Does a fleet manager need to be a financial expert to do the job well? We find out.
An elephant follows Nigel Trotman into the room as we sit down for our interview.
Should I point out it’s there, or is it best to keep quiet?
We’re here to talk about the 2008 Fleet News Award which Nigel picked up for Fleet of the Year for the Whitbread Group.
But it’s difficult not to mention that two weeks after winning, Nigel learned he’d be on the job market at the end of April.
And he’s not the first one.
Rumour has it previous Fleet News winners have also been made redundant shortly after receiving their award.
I take the plunge.
No point ignoring the elephant.
“What do you think of ‘the curse’ of the Fleet News Awards, Nigel?”
“It’s a great story isn’t it? I’ve done my bit to perpetuate the myth. But let’s hope it doesn’t deter people from entering.
“I think winning a Fleet News Award is the best recognition you can get; it’s the biggest thing you can win in fleet. If there is such a thing as a curse then it’s a risk worth taking.”
Of course, statistically speaking, there isn’t much risk in entering.
Over the past 20 years, scores of people have collected awards and only a handful have been affected by ‘the curse’.
Most winners go on to bigger and better things.
So, now we’ve chased the elephant out of the door, it’s time to get on with the real purpose of the interview.
How do you become the fleet of the year?
“It’s about striking the right balance between all the pressures that are on any fleet manager,” Nigel says.
“You’ve got to give those pressures different weightings and work out how to apply that to deliver a fleet policy. At Whitbread, we achieved the difficult balance.”
Achieving that balance meant a revised company car policy, environmental measures which incentivise drivers to choose fuel-efficient cars, a work-related road safety programme involving driver risk assessment and follow- up training, and driver-based initiatives such as online support and surveys.
Those measures resulted in an Energy Saving Trust Fleet Hero Award and an 8% reduction in Whitbread’s annual accident rate, among other things.
When asked which achievement he was most proud of, Nigel replies: “It was the consistent improvement in the environmental performance of the fleet.
“We didn’t have to drag people into low-emission vehicles, they actually went willingly because they could see the benefits.”
Whitbread outsources huge amounts of activity and Nigel says: “There is a lot of sense in getting an expert to run something you’re not an expert at yourself.”
He believes the challenge for fleet managers is managing their suppliers effectively.
“I’ve built very strong long-term relationships,” he says.
“That factor above any other means you can do it successfully.”
During the 14 years Nigel worked in fleet at Whitbread, the number of vehicles has fallen from 2,800 to less than 500. As he points out – it was no longer a full-time job.
So how does a fleet manager survive if they’re under pressure to outsource or if their fleet is shrinking?
“A lot of the skills are transferable,” Nigel says.
“If a fleet manager looks around their organisation there are opportunities elsewhere – like work-related road safety.
“Chances are the health and safety manager is pulled in 93 directions and hasn’t got the resources to do it.
“So if you put your hand up and say ‘I can do it, and I know this company over here that can help’, all of a sudden it gets added to the fleet job. And that’s another box ticked.”
Nigel also encourages fleet managers to consider training courses, such as those offered by the Institute of Car Fleet Management.
Attending ACFO meetings and conferences can be a good way of getting to know other fleet managers who you can learn from.
And another lesson he has learned is not to discount every cold call he receives.
“My strapline has been ‘I’ll talk to almost anybody’,” he says.
“Don’t just dismiss every cold call you get – and I got a lot – because some of them are well worth following up.”
But what about now – with redundancy – what advice would he give to fleet managers in a similar situation?
“I’d say the most important thing is to take it in a positive way. And look at it as an opportunity.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all my time in fleet and I want more of it.”
And Nigel would also quite like another Fleet News Award. He’s not afraid of elephants.
- Trotman’s tips
Strike the right balance between the needs of the driver, the finance director, HR, health and safety, and the environmental manager.
Build strong relationships with your suppliers – don’t chop and change.
Do a training course.
Don’t be an island – talk to other fleet managers.
Look for opportunities in your company to add to the fleet job.