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Friday, February 24, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 10

A Friendly Outpost in the Big Apple…or What Beach Reading Can Lead To ….

I’d like to tell you my career path was all thought out, based on calculated reason and business case study, but the fact is, I stumbled into the wild world of the commercial fleet business one day when I was a car dealer. To this day, I don’t know why some 20 or so years ago, during mid-summer I received in the mail a copy of Automotive Fleet magazine. I do know I set it down on a desk and didn’t pick it up until a month or so later, on the beach, when I grabbed for the pile of trade magazines I’d brought, and read my first issue cover to cover. That started it for me. I’ve been hooked ever since in one way or another.

Now, in that issue was a notice that the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA) was going to have its fall meeting in, of all places, Philadelphia. I knew nothing about the organization at the time, but the name sounded interesting, and as it was in my hometown and I was an enterprising young car dealer looking for some free drinks, I thought I’d stop in. (I had no idea that the Board meeting listed was a closed event, so I was a few hours early, probably the only time I’ve ever been early for a meeting).

Even as a newcomer who knew absolutely nothing about the industry, I was warmly welcomed into the group and noted then and many times since, how fleet groups are unique among other organizations to which I have belonged, in terms of the level of camaraderie and warmth extended to old and new members alike (a major contrast to legal trade associations, I might add). They feel more like large family gatherings than trade meetings, in that respect. [As an aside, at AFLA’s last conference in Phoenix last fall, I was really knocked out when a brand new attendee, Gordon Campbell from Tyco, not only gave a podcast testimonial on how good the conference was, but actually mentioned Driveitaway by name and how ours was one of the most valuable connections he made…he must have recorded it months ago, but I just discovered it when they put it up on their new Web site with a podcast a month or so ago…]

Anyway (and I will eventually get to the point of this little missive), the incoming president of AFLA back then was a fellow from New York by the name of Sal Giacchi, who managed the fleet of Lorillard Corporation located in New York City. As he welcomed me to AFLA, he also suggested I join NAFA (National Association of Fleet Administrators) as well, and, specifically, that I visit a New York City chapter meeting. Well, shortly after that, I did, and I (or a colleague if I can’t get there) have been a semi-regular at the New York City Chapter meetings ever since.

Now, the New York Chapter of NAFA has had its ups and downs over the years, and it’s a mite smaller than it was back then, with lots of company headquarters moving out of the city (Lorillard itself moved to North Carolina and its fleet is headed up now by my old friend Jim Anselmi and crew…all transplanted New Yorkers), but the group hasn’t lost its heart, nor the spirit of comaraderie with both the old timers and the brand new faces.. Just this Wednesday they had a special presentation for the group on remarketing, and I was asked by the New York Chapter Chair, Oleg Cytowicz, the Fleet Coordinator of Unilever, to sit on the panel along with a number of other affiliates from as far as Boston. I was truly glad they invited me , because amidstthe hustle and bustle of a new growth business, I don’t get enough time to sit down and talk shop with friends. Even at industry events, many gatherings are formal and “on stage,” so one rarely gets to relax in a truly friendly environment.

Bottom line -- for those who think you can’t find good old fashioned hospitality in New York City, I’ll introduce you to the “car guys” at the NY NAFA Chapter…. They’re tops in my book and have been for years…

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