Joe LaRosa: Keys to Managing the Global Fleet

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.







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