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Fleets in focus: Mediterranean Shipping Company

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Fleets that are traditionally managed by the HR department arguably have the most difficult challenge when it comes to tackling issues on cost.

Report into finance and the rules are already set – cost is a priority.

But HR-run fleets, by their very nature, tend to be much more focused on employee benefits as a way to attract and retain the best staff.

And their tendency to have a high proportion of perk cars means that any intrusion from a fleet manager is often unwelcome.

The difficulties are intensified if that fleet manager is actually an HR manager who oversees the company cars as part of a wider remit of payroll, benefits and employee care.

Nicky Fishwick, general manager HR at Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), walked into this scenario 20 years ago when she was handed the management of the car fleet by her boss.

The conversation, which took place over lunch, came as something of a surprise. “I had no idea how to deal with it,” she says.

MSC is a privately-owned shipping line founded in 1970 and based in Geneva.

It has rapidly grown from a small conventional shipping operator to becoming one of the leading global shipping lines in the world with a fleet of more than 400 ships.

The UK company car fleet consists of just under 100 vehicles and is a mix of essential and non-essential cars.

“Cars as a benefit still seem to appeal to people,” says Fishwick, who spent her first few months building her knowledge of the fleet.

Employees at manager level and above are entitled to company cars. In addition, ship planners, who come to the UK from around the world to be trained before being transferred on, are also provided with a car.

A large proportion of the company cars come fully expensed including private fuel.

Fishwick says this is an historical arrangement intended to make the benefits package more attractive to staff.

The company pays for the fuel via credit cards, though Fishwick says she may look at fuelcards as an alternative method in future so she can gain access to driver data, such as where cars are fuelled.

The company is currently trialling a cash-or-car option but Fishwick believes most people will opt to keep the car.

“People that are new to the business will, in most cases, opt to take the cash, but I think that once people have had the car and they know the benefits and savings, they weigh it up and in most cases keep the car,” she says.

Fleet management

Fishwick has benefited from working closely with fleet management company Activa.

Her dual role means she does not have the time to focus on all the elements of running a fleet.

Activa manages the car choice list and the communication with drivers; Fishwick oversees the fleet, authorises orders and manages the costs associated with the cars.

“Now we are with Activa I am much happier with the end of lease charges, which used to cost a lot more” she says.

“We have brought in a programme which helps communication with our drivers about what we expect and how they should treat their cars.

"At the end of contract they must draw damage to our attention.”

MSC is about to introduce car checks into the monthly one-to-ones staff have with their bosses to further tighten controls on car care.

Repair and maintenance costs are Fishwick’s biggest area of concern.

Because of the increase in potholes and poor road surfaces, MSC has seen a rise in punctures and cracked windscreens.

Fishwick acknowledges that many of these costs can not be controlled, but hopes that, by introducing better communication and education with drivers, they will reduce.

“I used to get an invoice for a puncture or windscreen and sign it off – now I speak to the drivers and let them know the cost implications of the damage, though much is out of their control,” she says.

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