NAFA’s Phil Russo: Atlantic City Here we Come!


Phillip E. Russo, CAE

Executive Director, NAFA Fleet Management Association

Tell us about the excit­ing plans for the NAFA 2013 Insti­tute & Expo in Atlantic City.
I&E in 2013 is going to be tremen­dous. I am so proud that I&E will be in New Jer­sey; NAFA’s home base  is here and we are final­ly bring­ing our big show to the state.

NAFA has spent a lot of time sur­vey­ing our mem­ber­ship and con­fer­ence atten­dees in the past few years. When we looked at the demo­graph­ics of the peo­ple that have been attend­ing I&E, we learned that over 70 per­cent of our atten­dees come from east of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er.  We’re not try­ing to ignore folks on the west coast, but when you look at where the largest part of our mar­ket is, it makes sense to be there. And we’re going all out with the Jer­sey fla­vor.

One of the biggest moves we’ve made is mov­ing the I&E to Tues­day to Fri­day from the Sat­ur­day to Tues­day pat­tern we’ve used for a while.  We’ll actu­al­ly be start­ing the I&E with a big open­ing night par­ty like we used to do back in the old days of NAFA.  The open­ing par­ty will be our awards night.  We’re  intro­duc­ing the Fleet Excel­lence Awards — sev­en indus­try awards to rec­og­nize fleet man­agers who  have done out­stand­ing work in areas like safe­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty and sim­ply over­all work, and two  awards just for NAFA Mem­bers (Mem­ber of the Year, Affil­i­ate of the Year).  The sev­en awards are open  to any­one in the fleet indus­try, not just NAFA Mem­bers.  Our goal is to turn the night into some­thing
like the Acad­e­my Awards for fleet — a high class, fun, annu­al event with incred­i­ble net­work­ing among col­leagues.

And since this will be a New Jer­sey par­ty, we’re fea­tur­ing a live per­for­mance from one of my favorite bands:  South­side John­ny & the Asbury Jukes.  These guys grew up in Asbury Park and are good friends with Bruce Spring­steen and Bon Jovi.  They’re going to make this a tru­ly spe­cial evening.  It’s excit­ing!

Of course, that’s just the fun part of it. We’re not only fea­tur­ing more than 60 hours of fleet edu­ca­tion,  but have an entire­ly new track of sus­tain­able ses­sions pro­duced by CALSTART.  That’s huge!  The over­all  I&E ses­sions change each year based upon what fleet man­agers tell us are the most impor­tant top­ics of  the day.  Each year we ask them, “What are the core prob­lems you’re deal­ing with this year and what do you expect to be deal­ing with in the year ahead?”  This year, cost cut­ting was num­ber one, so we have ses­sions planned that look at ways to save mon­ey for you and your oper­a­tions.  Fuel was anoth­er pop­u­lar issue, not just with the cost of fuel but with alter­na­tive fuels as well.  Tech­nol­o­gy is impor­tant,
peo­ple want to know about the new tech­nolo­gies that are being imple­ment­ed in fleets.  And safe­ty is always para­mount.  Obvi­ous­ly, dis­tract­ed dri­ving is a hot issue these days, but peo­ple also want to know about safe­ty tech­nol­o­gy.  Those are four of the main themes that will be part of the 2013 I&E ses­sions.  In addi­tion, we have four keynote speak­ers, one each morn­ing, to pro­vide strong kick­off points for each day.

We are also very cog­nizant of the fact that this indus­try is all about net­work­ing and peo­ple meet­ing peo­ple.   Con­fer­ences may be main­ly about edu­ca­tion, but the busi­ness that can be done while hav­ing a drink with some­one or while you’re hav­ing din­ner is extreme­ly impor­tant as well.  So, we have con­tin­ued to expand the net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties from the open­ing awards night to cof­fee breaks, meals, and recep­tions. It’s going to be a remark­able con­fer­ence.

Phil, please bring us up to date on ‘Beyond Fleet.’
I would be hap­py to. The pro­gram pro­motes fleet man­age­ment and fleet man­agers, not just to the indus­try but to the out­side world.  One of the main goals is to show peo­ple the val­ue of a good fleet man­ag­er and the val­ue of fleet man­age­ment in an orga­ni­za­tion, whether it is a gov­ern­ment or a cor­po­rate orga­ni­za­tion.

We launched Beyond Fleet at the 2012 Insti­tute & Expo (I&E) in St. Louis.  The cam­paign began with some radio spots in St. Louis, fol­lowed by press releas­es and radio ads in New York City — the country’s largest radio mar­ket!  This was a huge step for us.  We received lots of great feed­back from NAFA mem­bers who heard  the spots as they were dri­ving into work.

As a result of the Beyond Fleet cam­paign, we have had sev­er­al pub­li­ca­tions reach out to us, along with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, who ask us, “What is this thing called fleet man­age­ment, who are you, and who is NAFA?”  We have heard from the Gen­er­al Account­abil­i­ty Office from Con­gress, who is look­ing to do bench­marks and best prac­tices for the fed­er­al fleet, from the EPA, and even from groups as diverse as the Sier­ra Club who all want to know:  what is this thing called NAFA? And what is this thing called Beyond Fleet? And what should our fleet man­agers be doing — because we all have fleet man­agers?

We have already seen great results from the Beyond Fleet pro­gram. One exam­ple is the part­ner­ship NAFA has formed with Busi­ness­Week mag­a­zine. In 2012, we had two spe­cial fleet sec­tions in Busi­ness­Week and we’ll have two more in 2013. The fleet sec­tion was seen by sev­er­al mil­lion read­ers across the globe.  It gave peo­ple an overview about NAFA, fleet man­agers, and fleet man­age­ment in gen­er­al.   In addi­tion to run­ning the fleet sec­tion, Busi­ness­Week is also going to have a major role in the NAFA annu­al con­fer­ence that is com­ing up. In essence, we are going to be telling peo­ple know all about fleet man­age­ment in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ways — print, online, and radio — which will let the momen­tum that began in 2012 con­tin­ue and grow right through 2013.

The main idea behind the Beyond Fleet pro­gram is to make fleet man­agers and fleet man­age­ment as well known as oth­er busi­ness fields like account­ing. We want peo­ple to know what fleet man­agers do and what fleet man­age­ment involves in the way that they know about account­ing and what accoun­tants do.  We are well on the way to mak­ing that hap­pen.

That is great news!
It’s tremen­dous. The hits on have just gone through the roof.  When we first began run­ning the New York City ads, the Beyond Fleet web­site traf­fic went up 80 per­cent almost overnight. We have about a half a dozen or so resources that fleet man­agers can down­load on the Beyond Fleet web­site to help them con­vince their boss about the val­ue that they bring; those down­loads dou­bled vir­tu­al­ly overnight, as well. So, the val­ue of Beyond Fleet has already been jus­ti­fied, even more so com­ing up in 2013. It is just great, great stuff.

Let’s talk about NAFA’s role as an advo­cate for fleets.
Advo­ca­cy is one of NAFA’s major roles. It is one of our strengths; one of the things that only NAFA can do with­in the fleet indus­try. There is not anoth­er orga­ni­za­tion out there that can rep­re­sent fleet man­agers and fleet man­age­ment in the capac­i­ty that NAFA does, and we’ve been doing advo­ca­cy for over 35 years.

We have been for­tu­nate to have Pat O’Connor serve as our leg­isla­tive coun­sel in Wash­ing­ton D.C. since the ear­ly 80’s. He is just ter­rif­ic at what he does. Get­ting things done in Wash­ing­ton is all about who you know, and Pat knows every­one.  He’s incred­i­bly knowl­edge­able about the issues and NAFA is look­ing to lever­age his abil­i­ties more.  One of our cen­tral goals for the next few years is to lever­age the fact that NAFA rep­re­sents more than 2,000 fleet man­agers with mil­lions of vehi­cles on the road each day.  That’s impor­tant lever­age.

NAFA has a good his­to­ry of leg­isla­tive suc­cess­es, but we’re begin­ning to be far more proac­tive on that end than ever before.  Instead of sit­ting back and react­ing to pro­posed leg­is­la­tion and new laws, NAFA is going to take an active role in 2013 of going out and let­ting them know what fleet man­agers want.  We are inter­est­ed in form­ing coali­tions of like-mind­ed fleet groups (whether they are non-prof­it, for-prof­it, or based on a spe­cif­ic fuel type) and get­ting every­body in a room to form a greater voice.  We’ll then take that voice to Capi­tol Hill and take on a pro-active role for fleet man­agers.

It won’t be easy, but we have thou­sands of fleet man­agers behind us, mil­lions of vehi­cles behind us, and mil­lions of dol­lars of assets behind us.  Fleet man­agers con­trol about a third of the sales from Ford, Chrysler, and GM each year — that is a lot of clout to bring to Capi­tol Hill.  We want to bring that lever­age to Wash­ing­ton to ensure that they real­ize the impact leg­is­la­tion will have on fleets first­hand.  We are all for mak­ing the envi­ron­ment bet­ter and safer, but we need to do things on a real­is­tic basis.  NAFA intends to become more proac­tive rather than reac­tive in order to get our points across.

Phil Rus­so is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of NAFA Fleet Man­age­ment Asso­ci­a­tion (NAFA). NAFA is a not-for-prof­it pro­fes­sion­al soci­ety of indi­vid­u­als who man­age fleets of cars, trucks, vans, and equip­ment for cor­po­ra­tions, gov­ern­ment agen­cies, util­i­ties, and oth­er insti­tu­tions across the globe. Phil began his career with NAFA in 1985 when he was hired as Assis­tant Edi­tor, work­ing on the organization’s newslet­ter, mag­a­zine, and oth­er print pub­li­ca­tions. He was pro­mot­ed to Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in 1989 and to Deputy Exec­u­tive Direc­tor a few years lat­er. In 1999, Phil left NAFA to become Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Record­ing Media Asso­ci­a­tion, but returned in 2005 to take over as Exec­u­tive Direc­tor.

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