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Jeff Hartley Retires From Foss National Leasing & LeasePlan Canada

Autosphere » Fleet » Jeff Hartley Retires From Foss National Leasing & LeasePlan Canada
Jeff Hartley Retires from Foss National Leasing & LeasePlan Canada. Credit: Foss National Leasing & LeasePlan Canada

Last week, Jeff Hartley, President of Foss National Leasing and LeasePlan Canada, announced his retirement. In this heartfelt farewell interview, Jeff reflects on his remarkable 22-year journey.

Interviewer: You’re retiring from Foss National Leasing after 22 incredible years. When you first arrived in 2002, it was not the same company it is today. What were your strategic priorities back then, and how have they helped the company evolve into what it is today?

Jeff Hartley: When I started, it was a dealership-based leasing company with 2,000 vehicles under management. Today, we have 50,000 vehicles under management. 

Back then, I saw an opportunity that the big national fleet management companies were not filling and wanted to take advantage of it. I shared my vision with the company’s owner, and they supported it. However, we had to build the business’s infrastructure to accommodate the growth we forecast. We had limited resources to accomplish that—so with baling wire and duct tape, metaphorically speaking, we started to assemble the infrastructure. As the Company grew, the profits provided further resources for us to take steps to improve and modify the systems.

I was very fortunate that a number of the existing staff were people I’d worked with in the past. They understood where we were heading, and their commitment made getting the message out to the rest of the business a little easier. So, we just started. It was all about organic incremental growth, not through acquisition.

When I started we had 2,000 vehicles under management. Today, we have 50,000.

Interviewer: You assembled an amazing team of high performers over the years. What are your parting words to that team at Foss National?

Jeff Hartley: There’s no reason our successes shouldn’t continue. For the last few years, we’ve been building structure and processes to ensure we can continue this growth trajectory. The leadership team we have in place has become increasingly capable of envisioning where the business needs to go and then taking it there. 

I think it’s very important that they continue to do that and adapt to the business climate. We see tremendous opportunities for the company in the coming decades. 

Regarding leadership continuity, we have a solid team that can carry on with the great foundation we’ve built. Several key staff have been on a leadership development path over the past few years in preparation for this moment. For example, we have been working with my successor, Basil Marcus, for an extended period so the business doesn’t skip a beat upon my departure. Every business faces challenges, but I think we’ve got the right people in the right roles to address those issues and move the company forward.

Interviewer: There’s always a concern about creating a void in the company’s leadership when the President steps away. What are some specific things that you’ve done to prepare the company for continued success?

Jeff Hartley: We identified an issue many years ago. The business revolved, to a great extent, around my actions. This was fine initially, but as the business matured and grew, it wasn’t sustainable or even healthy for the business. Having a single thread of the business’s success run through me was unfair. In 2017, I had several ideas about where the business needed to go. This included developing the short-term leasing division and creating products for the SME market, as well as expanding what we’ve done with Leaseplan. The team couldn’t do it all, as we have always run a very lean organization, so we brought Basil in to focus on these special projects for which we did not have the bandwidth in our day-to-day operations.

We were able to put him on these new projects so that he could cut his teeth on parts of the business that weren’t part of our core offering. I don’t like to use the word interfering, but he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day running of the business at that time. That’s how he started to learn and saw the strategic underpinning of the business. Under his direction, these new initiatives grew and became totally entwined within the fabric of the larger business. Over time, Basil took on more responsibilities within the overall business. He knows a lot about the workings of our fleet management systems and the clients we support. I am very pleased with the leader he has become. 

James Ricci (Foss Group President and COO) and Basil have also been included in the strategic and funding work that we have been addressing. They, along with our senior leadership team, are now well-versed and equipped to deal with the complexities of the business. We’ve done such a good job with this transition plan that I am certain as I step away, a lot of people won’t even notice—which is a good thing. 

Thank you for helping me have the most amazing and interesting career.

Interviewer: The fleet management business is all about partnerships—partnerships with clients, banks, and suppliers. Over the years, you have developed meaningful relationships with many, many people. They are interested in knowing why you are retiring and how it may affect their business. What would you like to say to them?

Jeff Hartley: I’d like to simply state, “Thank you for helping me have the most amazing and interesting career.” I never had one boring day. I mean, I love the fleet business for its variety, breadth and width. Everything you deal with, from funding to getting a car on the road. I so love that part of the business. I put my heart and soul into it, and there comes a point when fresh blood is essential for the continued success of a business. I saw an opportunity for the business to carry forward with a new generation of talent, with an enthusiasm that is essential for the long-term health of any business. The last thing I wanted to be was an anchor on the business. I want to be a facilitator for the business. I think it’s time to see the management team flourish independently. They are prepared, and the business is ready. 

Interviewer: How about the Company’s ownership? You are leaving a family business. What can you say about that?

Jeff Hartley: I worked hard to earn the family’s trust. It started with Roy Foss, way back when and has continued to this day with Karen and now James. Roy and Karen never questioned me about the month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter performance of the business. Instead, they asked, “What are we doing in five years, in 20 years? Where are you going? What are you doing?”

The Foss family let me run the business the way I wanted and as if it were my own. They provided the resources needed. Karen Foss, Roy’s successor, is wonderful. She is much more trusting than many owners would ever be and let me evolve the business the way I thought it had to be developed. Don’t mistake trust with a hands-off attitude. There was lots of discussion whenever I made a directional change to the business strategy, but once we agreed, the family let me run with it. I’m very thankful for that. I think that’s one of the reasons why Karen and I had such a great relationship. It was built on trust, which enabled me to accomplish many things.

Both James Ricci and Basil have a tremendous opportunity to replicate what Karen and I had and develop the business to the next level. They’ve got the skill sets to accomplish that, plus the market is there. Many exciting things will happen, and I hope to be around to see it all.

Interviewer: As you just step away from this business. How would you like to be remembered?

Jeff Hartley: I’d like to be remembered as somebody who worked hard in a complex business. I had a deep understanding of the industry challenges and was able to bring innovation to the business. I’d like to think that I helped many people along the way. To encourage their career satisfaction, development and growth. I was able to work through a lot of tough situations while keeping my integrity and my friendliness together. Many said I was a gentle soul or too easy on people. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I had to be tough when I had to, but I’d like to think I was encouraging people to achieve their potential. The end result is a business that has thrived over the years despite the challenges. I’d like to think that I’ll be remembered as a company builder. 

Something that was said to me early in my career and has always stayed with me, and I hope to pass along: “Jeff, don’t be good; be lucky… and by the way, the harder you work, the luckier you will become.”

The job commitment imposed many sacrifices in my personal life along the way. My wife Lindsay and the rest of my family always supported what I was trying to accomplish. With my retirement, I have the freedom to do the things I want on my timetable. It is a very exciting time indeed. For both the business and me personally. 

Note: Jeff Hartley will continue on as a Strategic Advisor for the Foss Group, supporting the executive team at Foss National and the other automotive group divisions. 

Categories : Fleet, Press release

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