The prospect of leaving the comfort of a secure job in a company with which you have worked for more than 20 years would be a daunting one for most people. After almost a quarter of a century working at Premier Products, Fleet News Award winner Gill Garrett decided to leave her role as fleet manager last year for a much bigger challenge.
She agreed to take on the new role of fleet manager at national charity Guide Dogs for the Blind, moving from a company-based fleet of 100 to a charity-run fleet of 400. It was not an easy decision to make, according to Garrett. She said: 'I had worked for Premier Products for 24 years and in that time I had several different roles.
'A lot has happened and it was hard to move from the comfort zone of Premier, but it was certainly a challenge.'
During her time at Premier, Garrett managed to secure the prestigious Fleet News Fleet Manager of the Year (under 100 vehicles) title for two consecutive years in 2002 and 2003. Last year, it was sponsored by Northgate.
The Fleet News judges praised the initiatives she introduced at Premier. They said: 'Following initiatives such as introducing diesel for the first time in the company's history, which won her the award in 2002, Garrett has pushed forward with a programme of continuous improvement.
'She has leveraged her award win to the benefit of the fleet and to further develop her own skills. Better terms have been negotiated with manufacturers, a series of best practice programmes have been introduced, while here preparations for the effects of London congestion charging and the EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive are a shining example of best practice in the industry that some much larger fleets would do well to follow.'
Now, after several months in her new role, Garrett appears to have fully embraced the challenges of moving to a new fleet.
She explained: 'It is a totally different culture working for a charity. It is a more caring environment. There is a lot more consultation in a charity, whereas in a business you have a board that makes the decisions.
'Charity consultations are vast. They have to go through so many people as there are many elements such as fundraising, volunteers and trustees. In a charity, everyone has to agree with something.
I have become more aware of the consultation process, but am taking it all in my stride. It was a culture shock at first but I now feel more able.'
Despite differing consultation processes between company and charity fleets, many of Garrett's new duties are similar to her previous role.
She said: 'The duty of care in a charity is the same as any other fleet – there are the same issues such as Government legislation and benefit-in-kind (BIK) taxation.
'Moving from a small to a larger fleet, the principles and processes are the same. It is a full time job but I do have people to support me.'
Guide Dogs for the Blind had been without a fleet manager for the three years prior to Garrett's appointment but, despite only being employed initially on a short-term contract, Garrett has wasted no time in getting to grips with her new role.
The charity's fleet includes 420 vehicles, plus additional volunteers using private cars on business. One of Garrett's first roles was to evaluate Guide Dogs for the Blind's current fleet management procedure. This included the type of vehicles used, replacement cycles, fuel type, funding options and environmental concerns.
The majority of vehicles are Vauxhall, amounting to about 95% of the fleet, and it is only recently that allocated company cars have been introduced.
Garrett said: 'The charity has gone from using pool vehicles to allocated vehicles. People had a pool car where there was no accountability to the driver.'
Looking at fit-for-purpose measures has been part of that re-evaluation. Garrett said: 'I have been re-evaluating how the fleet works, looking at the type of vehicles they use. There has been a small use of vans and I am promoting more use of car-derived vans. We are reviewing how long we keep the vehicles. Up to now it has been four years/80,000 miles. A decision has been made to buy diesel and we are assessing whether four years/ 80,000 miles is the optimum time.'
The way Guide Dogs for the Blind funds its fleet is going to be a major consideration for Garrett this year. She will be assessing the viability of outright purchase over leasing and contract hire.
Garrett explained: 'So far, I have been putting in interim measures but the major project for next year is to look at whether the charity should outright purchase vehicles, lease or contract hire and whether to bring in a fleet management service.
Introducing leasing or contract hire needs to be a balancing act. It needs to be cost- effective, driver friendly and work for the organisation. It can't just be financial.'
Key driving forces behind Garrett's fleet decisions are legislation and bureaucracy. Affecting all UK fleets, legislative changes have come to dominate fleet policy.
But Garrett says that despite the problems they can cause, overall they can have a positive impact on the fleet industry.
She said: 'So much regulation is necessary. It does give fleet managers more work but in every business someone should focus on this.
'Fleet management is becoming less about the type of vehicle used and more about legislation.
'We are set to see more bureaucracy. I do support it in the main, as anything that safeguards business and makes the work environment safer is good. We don't want to go back to how it used to be without health and safety.'
However, Garrett reckons the main challenge facing fleet managers is relaying legislative changes and regulation back to the core of the fleet – the drivers, especially those using private vehicles for business use.
She said: 'From a fleet manager's point of view, it is getting the message across that is the problem. You can get it across to the people who drive company vehicles but you also have to to take into account those who use their own vehicles.'
Garrett certainly appears to have her work cut out for the coming year, implementing changes across Guide Dogs for the Blind's fleet and dealing with external changes such as legislation and regulation. But there's no doubt that the double Fleet News Award winner is up to the challenge.