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Thursday, May 17, 2007 

Vol. 3 No. 9

NAFA Conference 2007 “Experience Golden Opportunities”

“Experience Golden Opportunities” was the theme of the 2007 National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) annual conference, May 5-8th at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. This celebrated NAFA’s 50th year as an organization…and this marks my 21st annual NAFA Conference (I must have been under age when I attended my first few…). With its 90+ hours of fleet workshops and professional development seminars, NAFA once again presented more educational opportunities than any other fleet industry related event, and, once again, the exposition floor was filled with over 230 exhibitors. Of course, in addition, there were plenty of evening events for networking and socializing.

Led by incoming NAFA president Gayle Pratt, Manager, Purchasing & Fleet Services, Ecolab Inc., and Phillip Russo, CAE, the Executive Director of NAFA, the conference kicked off with an inspiring presentation by keynote speaker, Gordon Bethune, Chairman of Aloha Airlines, former CEO of Continental Airlines, and the author of the boook From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continental’s Remarkable Comeback. Bethune is credited, along with his management team, with saving Continental from extinction with his “Go Forward plan,” to fix the problems of employee morale, the quality of the product, and the route structure, among others.

This Year: A Proposed New Name for the Organization, Reflecting an Expanded Mission

A first in its 50 year history, this year the Board of NAFA proposed to all that it adopt a new name for the for the organization, to be known going forward as the Fleet Management Association. Marking a multi-year evolution in branding, rather than a revolution in its mission, the name change reflects the expanding and expansive roll NAFA now plays in being the association for the management of vehicles, which includes various specialties such the Fleet Management Institute and the Law Enforcement Group, and an international constituency, with Canadian fleet manager members, etc.

Whether NAFA or FMA, the days of the conference were once again packed with seminars and workshops, with topics both specific to fleet management, such as, “Life Cycle Cost Analysis” or, “Anatomy of a Fleet Contract: What You Need to Know,” to more general business topics, such as, “Creating an Effective Business Plan.” Also, there were the annual topics updated, from “Medium and Heavy Duty Truck Emerging Technologies,” to “Canadian Truck Legislation,” to “Future Vehicle Technologies.” The manufacturers, General Motors, Ford, and Daimler Chrysler, all made presentations on product updates for law enforcement vehicles, and there were sector-specific workshops for corporate, utility, pharmaceutical and public service fleets, to name a few. I didn’t see anything this year on the roster specific to vehicle remarketing…and, as depreciation is still the single largest vehicle expense outside of fuel, of course, I was a bit disappointed on that score.

As always, the Fleet Exposition hosted an area of creative booths with a varied list of vendor services, from vehicle manufacturer displays to booths from the major fuel companies, from corporate fleet lessors to GPS navigation vendors. The expo included over 230 vendors in all, with contests, giveaways and candy, of course.

Chris Brown of Bobit Media withDavid Wurster & David Freed from ViNCENTRIC

As usual, the Affiliates and Manufacturers organized a great nighttime event to open NAFA-- a party befitting the surroundings. NAFA hosted “A Taste of Texas,” Sunday night, at the closing of the first day of the conference. And once again the NAFA folks hosted a semi-formal closing reception and dinner (fondly referred to as the “prom”). And of course, one night is always left open for the large corporate lessors to host individual receptions and dinners for their clients.

…And the Winner Is…

Every year at the NAFA Convention, a number of annual awards are given to the best and the brightest in the fleet industry. This year, Walter Burnett, CAFM, joined the elite club of NAFA members that have been awarded the “Excellence in Education” award. Walter is only the fourth member in the fifty year history of NAFA to receive this honor, which recognizes superlative dedication, leadership and personal sacrifice. In presenting the award, NAFA Senior Vice President Chris Amos said of Walter, “His selfless efforts have touched hundreds and hundreds of peers and helped to raise the professionalism of fleet management…in short, he is what excellence in education is all about.” Congratulations Walter, for an award well earned.

Automotive Fleet’s 2007 Fleet Manager of the Year: Lynda Dinwiddie

Although Automotive Fleet Magazine’s Fleet Manager of the Year and Fleet Financials Magazine’s Fleet Executive of the Year awards are not part of the official NAFA schedule, it is a fact that these annual awards are the most revered honors in the industry. Always revealed at a brunch on the Sunday morning marking NAFA’s first full day kick-off, I’ve had the honor of attending this event every year for a long time – it is one of those annual events I wouldn’t miss.

This year the Fleet Manager of the Year was chosen from 13 candidates, which, in turn were whittled down to three finalists before the final award recipient was selected.

Congratulations go to Lynda Dinwiddie, Associate Vice President, Fleet & Travel, Laboratory Corp. of America, the 2007, 23rd annual Fleet Manager of the Year award recipient, sponsored by Automotive Fleet Magazine, Wheels, Inc. and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association. Dinwiddie, an eighteen year veteran in fleet management, was recently promoted to Associate Vice President of LabCorp, and manages a staff of four and a 4,300-vehicle courier fleet with an annual per vehicle average of more than 50,000 miles. Among Dinwiddie’s fleet accomplishments, she has decreased effective monthly depreciation by $114 per vehicle annually over the past five years through cost management, decreased out-of-stock purchases, and maximized resale values by generating 40% driver and employee sales (an important statistic for companies like Driveitaway.com, I might add). She also lowered depreciation and overall cost per vehicle over the past three years by starting the “fall” ordering cycle in late June. Finally, Dinwiddie successfully introduced an online fleet safety program and rewrote LabCorp’s automobile policy manual.

Fleet Financial’s 2007 Fleet Executive of the Year: Vic Stewart

Congratulations are also in order for Vic Stewart, Vice President, Corporate Purchasing, Advance Auto Parts, for winning Fleet Financial’s 2007 Fleet Executive of the Year award, sponsored by CEI. Steward manages a fleet of 7,200 vehicles and supervises a fleet staff of 15. In 2006, for the second consecutive year, Stewart led his corporate purchasing/fleet team to a negotiated savings target of more than $20 million, achieving $24 million in annualized savings, 40% of which was fleet related. His fleet grew by more than 18% in 2006, from 6,100 units to more than 7,250, with no staff increase. He executed an equipment purchase-leaseback that generated over $3 million in revenue for Advance Auto Parts in the fourth quarter of 2006. Stewart also worked with the company’s AAP risk management and commercial sales teams to develop and implement a safety program, which resulted in a 10% reduction in accident claims per commercial delivery truck in 2006 versus 2005, an operating cost avoidance of more than $2 million.

Government Fleet’s 2007 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year: John Clements

John Clements accepting his award

Finally, congratulations are in order as well for John Clements, Fleet Operations, San Diego County of California, Government Fleet magazine’s 2007 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, sponsored by Automotive Resources International (ARI) and Fleet Counselor Services.

Bravo to Lynda Dinwidde, Vic Stewart, and John Clements for winning the most prestigious awards in this business, and thanks to all of folks at Bobit Business Media for inviting us, once again, to this fantastic brunch and the awards ceremony.

The grand evening event to close the first full day of NAFA, as always, was well attended. A good time was had by all, as the country music played and guests dined on “Texan” cuisine. Some even pulled out their cowboy hats and cowboy boots in honor of the occasion! Upon the conclusion of the “Taste of Texas,” NAFA attendees spilled out into the hotel bar to continue mingling and catching up with old friends. Although packed with beneficial educational seminars and workshops, I think most can agree that some of the best times are spent networking at the social gatherings.

See Ya'll Next Year

Next year the 51st National Association of Fleet Administrators annual conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Well folks, until then it’s been fun….

Demetra Markopoulos, Driveitaway, on the Exhibit Hall Floor

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