ACFO chairman and Arcadia group fleet and travel manager John Pryor was slouched in his chair watching the awards citation for the Fleet News Hall of Fame, but his mind was wandering. He had to leave early to drive from London to Leeds and was deliberating whether to slip away.
Then he heard the words “fashion retailer” and sat bolt upright. Surely not…? Those sitting nearby also report a few expletives as the words “…and welcome into the Hall of Fame John Pryor” were read out.
“I had no idea and I don’t think I really deserve it,” he modestly tells Fleet News.
Fleet News: How did you first get into fleet management?
John Pryor: It started when I joined the Burton Group in facilities. I was asked ‘what do you know about cars?’. I said ‘nothing, but I can soon learn’. At that point, we owned everything; we gave staff a sum of money and told them to go off and buy something. But Burton decided to review the fleet. It had 18 or 20 brands, with around 3,000 vehicles; and I ran 150 in my department. Each department was asked by treasury to send details for its bit of fleet, and I was one of just two who did. Then I got a call to be seconded to help set up a central fleet service.
FN: How did your facilities background help when it came to fleet management?
JP: They are about the same thing: attention to detail, organisation, understanding and dealing with suppliers. It is logical. You have an asset – do you understand it, and can you control it? I’m a gatekeeper, to ensure we get the best value.
Of course, it was more lax in those days. The first thing we did was a sale and leaseback of the vehicles. After that, we then moved to leasing which changed the whole concept.
FN: How did you learn about fleet management?
JP: From leasing companies and how they work, and also early on I joined ACFO. That was a huge benefit. Fleet management was very isolated – and it still is to a certain extent today. We have 20,000 employees and they are all fashion retailers; they don’t know about fleet.
All our brands have managing directors, finance directors, HR directors and retail directors so, if they have an issue, they can ask a colleague in another part of the business.
But we only have one fleet manager. So, the only way I can do that is to go to my peers in other businesses. So we put questions on the ACFO website, use your illustrious magazine and ask others.
FN: What have been the initiatives that you are most proud of getting off the ground?
JP: Moving the group from outright purchase to leasing and educating the business on how to become a more streamlined operation, because that gave us the ability to have all the parts of the group sweat its assets. Rather than cars sat in one department, we could move them around, which gave us big savings. Also, moving the group expenses for fuel to pence per mile, which gave us the ability to manage the process. That was 15 years ago and meant we didn’t have the admin of fuel cards. We have strong disciplines in place and staff know what their costs are going to be which helps them when they are choosing their cars. I like to think we are ahead of the game. I am also proud of the work I have done with ACFO.
FN: What advice do you have for anyone starting off in fleet?
JP: There is no right or wrong way to run a fleet. You can sit with 30 or 40 fleet managers and, although there are similarities, each runs it in a different way. That’s the interesting thing and it means you can always pick up ideas from other people. My advice is to try to understand what you’ve got and analyse it the best you can. Fleet is all about future-proofing: you are buying an asset where you need to know its worth in three or four years’ time and you have to consider how you are utilising it during that time. You have to understand what your company wants and whether you have a goal to reach. Then it’s mapping out how you get there. Fleet exists to meet a company’s objectives while achieving best value.
FN: What has been the biggest change you’ve seen during your time in fleet?
JP: It is forever changing with Government legislation; for example, licences, smoking bans and phone bans – when I started we didn’t have mobile phones. But the biggest change is company car taxation . It’s so much better with CO2 rather than mileage.
FN: Do you see a long-term future for the company car?
JP: One of the problems is that people don’t understand the value of a company car. It is too easy to hit company car drivers – they are faceless – but if you buy the right car at the right spec and the right CO2, it is a big asset and a lot of people are missing that. They see a sum of money and think they can do better. But with a car, you don’t know what it has cost you until you sell it. People don’t understand depreciation, tax and running costs, especially unforeseen maintenance and repair.
FN: What about the future for fleet managers and fleet management?
JP: Fleet needs to evolve; fleet managers need to take on more, especially where there are synergies such as travel, facilities and expenses. You still have a policy and processes and you manage suppliers. Big fleets need a fleet manager; smaller businesses still need someone to manage the fleet, so if that role is combined with other areas, then it justifies having a role for someone to manage it professionally and to take advantage of the synergies. There is an opportunity for an increase in the number of fleet managers who have multiple roles within smaller organisations.
FN: What do you enjoy about fleet…?
JP: I enjoy the challenges, the things you’ve not seen before and have to resolve. I enjoy trying to be ahead of the game. And I enjoy working for Arcadia.
FN: …and what don’t you enjoy?
JP: People cold calling you telling you how much better they can do it than you – although there’s not as many as there used to be.
One area that Pryor does believe could be improved is joined-up thinking within the Government.
He admits it is improving in some areas, and points to DVLA as an example, but believes more could be done to remove red tape and to simplify processes.
“We need clarity from the Government and also time to make changes. We are planning four years’ ahead; we can’t just change policy on a whim,” he says.
Hall of Fame winner: John Pryor
Position: ACFO chairman
Time in role: Two years
Day job: Arcadia fleet and travel manager
Fleet size: 592 cars
Funding method: Contract hire