As parting shots go, they don’t come much more direct than this warning blast from Tom Madden, who retired last month as customer affairs director of international auction giant BCA.
Madden says one of his great hopes is that the industry in general realises the massive benefits to the whole business that can come from investing in fleet expertise.
He is working towards that aim by retaining, after his retirement, his chairmanship of the Institute of Car Fleet Management.
‘The industry needs to raise the awareness and value of fully-trained, professional corporate travel managers,’ he said.
‘That, in fact, is what most of them are and to not recognise their expertise and importance is a travesty which reflects badly on senior management.’
He speaks from experience as, by his own admission, he is ‘motor trade from my bootstraps to my chin’, with his roles ranging from forecourt pump attendant to a variety of jobs in motor retail and servicing.
But his greatest knowledge of the coalface of fleet management came on joining Brooke-Bond, the tea company, 40 years ago.
The role included the challenges of a merger with Oxo, rationalisation and expanding responsibilities.
Challenges were wide-ranging, from vehicle choice to colour.
Madden said: ‘The company didn’t have vans with a factory paint finish.
‘It had its own paint made with a Brooke Bond pigment and signage was hand-written.
‘As the company grew, getting the fleets compatible was a very difficult assignment.’
Part of his role included remarketing and this brought him into his first contact with BCA. Soon, David Wilkens, one of the founders of BCA, approached him and suggested he could put his expertise to good use showing other fleet managers how they could properly remarket their vehicles.
He took the challenge, but it was daunting decision.
‘I was moving from a blue chip company into the motor industry, which at the time I joined in 1973 was not well respected. Auctions were not considered mainstream.
‘We were on the frontier of a new era that was on the cusp of significant growth, because around this time the company car was born.’
Competition for customers is fierce in all industry areas, from leasing through to remarketing, which is good news for fleets as service levels and products have constantly developed to attract business and retain current customers.
Madden said: ‘The professionalism, maturity and quality of delivery in all areas of the fleet industry has been a positive change.
‘We have also seen the development of IT and specialised services that are fit for purpose and the internet is just awesome, but it needs the correct infrastructure and specialised management to guarantee delivery of what is essentially a desktop offering.’
BCA has been one of the companies at the forefront of this change, with pioneering services and internet-based solutions that have won the firm a string of Fleet News Awards.
The change has been driven in the fight to ensure customers are able to get the best prices for their vehicles in a market where buyers are becoming increasingly professional.
Madden said: ‘Buyers are very disciplined and many are looking for ‘oven-ready’ cars, which can go straight on the forecourt. If it has not got something, such as a registration document, then they won’t buy it.’
Helping customers achieve this doesn’t happen by accident, but by consistent investment in staff and resources, he said.
‘Seeing people in the company develop and grow through the business is great because the firm could not prosper without them.
‘Their expertise creates an element of trust with customers, so if they see a car on the internet and ask ‘is it OK in good condition’, if one of our team says yes then that is enough of a guarantee for them to buy it.
‘We have blown the myth of auctions being the last resort and seeing so many companies embrace the market is a great achievement. To me it was so obvious that you couldn’t help being personal and passionate.’
Madden’s executive responsibility will be transferred to board colleagues.
BCA chief executive Jon Olsen said: ‘Tom Madden has been a great ambassador for BCA and the vehicle remarketing industry as a whole and his contribution has been significant.’
Madden’s long-term ties to the industry remain despite his ‘sort of retirement’, as he keeps in contact with colleagues at BCA and also campaigns to help fleet managers promote their professional status through the Institute of Car Fleet Management.