By Don Dunphy
2020 FLEXY winner George Hrichak shares strategies for success. This is not the way George Hrichak imagined he’d be celebrating his 2020 Fleet Excellence Award (FLEXY) win, with most of the United States in a virtual standstill because of Covid-19. “My family is following the precautions everyone else is, washing hands, using hand sanitizers, social distancing, that type of thing.”
Managing During a Shutdown
Hrichak, Director of Fleet Services for City of Chesapeake’s Central Fleet Management, won his FLEXY in the category of Excellence in Public Fleet or Mobility Management. Now he is looking after his fleet team in ways he never expected. “We’re making sure the guys in the garage are staying healthy and their families are okay,” says Hrichak.
The City of Chesapeake is virtually immobilized, although the fleet of vehicles including police, fire, sheriff, and solid waste disposal vehicles remain on the job. “All interactions with the public are being done over the phone or by internet by this point, at least until the end of the month. We’re trying to limit our exposure as best as possible.”
The team is taking care of vehicles coming into the garage not only under the hood, but also with cleaning materials. “Ambulances, when they come in here…we’ll go over it with ultraviolet light to kill as many of the germs as possible before we release it again,” Hrichak says. “My guys are wearing masks and gloves when they are cleaning them. When the cars coming in for repair are being handled, everyone has their gear on, just to make sure.”
Formerly an aircraft maintenance officer and maintenance test pilot in the Army for 20 years, Hrichak takes the military training and philosophies he learned and applies them to public service. “The first thing I learned was: take care of the troops and the troops will take care of the mission. I must support my guys with the tools and training they need and watch their backs to make sure they can meet their goals. Once they feel supported, they can go out and get the job done. Normally, guys in my position, we don't like to toot our own horns,” says Hrichak. “We just do the job to get the mission accomplished.”
FLEXY: Improving Customer Satisfaction
Hrichak won the FLEXY for improving customer satisfaction, streamlining parts through partnerships and integrating CNG in the fleet. He was hired by the City in 2001 primarily as an agent of change. “There were many things going on in the garage that needed to be addressed that contributed to customer dissatisfaction,” he says. “Employees weren't happy, customers weren't happy. It was not conducive to the level of work that needed to happen.”
He said the working philosophy before he arrived was 'my way or the highway,’ which ran counter to his training that treats employees as allies, not obstacles. “First thing I did was to sit down and speak with my employees and the department heads who are, in my view, the ‘customers,’ the end users of our services. I interviewed each of them and asked them what they thought was good, what was bad, and, if you could, what was one thing you could change here? After that, we got together as a group and cherry-picked through everyone's top concerns, identified and corrected the 'low-hanging fruit' and worked our way up to the more difficult issues. “
Hrichak’s team started using process-improvement strategies to tackle challenges like long turnaround time. “It sometimes took ten days to get their vehicles back to them. Well, why was that?” The fleet team started cracking the problem and found that lax notifications were largely at fault. “Customers weren't being notified when the vehicle was ready. Also, necessary parts were unavailable at that time and had to be ordered, but the customers weren’t made aware of this delay,” Hrichak explains. “In the short-term, we instituted a culture of managing expectations through better, clearer communication.”
The team improved the internal work order flow and gave customers access to the AssetWorks’ FleetFocus database so they could monitor their vehicles progress. “We implemented a quarterly fleet-users group, with departments appointing decision makers who would make recommendations for the fleet. It provided direct accountability for us, knowing in a clear way what our customers expected from us.
“This was contentious for the first year or two,” Hrichak admits, “but now we are down to half-hour meetings.”
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FLEXY: Bringing in Partners
Longer-term problems took three years to turn around. “We had our own parts room at the time,” Hrichak says. “I worked with all our parts employees to use our computerized asset management system’s capabilities to establish min/max quantities and automated reorder points, but it didn’t work out. We made the decision to privatize parts with an outside vendor. We went from 499 parts out of stock in a month down to 17.”
Another effort that benefited from outside partnerships was the process to bring in compressed natural gas (CNG)-fueled vehicles. “It took me ten years to get it done,” Hrichak said. Going back to applying that business-minded strategy, Hrichak started reading books on marketing and salesmanship, and used those techniques to help sell his idea. “I had a complete ROI study mapped out from different fuels over different years, constantly talking to the city managers' office, showing the costs and the long-term savings. But these officials cycle in and out, so you kind of need to wait it out, keep working at it until you get a receptive audience. Perseverance is key in local government.”
Partnership broke the ice for City of Chesapeake fleet. “Our relationship with Virginia Clean Cities is huge. They were supportive from the get-go and were able to supply a lot of documentation that we needed, including an independent ROI evaluation with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That study helped us crack through any false impressions because I could point to their findings and show it wasn't just me saying it,” Hrichak says.
CNG truck costs-per-mile are 40 cents less than diesel trucks for maintenance and operation, claims Hrichak, “and that's not even including the fuel savings. That's a huge savings for us.
From the community’s standpoint, the CNG vehicles were a lot quieter, so much so that some people missed garbage day pick-ups because they never heard the trucks coming the way they did before.
FLEXY: Benefiting from Oil Analysis
Coming from an Army aviation background, Hrichak has relied on oil analysis for aircraft gear boxes and engines. “You can imagine that aircraft maintenance is a lot more critical than vehicle maintenance - you just can’t pull over when you have a problem like you do in a truck. There are definite benefits and savings in using oil analysis for your vehicle fleet,” he says. Mainly, the fleet is not wasting money on replacing oil that has a lot of value left in it. At the same time, failing components can be identified and repaired before they cause major damage.
Previously, City of Chesapeake contracted that work out. Running counter to its other efforts, this partnership was not deemed beneficial. “You'd get your results a few days, up to a few weeks later. By then, you could do a lot of damage to your equipment, or you could be very wasteful out of an abundance of caution,” Hrichak says. These vehicles must be out on the road, and quickly, and users cannot do without their vehicles while we wait for those results. Instituting in-house oil analysis enables speed and accuracy that is crucial to ensuring customer satisfaction and reduced operating costs.
“We try to run our shop as a business, not a government service. With this mindset, we are always looking for that return on investment, and a better way to do things, and that is a top-down culture shift,” Hrichak says. “Everyone - from custodians to the highest management level – views our vehicle users as customers, and we are beholden to customer's needs like any business might be. If we don't, then we’re wasting taxpayer dollars and hindering our customers’ services to our citizens; so there is a real consequence of not always trying to get better, to save more, and have those vehicles ready for whomever needs them.”
He concludes, “Room for improvement is the largest room in the house. We can always get better.”