financial or efficiency benefits. I am not saying this will work for you, but it did for me.

- The next Ask Nigel feature will be in the January 21 issue.

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