What I’ve learnt – John Pryor, ACFO
How did you come to be involved in fleet and when?
I ‘fell’ into the role by accident. I initially joined Arcadia Group, the fashion retailer, as facilities manager. However when the group reorganised its entire structure almost 30 years ago, I inherited management of the company’s vehicle fleet. The restructure revolved around moving from a group where businesses were run on an individual basis to a central control structure. A decade or so ago, my role further changed to one that is summed up by my current job title – fleet and travel manager.
How much have you seen the sector and your role change in the years since?
Both the fleet sector and my role have changed beyond recognition with the increasing use of technology the most significant factor. When I started in fleet we had various people working in the department and it would take a month to recharge all costs out to various departments as we waited for information to be provided, compiled spreadsheets manually and then sent out costs for ‘internal’ recharge. Now using computers the task takes just five minutes.
Clearly technology has played a hugely influential role in the design and production of today’s vehicles, while the way vehicles are taxed has also evolved. Similarly the range of vehicle funding solutions and in-life products and services for the management of vehicles has changed massively. Furthermore, life and times do not stand still as the march of technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of fleet management and that is influencing further changes in the roll of the fleet manager with them taking on more and more responsibilities for matters such as travel and expenses, which is driving the now growing focus on mobility management.
Which are the biggest issues facing today’s fleets?
They are many and numerous: from government-influenced issues around taxation and legislation in respect of occupational road risk management compliance and vehicle emissions to the broad remit of cost management and managing employees’ expectations and available benefits.
What’s more managers have to be very aware of the law of unintended consequences – change one aspect of fleet operation and it can necessitate changes elsewhere. Today’s fleet decision-makers have to be jugglers – the trick is to keep all the plates spinning in the same direction at the same time, while more plates are being added and that challenge will become ever more difficult.
How do you see the sector – and the roles of fleet management and company vehicles – changing over the next five to 10 years?
I think we will see an increased splintering of the sector in terms of how companies manage and operate fleet vehicles. How that happens will, potentially, depend on individual companies – the sectors in which they operate in terms of staff recruitment and retention in respect of perk cars and the requirement for job-need vehicles, particularly vans.
Some employers will focus much more on employee mobility and that could involve greater use of public transport and car rental, for example, as well as car clubs and tele/video conferencing, which has yet to truly take-off in many businesses. Company cars remain an essential employee recruitment and retention tool, but as Generation Y start to assume management positions and influencing business and corporate mobility on-demand transport, car-pooling, car sharing and smart parking may become more important than a remuneration package that includes a company car. Meanwhile, it is currently difficult to envisage job-need cars and light commercial vehicles being confined to history so they will require managing.
How would you like to see it change – should there be better support?
The fleet industry has never stood still and I don’t think it ever will as it adapts to changes in legislation and the way society operates. Fleets and fleet managers have always adapted to whatever challenges have been thrown. In that respect it is critical for fleet managers to not only be jugglers, but also have a bit of ‘Mystic Meg’ about them. Just as drivers need to anticipate the road ahead to avoid a collision, as fleet managers we need to be able to read the minds of legislators, anticipate marketplace changes and understand how internal business developments will impact on fleet operations.