Tough Love for Fleet Managers, and the Best Place to Get It
May 1, 2004
As we approach the annual conference of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (June 17-18, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.), I've been spending some time reflecting on speakers from past PMTC conferences and the messages they delivered. Of the many...
As we approach the annual conference of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (June 17-18, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.), I’ve been spending some time reflecting on speakers from past PMTC conferences and the messages they delivered. Of the many messages delivered by first class speakers several stand out in my mind, but none more so than the one from Tom Carpenter in 2003.
Tom is the director of corporate logistics for Sonoco, a $2.8B packaging solutions company that operates on five continents. Tom addressed a lunchtime audience of fleet professionals and industry suppliers with a disarmingly frank message about how he views the responsibilities of fleet managers.
He began his talk by describing the diversity of Sonoco’s transportation and logistics operations, and how they use a mix of solutions to maintain a competitive advantage in their marketplace. He had some nice things to say about Sonoco’s private fleet based in Brantford, Ont., and the outstanding job they do for the company. Then he zeroed in on his message to private fleet managers at large.
He challenged private fleet managers with statements like: “Many serve the fleet as if that was actually the end-business (of the company)”; and “They don’t understand that the business comes first and that the private fleet is simply a mechanism to move products”.
It was as though a bell sounded and the lunchtime crowd perked right up. This wasn’t a speech paying homage to fleet managers and honouring private fleets everywhere. This was tough-love for fleet managers. As a supporter and promoter of the value of private fleets I enjoyed listening to Tom Carpenter. He drove home the point that the ultimate objective of fleet managers is not the survival of the fleet, but supporting the company’s business objectives by using the most appropriate transportation solution. A bold statement to a conference of private fleet managers!
Tom voiced the opinion that too often corporate efforts to understand the private fleet’s operations are met with skepticism, defensiveness and obfuscation from the fleet manager. And when fleet managers are less than forthright with their answers, it can result in flawed conclusions, poor decisions, and different methods of transportation being implemented to the ultimate detriment of the business and, more specifically, the private fleet. In some cases it leads to the outsourcing of fleet activities or the elimination of the fleet altogether.
Not that every decision to outsource the fleet is the wrong one, but if the decision is based on flawed or incomplete information it has a good chance of failure. Tom was right on the money. Some fleet managers operate with the theory that if you keep your head down and don’t make any noise, senior management won’t know you’re there. If their goal is to simply keep the fleet alive, it’s an ill-advised strategy.
Fleet managers need to be heard throughout the company. They need to understand the company’s objectives and determine a transportation strategy that will help the company meet those objectives. They also need to be prepared to discuss and offer alternatives to help meet those objectives. And they need to educate senior management about what it is they do and why it is important.
Let’s face it. Senior management is necessarily focused on the company’s product or service and not so much on the transportation system. In many cases they are not aware of the value that the private fleet delivers – because no one told them.
And that, declared Tom Carpenter, is the job of the fleet manager. To educate everyone in the company about the value of the fleet and to frankly consider and discuss alternatives that will benefit the company. That’s how you and your company stay in business.
Tom’s message was clear, it was heard, and it was retained. It created a buzz during the conference and I heard from several delegates who were still thinking about the message long after.
It’s an effective speaker who can tell you something that is disturbing and still have you considering the message weeks later. There are very few events where private fleet managers can get together away from the office, talk amongst themselves about the issues and challenges they face, listen to speakers who can inform (and challenge) them, and share ideas and information that will help them be better at what they do.
The upcoming annual conference of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is definitely such an event. Check conference details at www.pmtc.ca and tell your boss that you need to be there. It will be the best two days you’ve invested in your company for some time and you definitely won’t regret it.
– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org