Chris Conroy, the newly appointed CEO of Holman, brings three decades of experience to his role. Throughout his nearly 30-year career with Holman, he held several senior leadership roles, most recently president and chief operating officer.
“I celebrate 30 years with the company in January 2024. So, while ‘new’ and ‘CEO’ are true statements, I've been fortunate to be a part of the journey for a while now and I believe I’m well prepared for the road ahead," Conroy said.
Conroy's tenure at Holman has allowed him to witness and contribute to the company's growth and evolution. His unique perspective into all facets of the business and the rapidly evolving automotive landscape have been instrumental in shaping the company's direction and strategy.
Holman encompasses a broader spectrum of services and solutions than meets the eye.
"Fleets may see us as a large fleet management provider, and we are that, but we're also one of the largest privately held retail automotive dealership groups in the U.S. and operate a significant upfit and manufacturing business,” Conroy noted.
Holman's diversified portfolio includes fleet management, retail automotive, upfitting, manufacturing, parts distribution, and insurance services.
"The most recent outcrop of our businesses has been small business solutions. We're focusing on the smaller fleet customer where we can provide an end-to-end solution for their vehicle fleets, whether it’s two vehicles or 10. Everything from upfront engineering and specification, acquisition, leasing, upfitting, disposal, and a few management services," he explained.
Holman's rebranding last year reflects its vision and commitment to providing holistic solutions. Conroy's background in the fleet industry gives him a deep understanding of the challenges faced by fleet managers, aligning perfectly with the company's mission.
"I ran our business in Canada, the fleet business in the United States, and I started many of our businesses internationally. Today, we're in the UK, Germany, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.,” Conroy added.
Conroy recounted a story that helped shape his vision of Holman.
“One of the Holman family members and I were chatting one day. This is an individual who worked on the periphery of the business but was a family member. He said, ‘The best way I can describe it is we're a company of caring.’ As we dug through it, I defined it in my head as a company that cares about our customers, each other, and the communities that support our success,” Conroy shared.
“Maybe it sounds too dreamy, but it's how we've always operated. I'm incredibly fortunate to inherit something that has been built on traditional but important values.”
Shaping a Strategic Future
Holman celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2024 and is working hard to shape its strategic future for the next 100 years.
“Mr. Holman, the son of the founder, Steward Holman, used to remind us, ‘go out and find a customer, and do the best you can to take care of that customer, provide the best service to meet what their expectations are, and do that to the best degree that you possibly can and create a fan based on the service we provided, then you earn the right to go out and get another one.’ ” Conroy shared. “And I think we’ve embraced that mindset across all our businesses.”
Over nearly 100 years in business, Holman has evolved the types of customers it works with and the transactions it does, but there is tremendous disruption in the automotive space right now.
“People still go to a dealership to purchase a vehicle just like they did 50 years ago – although the cars look a lot better these days. But the process you go through is not the same. That’s being disrupted. This idea of ‘Apple easy’ and ‘Amazon fast’ is changing business today,” Conroy said.
Conroy noted that the business-to-consumer space is disrupting the business-to-business space as well.
“When I think about our future goals, where we’re headed, and how our strategic vision looks, part of the reason we brought our companies together, and not just in branding, but in practice and operations, is because we see ourselves as an integrated automotive services company. And it means we have all these wonderful competencies, whether it’s engineering, manufacturing, or selling through a franchise dealer operation, it’s providing insurance to a commercial or consumer,” Conroy noted.
But with shared mobility, autonomous assets, and electrification, Conroy noted Holman will be able to pull its unique competencies and serve customers differently than it does today.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like. But I do know that is exactly what we’re preparing ourselves for. The future is meeting a customer’s needs that might look very different than today,” Conroy added.
Evolution of Customer Relationships
The relationships we make in business, especially fleet, are essential to success. But how those relationships are built and maintained is very different today than five or 10 years ago.
In an era where remote work and digital interactions have become commonplace, Conroy highlighted the significance of maintaining a customer-centric approach. Whether interactions occur online or in person, the goal remains the same – delivering exceptional service.
“Nothing happens without taking care of the customer,” he said.
Conroy recognized the pivotal role of technology, especially in the automotive sector, which he acknowledged as an industry has been somewhat slow to adapt.
“But it can't be overstated the role that technology continues to play, particularly in the automotive space, which is, you know, has been a bit of a laggard,” Conroy said.
He pointed to the retail dealership side and digital buying experience, from performing research, starting your transactions online, and ultimately coming into the store to test drive or pick up your vehicle.
“The key is to pick up wherever you've left off from a digital experience, whether in the store or your home. On the fleet side, self-serve options are far more prolific today than they've been, and we're working hard to make sure whatever application you're using, you can get immediate answers and a high level of visibility,” Conroy said.
Holman is working to leverage technology to enhance the experience for the customers who work with them.
Strategies for Stronger Connections
In business and fleet, we must remember that we all have customers.
“Your readers, in some cases, are our customers, too. But they also have customers,” Conroy noted. “And we must remember, our customers have options – there are other places they can go.”
Conroy shared that this is a strong reminder of the need to continue to listen.
“Be flexible where it makes sense. Be able to customize where you need to, and deliver to the customer, but still be able to execute.”
Holman built its fleet management business on being flexible to its customers’ needs. And over the years, they’ve learned a few lessons.
“We went after some more complex types of customers that others in our industry weren't focused on. And that helped us learn some lessons. The biggest is that you must be able to do what you commit to,” Conroy shared.
He added that when he thinks about maintaining strong customer relationships in this space, he thinks of two things: First, execute the basics.
“Make sure the core deliverables you must do are handled whether it's taking care of a driver, getting a fuel card to somebody on time, or renewing a license. The little things must be executed flawlessly in any business.”
Once you’ve accomplished that, Conroy believes you have earned the right to do more, like providing added value your customer is looking for that can help align with their business strategy.
Preparing Small Fleets for Today & Tomorrow
While small commercial and business fleets often have quite a few operational differences from their larger, more staffed counterparts, Conroy noted that tips for success in this segment aren’t much different from those of larger fleets.
“Connect with people who have shared experiences. Many of your teammates have multiple jobs they're supporting and have a lot of things on their plate. But you all have a lot of shared challenges and successes, too,” Conroy said.
He added that, whether at industry functions or through partners such as Holman, connect and share your experiences.
“Next, you want to work with stable partners who know their role and are genuine in their approach. No business is too small with a capable firm,” Conroy shared.
Holman started its Small Business Solutions knowing that, while it was good at what it does, its core business couldn’t provide the attention smaller fleets needed.
“This program provides a ton of value to smaller businesses looking to evolve the professionalism in their organization,” Conroy said.
Finally, he touched on the noise of “disruption” in fleet operations big and small today, including electrification and advanced technology.
“There's still value in the fundamentals. When you hear about connected cars, electrification, and all kinds of different things out there today, they're real, and they're coming. But when you're running your business daily, there's still some real value in just the tried and true, ensuring you have the right vehicle for the right application. You're relying on partners who can help you put the right vehicle in service and help with the fundamentals of managing your fleet,” Conroy shared.
Looking Ahead: Focusing on the Fundamentals
Conroy is seeing more evolution and continued development in vehicle telematics and job workflow.
“This is the idea of taking your vehicles, which are tools of trade that are doing a job. You're leveraging technology, not just to manage the asset, but to manage the jobs you are doing, making sure the right tool is in the right place, equipped to do the right amount of work,” he explained.
Conroy also believes we’ll see continued evolution in the connected vehicle space.
“It will enable our small business folks to run their businesses better. You're seeing that happening in the OEM space already; I think you'll see that evolve more closely connected to the fleet management companies,” he added. “We've long been vested in telematics. But we have become partners in how you run your business differently through the vehicle and your assets.”
On the Holman side, the future is focused on the fundamentals.
“We can help fleets just get the basics done the right way. Keep the vehicle on the road at the lowest possible cost and make sure drivers can take care of the job and get things done,” he said.
Additionally, Conroy emphasized that electrification is a real factor today.
“We've created a practice within our business around electrification. We have small businesses and large customers figuring out how they charge in driver’s homes, how to reimburse for at-home charging, and dealing with a central hub. There's an ease that Holman and others can provide around that,” Conroy said.
Finally, autonomous assets and robotics are another factor when looking ahead at the future of fleet.
“Not surprisingly, there are four million robots in the world right now, which seems like an incredibly small amount. But think about the proliferation of autonomy, and I'm not talking about vehicles and the work they do for all of us. Think about the enhancement it will have on our workforces and how companies like Holman can help people through that transition,” he added.
Fleets of the future may have to go from managing a fleet to managing a fleet plus several autonomous assets on the side.
“How can companies like Holman help manage that piece of their business?’ is something we see as an opportunity,” Conroy said. “I think we're pretty genuine in our approach and assessment of our abilities. We're focused on creating a wonderful human experience for our customers, regardless of their size, regardless of their industry. And we believe that we're on the leading edge of being able to serve our customers' needs for tomorrow as well.”