Fleet News

GE boss has Euro policy all mapped out

IN an industry that prefers its executives to be experienced fleet specialists, GE Capital Fleet Services Europe (GECFSE) is happy to buck the trend.

Last year, Mary McNamara moved from GE's Equipment Finance division to head up the company's fleet division as president and CEO of the firm, which looks after about 270,000 cars in 12 countries.

McNamara admits she is facing a steep learning curve, but her rise within GE over a 13-year period suggests she is well-qualified to take on the new challenge.

Starting in consumer finance, she rose to become director in charge of major client relationships.

A spell as managing director of the modular space division followed, before joining GE's equipment finance arm - which provided backing for goods ranging from office products through to corporate jets. Finally, she became responsible for the equipment finance division's pan-European business.

'Obviously, this gave me crucial experience in the international market. My CV may not seem typical for the fleet industry, but GE likes people to work across its businesses,' she said. McNamara is joining a company that is reasonably stable and successful - and so is not looking to radically change any aspect of its operation.

She said: 'My key target is grow the business and to ensure consistency of process across the business. Customer expectation is the same wherever you go in Europe and we have to provide a service that satisfies that expectation.

'We have pockets of excellence in certain countries. Now we have to ensure that excellence is extended across the continent. That involves a two-pronged strategy - to encourage growth in local markets and to extend single-country accounts into international accounts.

'So we are training our sales teams to be able to work with both types of account. They need to be able to explain everything that GE can do for our customers. Getting them to articulate this is an immediate priority for me.

'But you have to remember we are a global company and don't just share best-practice across Europe. We have very close contact with our US parent company and we learn lessons from them.'

But aside from internal growth, does GE Fleet Services Europe have an acquisition strategy? McNamara said: 'GE is a very acquisitive company. We have always looked at opportunities for growth in the wider market. But that does not mean we know exactly when this will happen. Like other major companies, we take opportunities when they arise.'

She has mapped out the current market for GE and its major pan-European competitors, including LeasePlan, ALD and Arval PHH, but is certain that there is enough for everyone to be profitable.

She cites GE's purchase of Avis in 1992 and LeasePlan's acquisition of Dial as key drivers in the development of the pan-European industry.

'LeasePlan, ALD and Arval are the main companies I think about in terms of competition, rather than the car manufacturer-owned captives,' she said.

'It's a big market out there. I don't know if there are any other outfits with the ambition to join the four major players. It's all a question of ambition.

'But if there are other companies aspiring to grow to our size, I would expect them to move soon. There are certainly enough medium-sized companies in the European fleet business to offer lots of opportunities for acquisition.'

Despite the focus on a pan-European service, GE still maintains the key to growth is an understanding of local market conditions by offering a full range of fleet services.

For GE, these include initial consultation to determine vehicle needs by country, a complete range of makes and models, financing, pre-delivery vehicles, maintenance, tyres and pan-European roadside assistance, cost reporting, including fuel management, insurance, driver training, accident management and replacement vehicles, full vehicle disposal service and sale and leaseback programs.

McNamara said: 'Of course we want more pan-European accounts and to win those you need to offer a comprehensive list of services.

'But although we have a number of blue chip customers, there are a lot of smaller accounts out there to be won. We need to focus on both areas.

'The major fleets are trying to achieve a more efficient balance sheet by offloading their business to people like GE but there is continuing growth among medium and smaller fleets as well.'

The determination to offer a consistent service across Europe is a key driver of GECFSE's internet policy. The company's web-based products allow customers to access on-demand information in the format they desire and using their own criteria.

They are also designed to make the management of international fleets easier by offering a country-based system or a centralised system for single fleets.

'Customer experience is something that is talked about a lot. Our focus is on making sure that all our customers' connections with us are excellent. A key priority is to minimise the amount of administration with which they have to deal. There is often so much administration in the fleet industry - so we have to get rid of that for our clients.

McNamara continued: 'Companies are basically looking at how they can source more effectively. We have worked with some of them if they don't have a Europe-wide structure, and help them develop more efficiently.

'We also focus on helping them improve their processes outside fleet management - in this respect, we think we can outperform the competition. We have trained a number of customers to maximise efficiency in this area. It's a rigorous process of people management and people development and we think we are well known for this.'

The real test for McNamara will come over the next three or four years. It depends very much on the ambitions of other pan-European fleet players, and the evolution of the market. She has a lot going for her - the massive back-up of one of the world's largest companies and an unambiguous view of what is for her a new market.

And although no-one doubts GE and McNamara's ability to spend sizeable amounts of money if the right acquisition comes along, her real goal will be to grow the business organically, and steadily, across the whole of Europe.

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