“Change must be embraced,” Murray Price, CEO of Eqstra Fleet Management in South Africa, opens up with, “And often encouraged.”
Eqstra Fleet Management (EFM) has always delivered sustainable value to its customers, providing a range of integrated solutions designed to not only finance vehicles but actively manage the vehicle fleet of large businesses providing top-end efficiency. Unlike many fleet management companies, EFM also achieves this while ensuring that the value delivered is fully quantifiable to their customers.
“Transparency is one of our corporate watch words,” Murray, who has been a key individual in building the company from a small enterprise almost twenty years ago explains, “It makes things far simpler when your good service can be described in figures instead of words.”
When EFM first began trading, it was in a different South Africa than today; one where some people lacked the forward thinking that they are so well known for. At the time the idea of fleet management was a foreign concept, and many businesses placed high value on ownership of vehicles and human administration. The idea behind Eqstra Fleet Management was to focus on providing a service to get the most out of new vehicles delivered as well as those already owned. From the start Murray has found value in keeping the mindset of a pioneer, believing that a good idea needs only hard work, above-the-standard customer service and transparency to take off.
“It is a system that must work,” he tells us. “We have had customers for fifteen years and employees who have lasted just as long. People want to stay with us.”
This is an important factor considering the hurdles that businesses have in the emerging markets and new fields where everyone is pushing to get more for their money, “The concern we have in South Africa is that money isn’t as readily available in emerging markets, making it tougher for businesses to gain access to capital.”
Murray goes on to explain that he sees this as an opportunity to evolve with the times and admits to a certain degree of excitement about it despite the massive upheavals the company has had over the last decade, “Many challenges, upsets and upheavals were thrown our way but it’s good. Big upsets give you the choice of going under or changing and that’s made us a much sharper and even more efficient operation today.”
It is the system behind EFM that is their product, Murray says and the benefit of a system is that it delivers consistency and can be changed or easily updated if necessary. But merely riding the waves of change isn’t enough for EFM who are looking specifically to become a global fleet player in the medium term.
“Our business is really in supply chain management,” he says, “Essentially we broker services of many different suppliers and consolidate them so as to deliver value to our customers. Our new system, called Quest, is an evolution of our product and is our answer for the customer who is looking for the best.”
According to Murray, the market wants more and more for less and as the services provided are administration heavy the Quest system is an automated, real time system that customers, seeking to find information regarding how/what their fleet is doing, can access online. A simple example that he puts forward is that of drivers.
“It doesn’t matter what make of vehicle you have if your driver is driving badly,” he says, “And by badly we don’t mean dangerously, but if they are speeding or riding the clutch, or if they are braking too heavily, all of this negatively impacts on the efficiency of the vehicle and adds costs.” He goes on to say that the real cost driver within any fleet is just that the driver. Effective driver management is therefore key to manage fleet costs and to achieve this objective the new Quest system allows for customers to benefit from consolidating all fleet costs in a single system, allowing for early identification of drivers needing training through the provision of monthly driver assessment reports.
When such assessments are then put forward, drivers can see exactly the areas where they need to improve, not only for the sake of their company’s fleet costs but also for their own sake as drivers.
As with any change there have been a lot of queries from customers. One of them has been, “What’s the difference?”
Murray explains, “Quest is a one stop shop, a porthole through which a customer can access not only the latest technology for fleet management and driver’s assessments but also the 30 or so years of experience that EFM has gained. A customer being able to view all fleet costs against a single vehicle record in an integrated system makes Quest unique and with more and more customers looking to rationalise their supply chain through partnering with a single service provider the future looks very bright indeed
He describes it as taking the receipts and accounts off the desk of a fleet owner and putting them all into one access point on the computer, “Our customers can go with us and a get a full package, with just one invoice from us while we deal with the banks, the dealerships and the insurance instead of them.”
Quest has been live for nine months in four different countries and has proved that it really is a matter of convenience and makes it easier for the companies relying on EFM’s services to do business. Murray explains that while the South Africa of today has some of the most innovative and forward thinking minds in the world, there are some areas where they are decidedly old fashioned, but he is confident that Quest is going to change the industry and that the country will emulate their bespoke system.
“This is why change is so good,” he says, “It forces you to pick up your company and give it a thorough shake until all that isn’t needed simply falls out.”
Another area of change is cooperation with companies that would have been considered competitors previously.
“South Africa is becoming increasingly customer-centric,” he says, “A lot of our competitors are working with us so we’re offering better value to the customer. When you work together instead of against each other, usually you can achieve so much more while still maintaining that competitive edge.”
At home, EFM has also been undergoing changes. “While a business is more than just a bottom line, the bottom line is still there. To offer the best service possible to our clients we must be as efficient as possible ourselves,” says Murray.
Investments have been made to retrain, remind and equip 300 core staff as well as possible, while giving them real value. This is particularly important to the company’s CEO, “Training staff is important. Or course it is. But a staff member needs to feel more, they need to feel valued and see their role in the grand scheme of things.”
By focussing on growing the best staff possible, Murray knows that his clients are being looked after to the standard that he set out when he first started with the business, “I think we underestimate our ability to change,” he reflects, “We work with specialist suppliers and skilled staff in a market sector where our competitors tend to stay away from because they don’t understand the fleet risk for example on commercial vehicles. We can handle the most sizeable fleets and have made commercial vehicles one of our core competencies.”
This is not to say that it’s all been smooth sailing. Murray reveals that whilst the Quest system has been active for nine months they have learnt a lot of painful lessons from introducing it into 4 countries, but now they are operating very effectively in their space, “The big risk is converting the South African database. When we finished analysis, there were 180k unique vehicles we had to bring over.”
There is a still a lot of work to be done, but emerging markets and challenges are the sort of things that Murray has always thrived on and thanks to Quest he has already seen the benefit of keeping data together so customers get valuable insights. As an example, “SA breweries had a fleet of vehicles that we analysed. Using Quest, we looked at vehicle, driver habits and roads and determined that they were using the wrong vehicles for those routes. City cars on dirt roads. This allowed us to recommend a proactive approach to change the routes, therein providing an improvement within the confinement of operation and costs.”
Murray believes this message is worth driving home, “When you have informed data that consolidates from many different aspects of the fleet, you can make the right decisions.”
This is just the beginning of the new era for EFM. With plans to expand further afield than just into Africa, crossing the oceans will be the next big step for the fleet management company but Murray is quick to point out that you should dream big but work small, making sure that every little detail is done right.
“Now that the system is live we need to ensure step-by-step and day-by-day that it does what it says on the box.”
There has to be value added through consistent service and South Africans are loyal customers. This is good when it comes to their customers but if they are to dislodge customers from their competitors they need to be the clear and obvious choice and the only way to achieve this is to be in a position to deliver more measureable value
“Landing is just stage one, next is the roll out, and then global expansion” he wraps up.