12 Jun A Lifetime of Change in Fleet Management
Ray Breault reflects on the industry’s evolution and a career of good fortune
When Ray Breault was introduced to fleet management, four hundred vehicles was considered large, and executives selected Studebakers.
“I vividly recall asking field representatives if they wanted to add optional equipment like a radio, air conditioner and duel wipers, because these were only offered at an extra cost. That’s how far back I go,” Breault says. “Reps’ cars were sparsely equipped since the mentality at the time was to provide a tool to get the job done.”
It was 1959, and Breault was a production planner at pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche in New Jersey. He’d been working there since being discharged from the military several years earlier. He was asked to help on a three-month assignment gathering financial information on about 200 cars the company had for its sales force.
“Fleet was in its early stages at this point, and I got started learning and experimenting,” Breault says. “There were no computers back then. Record-keeping for ordering cars was manual and documenting the transaction was made in three-ring binders. Company driver-record information was kept on 3-by-5 cards in boxes by division and territory…. Talk about antiquated.”
The temporary assignment grew into an offer for the job of Fleet Administrator, and Breault eventually became Fleet Manager and finally Director of Fleet Management.
At the beginning, there were few if any standards for how to do the job – or for that matter, what the job entailed. But his management gave him latitude to make changes and create new processes. Vehicles were one of the biggest-ticket items in the budget and his boss wanted them managed accordingly. The finance department made him fight for every expenditure.
In 1960, Breault was encouraged to get involved with the National Association of
Fleet Administrators (now NAFA Fleet Management Association). He was welcomed warmly and invited to join an influential roundtable group that included managers of what were then considered large fleets – 300 to 400 vehicles.
“If anyone had a problem we could call one another and discuss it. We helped each other out,” Breault says. The first contribution he recalls making at NAFA was filling out name tags at local meetings, but in 1964, after serving as secretary and treasurer, he was elected chairman of the New York Chapter.
His first national role with NAFA was on its legislative committee, and he was elected president of the national association serving from 1977-79.
In a profile published that year in the NAFA newsletter, he said, “Those of us involved heavily see a big future in fleet management as opposed to fleet administration. Fleet management (which places more emphasis on the financial end) is on the threshold of coming into its own – being really recognized.”
Volatile fuel prices, high interest rates, and the invasion of affordable, reliable auto imports from Japan had increased the financial impact of fleet managers on their companies, according to a 2015 article about Breault in Fleet Solutions magazine.
By this time, his fleet at Hoffman-LaRoche had grown to 3,000 vehicles – enough to keep five full-time employees busy. In 1977, he was approached by a corporate recruiter with a new challenge: Revlon Inc. discovered irregularities in its fleet management practices and was seeking someone to straighten things out. Breault took the position and oversaw the growth of Revlon’s fleet for the next 14 years.
One of the companies that provided rental car services to Revlon was Rental Concepts, Inc. (now Fleet Response), founded by Ron Mawaka, Sr. The two men had become good friends, and as Breault was contemplating retirement in 1991, Mawaka gave him a nudge to do so and come aboard as a salesman.
The Cleveland company was six years old at the time and had only 15 or so employees. But Breault says he knew right away that becoming its East Coast sales rep was a good decision.
“I’ve had three jobs in my career. Fleet Response has been the greatest experience. I’ve been with them now 26 years, and I’ve loved every minute of it.” The transition from fleet manager to sales rep was easy, he says. He relied on his knowledge of the trade, strong relationships and a low-pressure, consultative approach to sales. He adds that it helped to be part of an organization committed to being at the crest of industry trends.
“When I first went with Fleet Response, they were primarily providing car rentals,” says Breault. “Then we expanded into accident management and safety, and were servicing large clients.” A few years later, the company created Integrated Vehicle Systems, a full-service suite of fleet management services that brought together accident management, maintenance management and subrogation.
In 1998, the company unveiled its first online system to streamline automotive claims and repairs, and to provide clients with access to information about their vehicles. In 2003, RCI and Integrated Vehicle Systems were combined under the Fleet Response name.
“Competitors tried to keep up with us, but they didn’t succeed.” Breault says. “I don’t think that’s changed, even today. We’re constantly looking toward making things work better for the customer.”
Breault retired for the second time in 1996, but soon came back to Fleet Response on a part-time basis.
He was honored in 2004 with the NAFA Outstanding Chapter Service Award, and in 2008 was inducted into the Automotive Fleet Hall of Fame. January 2018, with 59 years of service to the industry, Breault announced his final retirement from the Fleet Response team.
NAFA Happy Hours, hosted by Fleet Response throughout the years!