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Monday, October 30, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 31

The Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) Annual Meeting and Conference 2006 Part I – My 20th Year of Consecutive Attendance

Out of all the automotive trade conferences, seminars and events I attend every year, the one that I look forward to the most, indeed the one that started my now twenty + year sojourn in the fleet end of the car business, is the annual Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) Meeting and Conference, which this year was held in Rancho Mirage, September 12-15. The AFLA organization is unique in that it is the only group that seems to fully address and welcome all of the participants in the various disciplines of the automotive fleet world - manufacturers, franchise dealers, corporate fleet managers, corporate fleet management companies, remarketers, vendors, etc.; all from these organizations are full members, and the programs and practices are created for all to benefit.

In the Beginning..
In the fall of 1986, I wandered into the first AFLA conference I ever attended. I had read (in probably one of the first Automotive Fleet Magazine issues I ever received) that it was going to be held in my home town of Philadelphia that year, so as brand new car dealer interested in the fleet business I figured there would be no risk in seeing what it was all about. Well, it turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made both as an aspiring fleet dealer and as a “car guy” in the business...suffice to say that I haven't missed an annual meeting since and, in the the latest conference a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of once again this year reconnecting with some of the very same people I saw back at the very first annual AFLA conference I attended. Its become customary at AFLA, that even after some folks retire from their career in the car business, they still come to the annual AFLA conference to meet with old friends and colleagues - not too many trade organizations foster that level of loyalty, which is why AFLA is my favorite group.

This Year's Event Theme: “Get on the Same Page - Working Successfully as Business Partners
Once again, this year's agenda was filled with interesting presentations by noteworthy people. There is good reason why; unofficially, AFLA is seen as the “advanced class” for those in the fleet business, that is, with people and program geared more for knowledgeable industry veterans, rather than those new to this sector of the car business. Congratulations to Pasty Brownson, Cox Enterprises., the outgoing AFLA President, Mark Conroy, LeasePlan USA, the incoming AFLA President, Paul Hanscom and all of the Ewald folks who manage the organization year round, and especially Elsie Lucia, AFLA Executive Vice President, and this year's conference chairperson, that is, the person directly responsible for this years dynamite program. Just in case I didn't say it enough at the time, you guys put together one great conference this year.

The program kicked off Wednesday night with a presentation by John Davis, the Emmy Award-winning producer, host and creater of the Motor Week television program seen on PBS and the SPEED Channel. Davis' “New Vehicles in an Uncertain World” keynote was almost worth the price of admission alone. Two and a half hours of welcoming reception followed the presentation, which would seem like a lot of time for most organizations, but when a few hundred old friends from AFLA get together, representing all sectors of the fleet business, its barely enough time to say hello.

Welcoming Reception

The First Full Day: Industry Experts and the Toastmasters' International 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking
The second day started off, after Patsy Brownson's President's update, with a keynote from Hal Feder, Executive Director, Ford North American Fleet, Lease & Remarketing Operations , on ”The Current State of the US Auto Industry.” As usual, Hal's presentation was insightful and pulled no punches (things are tough out there), but was entertaining as well - always pleased to see Hal on stage.

This was followed by a presentation by Norbert Ore, from George Pacific and head of the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, with a presentation entitled “Making the Most of the Global Economic Paradox.” With a report on manufacturing and an analysis of global competition, I have to admit this one was little over my head, but I understood #10 in his list of Economics 101: “Large parts of what we know are wrong, we just don't know which parts”...that one I know to be true.

This was followed by a presentation on “How to be a Valued Part of Sourcing Team” by Charles Dominick, President of Next Level Purchasing, Inc. This was a good presentation of what strategic sourcing is, how it works, and how this effects both corporate fleet managers and their vendors. Quite a hot topic in the industry these day.

The mid-day speaker, Darren LaCroix, was quite singular, as you could tell from theme title of his presentation, “OUCH!! Lessons on Becoming A Champion.” Darren described his path from an unlikely stand-up comic in 1992 to the world champion speaker that he now is, having won the 2001 Toastmasters' Champion Public Speaking contest. Darren showed both clips of his very first walk-on stand-up routine (downright painful), to his 2001 award winning Toasmasters' presentation - the metamorphosis amazing to see.

Some of Darren's pre scripts for becoming a world speaker:
a) Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time” - Darren says it took him nine years of practice to look natural
b) Preparation - Let no one out prepare you
c) Evaluations...and especially, self evaluation...
To sum it up, Darren had to overcome failure, to “fall on his face” as he calls it, and keep getting back up to take the stage again and again - his message on how he did it, and what caused him to succeed was insightful & entertaining.

In the afternoon, there was a presentation by Bill Bosco, from Leasing 101, on how the new international and potential domestic accounting rule changes effect the reporting of operating leases on a company's balance sheet. Prompted by “off balance sheet scandals” in the desire to represent full disclosure, the changes contemplated are designed to have those who bear the risk report the liability, certainly different than what happens today. Speaking of residual risk, the official program day ended with a presentation by my old friend Jonathan Banks, Senior Director of Automotive Lease Guide, on just that topic, entitled ”Residual Trends, Values and Updates.”

So Give Me the Night...
The second night at AFLA was officially “open” and it is typically the time when lease management companies and dealers take their clients to dinner. My company decided last year that there were some people that were always excluded from these “client appreciation” dinners, and further, that the dinners ended a bit too early anyway to call it night, so we decided to use this open evening to throw a get together party (you get the idea that folks at AFLA can't get enough mingling from the two and half hour welcoming reception the first night). We continued the tradition this year and I'm pleased to say it was once again a lot fun thanks to everyone that stopped up to our suite that night. A special thanks from me to you all - it ended all too soon, even if it was a very late night.

John Possumato, Paul Meitler, Demetra Markopoulos and Ed Bobit

Keynote, Darren LeCroix & Susan Maruso

Demetra Markopoulos & Jazz Entertainer, Hank Diamond

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