Marcus Puddy is head of fleet management at Lloyds TSB Autolease. He describes, with a steady gaze, his position as 'advising fleets and companies on best practice on policies and guidelines - end-to-end company car procedures'. Yet he is a titan of car fleet matters. Contract hire company Lloyds TSB Autolease owns 140,000 vehicles, the largest fleet in Britain. What's more, he is the fleet manager's fleet manager. Between February 2000, when he joined Autolease, and 2004, Puddy worked relentlessly at the sharp end, directly responsible for managing Lloyds TSB's own fleet of 6,600 cars.
It was a period of intense activity, as he needed to confront profound changes in company car tax and develop an occupational road risk programme. At the same time, he was able to deliver savings of £3.5 million after introducing a new salesforce car scheme, and by tough negotiation with manufacturers he shaved a tenth off the whole life cost of employee company cars.
'The fleet wasn't in the best of shape,' he recalls. 'It had no direction and it was leaking money. We needed to recover costs without our drivers seeing any deterioration in their car scheme. My priority was to get budgets right and then to attack our total costs, which included things like the number of replacement windscreens we needed and the price of tyres.
'Another issue was pool cars. If we had 100 cars sitting there not being used, we were losing £6,500 a month. The fleet had been too status-orientated, so if there was a choice to take a Laguna or a BMW 3 Series, the Laguna might often go unused.'
He moved over to Lloyds TSB Autolease initially as product manager, with a mandate to identify opportunities and then apply them to the business model. Within months, he had put together the company's first comprehensive risk management programme. Its effectiveness at slashing accident rates - and costs - secured a coveted Fleet Service Provider of the Year award.
Puddy became head of fleet management in February 2005. 'The essence of our service is the management of the vehicle fleet,' he says, 'and not simply its administration. You need to be able to analyse it critically.'
Such observations give little hint that the hardware Puddy treats so dispassionately has any appeal for him. But despite having a solid background at the customer interface of financial services, he is an enthusiast. 'This industry is very enjoyable, and I love working with cars,' he admits.
But he says that the 'fleet' tag can have a stigma, with its suggestions of grubby car pounds and white van man. 'I think, for some, it's difficult to see where you can go after being a fleet manager,' he notes. 'That's why companies have re-branded the position, with titles like relationship manager or purchasing manager.'
But the 'f' word hasn't tarnished Puddy's ascent: at 29, he was being asked to present to outside companies on occupational road risk. Ed Dubens, CEO of training consultants Interactive Road Systems, told him: 'You are extremely honest and tenacious, and when dealing with technical issues are not afraid to say "I do not know".'
Puddy well knows the value of the right company car. 'A typical pharmaceuticals rep will go for the best company car scheme because every other benefit in such jobs is pretty much identical. If there is freedom of choice, people will always go for Audi or Volkswagen, followed by BMW, then Toyota.
People want comfort and that "click" sound not found in a mass-market vehicle. But you've also got to be sensible; it's no good giving everyone a BMW M3, because most would end up killing themselves.'
Puddy drives a BMW 5 Series diesel.
PUDDY in a minute
1971: Born Bridgwater. Lives in Somerset with wife and two daughters,
works in Birmingham
1989: Joins Lloyds Bank and moves through a succession of executive
1996: Appointed senior recoveries officer
2001: Manager for all eligible company car employees, including
secondment to bank's offshore operations
2005: Seconded to Lloyds TSB Autolease as product manager. In October,
appointed fleet solutions consultant at Autolease
2006: Made head of fleet management at Lloyds TSB Autolease