Sheehan was a 1949 graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1955 having had his education interrupted to serve in the Air Force. He spent more than 30 years at Baxter Healthcare as a Director of Corporate Fleet. He was an early member of NAFA, rising through its executive leadership to serve as president and was recognized for more than 50 years of service to the organization. He was also an advisor to Ford Motor Corporation.
The following is an interview with Sheehan, conducted in 2012, where he discussed his role with NAFA, the precursor to the CAFM program, and the people who inspired him.
Recognizing the Value of Fleet - “A big problem, for some fleets even to this day, is that they don’t have the necessary education and the necessary programs,” Sheehan said by phone. “Companies and corporations grow and grow but the information is not maintained in one place. It all gets spread out and disorganized, but organization is one of the most important things. You must put this all together."
What ultimately would become tenets of NAFA’s education program, the core disciplines, still are questions Sheehan recalls and insists must be answered by every knowledgeable fleet professional to truly excel. “What have you got; why have you got it; where is it; and what condition is it in? There must be somebody watching over all of this, they must be able to support this, and then present it all to management.” That person, Sheehan maintains, is the fleet manager.
Sheehan was also instrumental in the development of the Certified Fleet Manager (CFM) program via the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania; a precursor to what would ultimately become NAFA’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program, recognized today as the industry standard for fleet education. He noted with a laugh that summing up the knowledge base of the day would be “impossible to do” because very little of it had been centralized enough to make a teachable curriculum out of it. “NAFA had already put together a hardcover manual when we were talking with Wharton – if I recall correctly, this was around 1980. We mailed that manual around, and that was one heavy book!”
“But we were interested in developing something higher, something even our companies might say, ‘hey, that’s quite a thing!’ This was all to raise the respect and the profile of the fleet manager (in the eyes of the business world). And that’s how we got into Wharton.”
The Recognized Industry Standard - The baby steps were, according to Sheehan, extremely tenuous and he refuses to take the lion’s share of credit for it. The point-person for Wharton was S. Lester Landau, a Distinguished Service Award winner, an Honorary Member of NAFA, and in Sheehan’s opinion was, “a genius, very educated, a very terrific person. He was like a god to us.”
In 1957, Landau was one of the founding members of NAFA alongside his duties as Budget Director for Picker X-Ray in White Plains, NY. He concurrently assumed responsibility for the management of the company’s fleet.
Landau was also one of the founders of the NAFA Foundation and was elected its first president in 1976. During his years with the NAFA Foundation, Landau devoted his dual passions for promoting fleet education and NAFA itself to efforts to make fleet management a part of the curriculum at major universities, one of which had been Wharton.
“He thought that anything NAFA could get from the school certainly would cause your management to think more of you,” Sheehan said. “He came back to the Board and he laid it all out for them.” The result was the Wharton Certified Automotive Fleet Manager program, a one-week course consisting of five days and nights of intensive study.
Sheehan would love to say the plan was a runaway success, but the requirements of the program, as well as its singular location, nearly killed it in its infancy. “Too few Members were able to get authorization to go. The program dribbled along and wasn’t getting anywhere. Wharton came back to us and said, ‘we’re not making money on this and there are only a handful of people (enrolling) for this big program we’ve put together,'” Sheehan said. “Other people came but couldn’t stay for the entire week.”
Sheehan and Landau were posed with an option that ultimately would reshape the direction NAFA would go from there on out. “Les asked (the school) what it would take to make the program work, and they responded that it might be best if NAFA went ahead and did something on their own with it...and at that point, we created (the basis for) what you have now.”
Respect – Patrick J. Sheehan saw the lows and the highs both inside and outside of the Association yet remembers both with a certain level of affection. “I think it’s astonishing, thinking back to 1967 when I started going to the (chapter) meetings and began to catch on. They didn’t have a secretary for the meetings, so they asked me.”
“I am honored to have served with, and learned from, these most competent men, who were considered more than business associates, but friends. And we’ve come a long, long way...and very successfully as far as I’m concerned.” Sheehan’s advice to the future of fleet is consistent with those when he and leaders like Les Landau were asserting the legitimacy of fleet management to the business realm. “Train; educate; get people (into the position) who will work at it, who are respected, and deserve the respect.”