SHE is the chairman. Like many women in positions of power, Julie Jenner doesn’t think her gender is an issue and forsakes chairwoman or chairperson because they draw attention to it.
Ms Jenner has been the chairman of fleet managers’ association ACFO since September 2006 and is keen to make her mark on the 35-year-old organisation.
Last year, she drove through a re-branding of the organisation which saw the old ‘Association of Car Fleet Operators’ name dropped in favour of the snappy, if less descriptive, acronym.
Controversial quotes in interviews following her appointment – referring to a ‘faceless’ and ‘hierarchical’ old image of ACFO – were taken out of context, she says, but Ms Jenner maintains that the association needs modernising.
And she is not afraid to speak her mind. For example, she thinks Fleet News has ‘dumbed down’ of late and could play a more proactive role in fleet managers’ lives.
But isn’t it ACFO’s job to do that or does the organisation merely provide an excuse for fleet managers to get together and whinge?
‘Our regional meetings offer members an opportunity to network with people in the industry who face the same issues that they do,’ says Ms Jenner.
‘There is a vast amount of experience within the ACFO membership and this is a major benefit to existing members and people who may find themselves involved in operating a fleet for the first time.’
With the amount of work always quick to take up the amount of time available, and more, busy fleet managers might find it hard to justify the time out of the office. But Ms Jenner believes the small effort to attend their local meeting will be well rewarded.
‘It’s always difficult to escape from the office especially for those fleet operators who are not involved in fleet on a full-time basis,’ she agrees.
‘However, I think an ACFO meeting offers an excellent return on the time invested. The meetings are held every other month in various locations within the region for approximately half a day so hopefully there will be an date that is convenient for a member to attend.
‘Alternatively, minutes of the meetings are posted on our website so they won’t miss out on any discussions. Failing all of that, members can contact any other members, including directors, to discuss anything at any time.’
Which is all well and good, but you could be forgiven for thinking that a group of fleet managers meeting up to network and ‘share issues’ might be a bit inward-looking.
Julie Jenner bristles slightly at the suggestion before emphatically stating ACFO’s claim to influence the industry and legislators.
‘ACFO takes great pride in the steps we have taken to gain recognition from different government bodies,’ says Ms Jenner.
‘A clear sign of our positioning has been the two meetings where we were invited to meet with John Healey MP, financial secretary to the Treasury.
‘These were ahead of the budget and the pre-budget report – national events where government wants to listen to the groups it sees as important.
‘It is to the credit of all our members that the voice of ACFO is not only heard, but considered very carefully.’
She’s getting into her stride now, speaking with confidence and quite a lot of pride.
‘We are regularly involved, as a major contributor, in discussions with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on such topics as Employee Car Ownership Schemes (ECOS), Approved Mileage Allowance Payments (AMAPs) and company car tax.
‘In addition, we were involved in a range of discussions with DfT, DVLA and the VAT side of HMRC where our expertise is clearly valued.’
WITH fewer than 1,000 members, one wonders how representative ACFO really is.
Fleet News goes out to 18,000 individuals who could potentially be ACFO members.
Why do so few sign up?
‘We currently have well over 900 organisations represented but you’re right, with some 22,000 fleets in operation throughout the UK this figure is not as high as we would like,’ she concedes.
‘We have set up a marketing group to continue to look at ways we can encourage new members. We will also develop relationships with the dealers, manufacturers and suppliers who are an important part of the overall membership.
‘And maybe Fleet News could do more, rather than just bragging about its size. We would love to see more of its readers becoming ACFO members and its reporters at our meetings,’ she chides, not so gently.
‘This would then feed back into the newspaper, resulting in more relevant, in-depth content.’
THERE’S no doubt that Julie Jenner has served her time at the fleet management coal face. She managed Nokia’s fleet of 850 cars for ten years until 2004, before being made redundant when the role was outsourced to a leasing company.
In what could be seen as an ironic twist, Ms Jenner is now a key solutions manager at GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services, effectively a ‘fleet manager for hire’ for firms without one.
With so many functions of the fleet manager being outsourced, often to companies like GE with its key solutions managers, how does she make sure her day job doesn’t conflict with her ACFO role?
She smiles, as if she’s anticipated the question, or heard it before.
‘I actually think the two roles complement and support each other. My involvement with ACFO means I am up to speed on relevant industry matters and my contact with fleet operators means I am well aware of the important issues that affect them.
‘But probably the most important point is that it is my responsibility at GE to tell clients how important it is to have someone internally to maintain, manage and control the relationship. We stress the importance of an in-house fleet manager, where that is the right thing to do, even suggesting the client recruits one if necessary.’
So ACFO is moving with the times. It continues its quest to get fleet managers’ views heard at the highest level. It aspires to grow, extend its reach and provide comfort and support to thousands of beleaguered, unloved fleet managers. Sounds helpful, sounds worthy. Not sure if it sounds like a lot of laughs, though.
‘You’d be surprised. It’s a serious business, but I do this because it’s exciting, it’s varied and it’s also fun,’ says Julie Jenner.
ACFO achievements in the last year