Tell us about your current leadership role with NAFA.
International Vice President essentially covers anything outside of the U.S. NAFA was predominately a U.S. based organization. However, there is still quite a significant organization in Canada that was considered the international piece of NAFA. A couple of years ago, the Board of Trustees felt there was a need to reach out globally. That was what attracted me to put my application in to be NAFA’s first International Vice President.
I held positions at the chapter level and would attend the Board of Governor’s meeting. We started working on a global fleet guideline for NAFA members based here in the U.S. or Canada who were potentially asked to manage a global fleet. That was my first introduction as to what the Board of Trustees was actually interested in and that eventually evolved into a role as International Vice President. I would fulfill the role as I traveled around the globe on my regular job, taking side trips to visit with different organizations that NAFA could counter-promote.
The very first call that we received was from the Australian Fleet Management Association. I was invited to attend their Annual Fleet Seminar and represent NAFA. I was on my way to Sidney to interview a candidate for a position I had open in Asia Pacific and the timing just worked out so everything just fell in place.
Right out of the gate it seemed to work fairly well. NAFA’s executive director Phil Russo and I have invited people to the Institute & Expo and that is how we were able to sign Italy’s A.I.A.G.A., a small association but clearly it is the first of many, we hope, that will be signing on to NAFA.
The concept was not only to promote NAFA, but to promote what it offered and that was education, benchmark information, and so forth. For example, I discovered having staff in Latin America that there is really nowhere they can go for fleet training. The training there is very closely knit with the lease companies, the dealerships, the car companies, and they don’t readily invite in fleet managers. When I was looking to hire people in Latin America specific to Brazil and Mexico, I couldn’t ask them if they had formal traing; there is just nothing down there as far as training.
What kind of help could a new global fleet manager receive from NAFA?
First, we can provide them with NAFA’s Global Fleet Guide. The comprehensive Global Fleet Guide was introduced at the 2013 International Fleet Academy in Tucson. Eventually, with Kate Vigneau’s help, we want to roll that into part of the education in the CAFM program.
Another benefit of NAFA is our secured ListServ. For example, a pharmaceutical ListServ is available. All of the NAFA members who have listed themselves as part of a pharmaceutical group can raise questions and then those emails come out in ListServ. I always try to answer every one, but specifically to global.
The world is getting smaller as far as information management. I am still amazed as I travel the globe that the universal language is English. I think one of the fears that most people have is that they don’t speak any other language; I have never found that to be an obstacle. It was more of an obstacle trying to learn phrases so I didn’t get in trouble anywhere.
Travel budgets are being cut, mine included. You have to maintain your global presence and most of it is going to be through video conferencing now. It adds a little level of complexity and particularly in time zone changes. I was either on a call at 5:00 AM or 10:00 at night — never at the middle of the day because it just didn’t fit in with everybody else. We had people on the phone from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Europe, far eastern Europe. Trying to bring the twenty people on this team together physically just didn’t make economic sense.
You participated in NAFA’s 2013 International Fleet Academy. What sort of feedback did you receive?
I think it is text book. I think each time we do these we are going to learn how to do things better. I think there is nothing more beneficial than bringing in people who have the experience and have gone through managing either Pan-European fleets, such as Joe Carreira who works for me as Merck’s European Fleet Manager. Likewise, Lutz Hansen from Bayer AG who has global responsibilities for fleet operations and manages his global operation out of Europe was able to contribute via Skype technology. In October 2012, we had Fred Turco from Pfizer who Skyped in and talked about his global fleet processes.
One of the best accolades we received was that the attendees got more than they expected. I think that the main focus of why they were so elated about spending the money to come to Tucson was that they all learned from others. It was more of a workshop and I think that is what differentiates the IFA from anything else out there in the marketplace right now.
I commented at the end, “The IFA doesn’t end today it is really just the start.” Just reach out to us and we will help. I think that is what brings the IFA to fruition and that people can come here and it really doesn’t end; it is just the beginning of helping them.
Let’s talk about your position with Merck. What are some of your challenges directing such a large global fleet?
My title is Director of Global Fleet Administration at Merck. We have approximately 28,000 vehicles worldwide. The primary function is the global governance and operations of fleet management across 106 countries. We were able to design a set of guiding principles that would be followed, hopefully, by every country. That has worked to our benefit and to the company’s benefit. When I came to Merck six years ago I was hired to basically control the end-to-end processes in every country. We have been very successful in doing that.
The other important thing that ties into the guiding principle document is the governance council we created. We would allow for certain exceptions at the local levels. However, we would have to make it very painful in order to bring it up to the executive level. My primary responsibility is to get through all of the smoke and mirrors of what was being done at the local level and then only pursue on a couple of occasions where we would have to submit exceptions up to the executive level.
The other part of that was data collection. Even after three years now we are still not at 100 percent. Data is still very, very hard to collect across the globe. One of our major objectives was to go up to our management and say, “This is really what fleet is costing you around the globe.” We have pretty good data coming out of Europe now and excellent data coming out of North America. Asia Pacific, outside of Japan and Australia, is still very sketchy and the same thing goes for Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and North Africa. Our next steps are to make sure that the data integrity is there
I try and manage all of that and it is fun; I get to see the world and meet interesting people. Part of my job is to be the referee sometimes and be the voice of reason when there are arguments between my local people and the local procurement. Usually a lot of noise comes out of HR and compensation and benefits because they may view fleet as a perk or a compensation tool. That is where it can be very contentious. They don’t like to have the restrictions, but they were offering people cars way outside of their grade levels just to attract them and retain employees. We are finding you can do that other ways.
I recall when you were named ‘Fleet Manager of the Year’ in 2008 and you spoke of the role NAFA played in your career. Tell us about that.
I have been with NAFA 19 years this January and, basically, it has been a lifeline. I started in fleet with a financial background. I spent days as an auditor and for many years as a financial manager. At Bristol-Myers Squibb, my previous employer, they created a financial shared services department and they wanted me to operate fleet. I said, well, I don’t know anything about fleet and they said that is exactly who we want.
I met the late Harry Chouinard from Wheels, Inc. while I was still doing both jobs until I fully went into fleet management. Harry suggested I talk to a couple of people and, by the way, join NAFA. Harry said, “NAFA is where you are going to get all of the help you need.”
I always liked to be considered as part of the family of NAFA. When I won Fleet Manager of the Year it was kind of like an appreciation because I guess I reached the level to which I can say to people, “You can come to me for help.” That is what NAFA means to me. It is really all about the people in NAFA: Staff, Members and Affiliates.
Joseph I. LaRosa, CPA, MBA
Joe is the Director, Global Fleet Services for Merck and Co. Inc., headquartered in Whitehouse Station, NJ. Joe directs the Global Fleet Administration organization under Global Procurement. Joe’s primary responsibilities include the global governance on fleet policy, managing and monitoring fleet total costs of ownership which approximates $320 million globally for approximately 28,000 vehicles worldwide.
Joe is currently NAFA’s International Vice President and serves on NAFA’s Board of Trustees as well as GM’s International Sounding Board and is a long standing member -19+ years – of NAFA’s Philadelphia Chapter.
In May 2008, Joe was honored with the “Fleet Manager of the Year Award” at NAFA’s annual I&E in Salt Lake City, UT.
Joe is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of New Jersey, earned his Masters of Business Administration degree from Monmouth University and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting/Economics from Rutger’s University. Additionally, Joe is a long standing member of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, Mercer County N.J. Chapter of CPA’s. Joe currently co-leads the Mercer Chapters Student Scholarship selection committee and is a longtime volunteer for their “pay it forward” program for potential CPA candidates.