Randall Trucking Symposium: Fleet managers underestimated

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Trucking companies often underestimate the importance of fleet managers, or driver managers, and don’t get optimal performance from them, Greg Mechler and Steve Prelipp told attendees of the 2002 Randall Trucking Symposium. The partners in management consulting firm The Human Advantage argued that fleet managers, if properly trained and managed according to best practices, can greatly improve a carrier’s bottom line.

“The conventional wisdom says that by improving fleet managers’ communication skills to get the drivers to like them, you can improve your business,” Prelipp said. “While relationships are important, our view is the most effective fleet manager is the person who can run a $5 million business like it was his own.”

Carriers will be more successful, Mechler and Prelipp argued, if they can get fleet managers to focus on critical profitability factors, such as increasing loaded miles. “They have a huge impact on the bottom line of the company,” Mechler said.

The best fleet managers, Mechler said, are skilled in technology, geography, relationships and leadership as well as an understanding of freight flow.

The Boyd experience
Clayton, Ala.-based Boyd Bros. Transportation retained The Human Advantage to help it determine why certain fleet managers performed better than others. Tres Parker, Boyd’s vice president of operations, and Kevin Spivey, one of the carrier’s top fleet managers, also participated in the Symposium presentation.

The Human Advantage helped Boyd Bros. define a fleet manager’s role and responsibilities: “The role of the fleet manager position is to maximize the productivity and profitability of a fleet of 40 to 50 over-the-road, flatbed trucks and create a positive quality of work life for drivers.”

Success in that role is judged by key performance factors: miles per truck per week, accident frequency, driver turnover, customer service and cost control – messaging, fuel, maintenance, auxiliary equipment.

To help fleet managers be successful, Boyd organized a “best practices” team, which concluded, among other things, that fleet managers needed to begin each work day with a plan. “We use the first 45 minutes of the day to get a well-structured game plan in place,” Parker said. “We don’t want a fleet manager worrying about a payroll issue before payroll comes in.”

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After the startup routine, Spivey told attendees, fleet managers focus on their goals for the rest of the day – getting drivers home, making delivery appointments, preventing and solving fleet problems and selecting loads.

Boyd Bros. has developed incentives for drivers and fleet managers around the key performance factors. “Where you put your dollars is where you will see the greatest improvements,” Parker said.

Since implementing Boyd’s “best practices” approach, mileage is up an average of 300 miles per truck per week and driver turnover is down 20 percent, Parker told Symposium attendees. In addition, fleet managers resolve most driver problems themselves, leaving upper management more time to focus on the bigger picture.

“I felt like I was trying to run 10 companies before we started upgrading fleet managers’ performance,” Parker said “We had 19 dispatchers dispatching 19 different ways. Now we have 19 dispatchers dispatching the same way.”