As the incoming president of NAFA, what are some of your educational goals for the organization?
There has been a great foundation laid for me by the previous two presidents, Doug Weichman and Chris Amos. Both of those gentlemen have a strong bias towards education and I do as well, having earned my CAFM back in the early 90s. I have been really proud of our education program and the continued development of the CAFM program.
I recently went through a Six-Sigma program that concentrates on statistical analysis. It is a very well-known and widely used tool in the automotive manufacturing community. Many of us have heard the stories about the Japanese auto manufacturers, how they have a high degree of quality built into their vehicles. Essentially, where that emanates from is the statistical analysis involved with Six-Sigma. So, without getting in too deep, you are striving for a level of excellence that is statistically known as 3.5 defects per million operations. The average person would probably say, “That is really a high standard when you think about it.” But when you start thinking about it from the perspective of aircraft manufacturing, if in every million take off and landings you are going to have 3.5 defects, is that acceptable? I think if you ask most people they would look at you and say, “That is not acceptable. I don’t want to be on that 3.5 flight that encounters a defect!”
My point is that the business world is starting to embrace the use of Six-Sigma tools to strive for outside of the manufacturing community, striving for improvements in their processes to make their businesses run better.
What I have asked our team to do is to look at not trying to teach people how to do Six-Sigma and how to be a statistician, but help them with the understanding of what the program is; what the terminology means, and then help them understand how it could be a useful tool for them in terms of running their business, running their fleet, and then if they want to get more information they can enroll in a Six-Sigma training program and dive a little deeper into how the program works.
I feel like it is an important tie-in to the Beyond Fleet campaign because as our fleet managers and fleet directors take on a larger role in their corporations and are interfacing with executives, that is the type of knowledge base they are going to need to be able to carry into conversation.
There are some other things we are going to do related to that in just elevating the way that we communicate with executive management; give our members some tools that will help them to make better presentations and be more effective communicators. I am not saying that there are not people out there who are not already highly skilled with that, but what we are going to do is try to give everybody the opportunity to get a peek behind the curtain and see exactly what it is that makes some people more successful than others.
You have attended many I&Es and many NAFA events; can you give us an example of something that you have brought back from one of these events that has made a difference in the way you manage your fleet?
I can think of several but there is one that stands out in my mind in regards to a similar concept of what we were just talking about. I attended a class where they were talking about how to do a really good lifecycle cost analysis that had a little bit of a different spin to it from the traditional lifecycle cost analysis. It was actually a very, very effective program that made you think differently about how you make that evaluation or make that analysis. It wasn’t like I came back with a chart or a spreadsheet that was dramatically different from anything I had ever seen in my life, but it was more on the lines of a way to analyze it looking at it from two or three different perspectives.
For example, there are a number of businesses out there that look at a vehicle strictly as a tool to get a job done. The core philosophy within that management team is that we are basically going to run this vehicle as long as we can run it, we can maintain it, and we can buy parts for it. We are going to do that until the day comes that it either breaks so badly that it can no longer be repaired or I can no longer buy parts for it.
Then you have other companies at the opposite end of the spectrum that manage their vehicles as an asset just like any other asset that is on their books. They try to minimize the amount of money that they invest and try to maximize their return on their investment. You will see some companies that have a very, very aggressive replacement policy and manage their lifecycles very well. It really goes back to what their corporate philosophy is on how they want to treat that asset.
That is really what was at the core of that class, but it gave you some other little tidbits about how to even accelerate replacement of certain types of vehicles based on what is going on in the marketplace. So, in other words, if there were a shortage of vehicles of a particular type and that particular vehicle had a higher return at auction, you might actually move your replacement schedule ahead six or eight months. It was a pretty interesting concept.
Tell us about another initiative you want to pursue at NAFA under your leadership?
At the end of the day, my true desire is to have NAFA’s name recognized in Washington to the level that when an agency such as EPA or Department of Energy is making policy decisions, NAFA is one of the first places from whom they seek help.
This is absolutely not meant to slight my friends at ATA, but typically what happens is when there is some type of bill that is pending legislation and it impacts the transportation or the fleet industry, they call ATA because that is typically who the people in Washington think of. I want them to start thinking of NAFA as well. Maybe they don’t have to think of us first, but if they will think of us second or think of us at the same time you know that will make me a happy guy.
What we are in the process of doing is reaching out not only to the major agencies within Washington, but also reaching out to several other large associations and entities that have “like interest” with NAFA to develop a consortium that says on these particular things we all think alike, we have the same interests, we have the same desire for a particular outcome and whether they ask them or ask us, we are all going to be saying the same thing. We want them to say, “Have you checked with NAFA yet?”
Let’s talk about your own fleet. What are some of your current challenges?
They are twofold. We all know that vehicle technology is advancing very rapidly and it means, particularly for those of us who have our own internal repair facilities and do our own repair work, that you have got to stay on top of the proper tooling. Ninety-eight percent of all of the things that are done on the modern vehicle today are done with a laptop computer with diagnostic software. That means you have got to stay on top of making sure that your technicians have the right software to do the proper diagnostics.
And then secondary to that, it means that it requires a higher degree and an accelerated rate of training for our technicians as well. I think most fleet operators today who have their own internal workforce will tell you that hiring and retaining qualified technicians is a real issue because most people who are coming out of high school or college today aren’t lining up to get into the automotive repair field. It is very competitive for that marketplace and it is requiring some unique things that you have to do to attract and retain good employees to do that type of work.
To address this, we actually have a person on our staff whose primary job is to make sure he is keeping our technicians current with their training requirements and keeping the right type of diagnostic tools in their hands.
What are some of the goals for this year for your fleet?
One of the bigger things that we have embarked on this year is a standardization program. We are an electric utility company and have quite a mixture of vehicles in our fleet to satisfy the requirements for our battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The manufacturers are starting to come out with a much wider array of product offerings. We have spent a lot of time strategically looking at what our long term offering and product selections are going to be for at least the next five years. While it has not been a massive undertaking, it has been a welcome change for us because the selections are now becoming much, much wider and I think they are a much better product offering than we have seen over the past two or three years.
Claude Masters is the Manager of Vehicle Acquisition & Fuel for Florida Power & Light Co. He has been in the fleet industry for 38 years with 34 of them in various supervisory and management roles. Prior to coming to Florida Power & Light Co., Claude worked for Houston Lighting & Power, currently known as CenterPoint Energy, for 29 years. He has been a NAFA volunteer for over ten years and is the incoming President. Claude has taken an active role in the development of Hybrid Electric trucks and is acting in a leadership role with WestStart/CALSTART on the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF). He also has Law Enforcement experience having worked as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and retiring as a Captain from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Claude holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Houston. He earned his Certified Automotive Fleet Manager’s (CAFM) designation in 1997.