The commercial fleet industry in 2020 saw the passing of several influential industry figures during what was one of the most challenging years in the history of fleet.
As the industry heads into 2021, we look back on the lives and careers of those who left their mark on the fleet industry.
Industry Pioneer Al Cavalli: 1923 – 2020
Al Cavalli, one of the founding members of the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA), a past NAFA president, and inductee in AF’s Fleet Hall of Fame, died of heart failure on Jan. 16, 2020. He was 96.
Widely acknowledged as one of the industry’s pioneering fleet managers, Cavalli was one of the founding members of the Round Table Group in 1948, the forerunner group that led to the creation of the National Association of Fleet Administrators. The Round Table Group was comprised of 20 fleet managers from various commercial entities and public utilities, primarily in the Northeast, who met monthly to discuss issues affecting early corporate fleet operations. Seeing the need for a national fleet association, Cavalli, along with the other members of the Round Table Group, co-founded NAFA in 1957 by signing the association’s articles of incorporation.
Cavalli was very active in NAFA, serving as the NAFA New York chapter chairman from 1963-1965 and NAFA president from 1969-1971, where he strengthened the Association by increasing the number of chapters and developing instructional material and programs to add to NAFA’s credibility.
These included NAFA’s Fleet Safety Manual, its Fleet Manager’s Manual, and the establishment of the association’s uniform Chapter Code of Regulations. Cavalli was awarded NAFA’s Distinguished Service Award and, in 1989, received NAFA’s Lifetime Honorary Membership.
Alfred “Al” Cavalli, born on Oct. 22, 1923 in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, where he was raised. He began his automotive career in 1946 as a partner of J & A Automotive Service in Greenpoint, N.Y., by applying his knowledge as an aircraft mechanic to automotive repair. Cavalli worked as an aircraft mechanic both before and during his enlistment in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC) during World War II. He was employed at the New Castle Army Air Base in New Castle, Del., where serviced planes that Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) flew to pilots operating in war zones.
In 1948, Cavalli’s fleet industry career began at 24 years old when he joined Universal CIT Credit Corp. (UCIT) as a repossession correspondent working with the legendary Emil Ames, who became his mentor. At UCIT, he counseled employees on the best ways to sell repossessed vehicles. Soon after, Cavalli himself was selling an impressive 70 vehicles a month at one of the company’s used-vehicle lots in Washington, D.C. Cavalli was promoted to fleet manager in the Car Control Department of CIT Financial’s new leasing division.
He managed more than 2,000 vehicles in the sales force. It was during his employment at UCIT that Cavalli joined the Round Table Group of fleet managers. Cavalli eventually rose to become VP of client relations and director at UCIT, where he worked for 33 years before retiring from the company in 1981.
After retiring from UCIT, Cavalli joined Avis Car Leasing in 1981 as director, sales services for its approximately 25,000 vehicles. He was responsible for the development of lease rates, the publication of its annual new model Leasing Product Guide, its Operating Cost Control program, and the lease vs. ownership comparison program. Cavalli worked at Avis Car Leasing until 1989, when he officially retired from the workforce.
After retiring from Avis Car Leasing, Cavalli was one of the “co-founders” the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out), which included Cavalli and four other retired fleet managers – Warren Feirer, Gerry Keenan, Ray Breault, and Don Rittenhouse. They met several times a year for trips to auto museums, auto shows, or just to have dinner reminiscing about the old days.
During his retirement years, Cavalli continued to stay active in the fleet industry by working as the field editor for Automotive Fleet magazine.
Cavalli’s other “contribution” to the fleet industry was his son, Bob Cavalli, who followed in his father’s footsteps, forging a notable career of his own in the commercial fleet business.
Morris Belzberg of Budget Rent a Car: 1929 – 2020
Morris Belzberg, former chairman and CEO of Budget Rent a Car and one of its earliest and largest franchisees, died peacefully on May 2, 2020 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
A son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and a native of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, Belzberg started his career in car rental when he took his family to the Seattle World’s Fair. There he encountered Jules Lederer, the architect of the Budget Rent a Car system, who had a booth selling franchises.
Indicative of the handshakes that opened territories for franchisees back then, “Morris got the rights to Alberta for a fishing rod, true story,” claims Syd Belzberg, his nephew, who owned Budget Vancouver.
Belzberg went on to open the first Budget location in Calgary in 1962 and acquired additional franchises over the next few years.
In 1965, Belzberg joined Budget’s corporate headquarters in Chicago as vice president of Canadian operations, and in 1967 was appointed vice president of franchising and marketing.
Syd Belzberg recounted that Morris was instrumental in convincing the Canadian government that Budget was a big enough player to be on the airports. “Literally in one day, Budget was opening in all the (Canadian) airports,” Belzberg said.
When Budget was acquired by Transamerica Corp. in 1968, Belzberg was named executive vice president. He climbed to president of the company in 1969 and became CEO in 1971. As CEO, Belzberg used his Canadian government relations experience to spearhead the effort in the U.S. to open airports to Budget licensees.
Belzberg became chairman of Budget in 1987 and left the company in 1989. In 2002, Belzberg was brought back to serve on the company’s board of directors.
After his initial career at Budget, Belzberg acquired a minority stake in the Minnesota North Stars. In 1991, he acquired 50% of the Pittsburgh Penguins, selling his interest in 1997.
Belzberg’s associates at Budget remember his marketing savvy and his ability to manage a powerful group of franchisees, which by 1987 numbered 350 in the U.S. and comprised the entirety of overseas locations.
“We at Budget in Canada took great pleasure in hearing how the Budget brand came to be in this country and the challenges he faced and overcame, as ‘Budget’s father’ in building a new car rental brand in Canada,” said Anna Edwards, director of licensee operations, Americas for Avis Budget Group.
“He was a marketeer more than a rental car operator,” said Roger Gelder, of Budget Atlanta, one of the largest licensees since 1972. “I give him full credit for propelling Budget into the major league of car rental.”
Gelder referenced Belzberg’s ideas for promotions involving golf clubs and exotic black soap. More important, Gelder said, was his campaign to “Rent a Lincoln from Budget at the price of a full-size car from Hertz.”
“Car rental never had any master marketers until Morris came along,” said Sandy Miller, who started as a Budget franchisee before becoming chairman and CEO of Budget Group Inc. in 1997. Belzberg was as an advisor to Miller during his tenure as Budget’s CEO.
While effective marketing starts with a great idea, it depends on execution. In the car rental industry at the time, that meant getting the industry’s franchisees to agree on the price and terms, Miller said.
“He knew how to handle the franchisees,” he said. “His goal in life was to take guys like me and make us successful.”
Miller referenced a deal Belzberg cut with Ford regarding a repurchase program for 100,000 Ford Rangers with truck caps. “That worked out great for everyone,” Miller said.
“Morris was truly an original,” said Bill Plamondon, board member of Advantage Rent a Car and former president and CEO of Budget. “He built the most successful franchise system in rent a car and then shepherded the company to become one of the most successful global brands, and one of the most creative marketing companies in the industry.”
Jeff Price of NPL Construction: 1955 – 2020
Jeff Price, capital equipment buyer at NPL Construction, passed away after serving nearly 40 years in the fleet industry.
Price was most recently part of the Centuri and NPL Fleet team for nearly 10 years, and his contributions played an influential role in the department’s growth and advancement, according to Centuri Group, the parent company for NPL Construction. He was also part of the Ford Fleet Advisory Board, Kenworth Customer Council for Vehicle Electrification, and Kenworth Medium Duty Truck Council.
Before working at NPL, he served as the national fleet manager for Highway Technologies from 2007 to 2009, and earlier was the district fleet manager for United Rentals Highway Technologies.
From 1993 – 1998, Price was the service advisor/assistant service manager for Phoenix Area Car Dealership, and much earlier in his career was the Administrator-Supervisor-Coordinator for Gelco-GE Capital Fleet Services from 1981 – 1993.
“Jeff was passionate about his work, and he was well-liked throughout the organization for his big personality and sense of humor,” according to Centuri Group.
In his personal time, Price enjoyed golfing, fishing with friends, and spending time at his family cabin on Lake Michigan.
James N. (Jim) Hutchinson of Heavy Duty Trucking: 1957 – 2020
James N. (Jim) Hutchinson, who was chief executive officer of Heavy Duty Trucking and its parent company Newport Communications Group for eight years, died Sept. 24, 2020 in Newport Beach, California, following a heart attack. He was 63.
Hutchinson took the company over in 2004, following his father Robert’s death, and headed it until it was sold to Bobit Business Media in 2012. The Hutchinson family, based in Seattle, had owned the company for 60 years. Jim Hutchinson’s grandfather, B.N. Hutchinson, acquired the magazine in 1952, when it was a small regional publication called Western Trucking.
In 1968 it was renamed Heavy Duty Trucking and converted to nationwide circulation, sent to owners of medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks.
“That was the beginning of the Newport philosophy of focusing sharply on integrity and expertise in journalism, sales and marketing efforts,” said Doug Condra, former Newport Communications president.
Over the next few years, the magazine grew to become the industry’s leading publication, after building a reputation of concise reporting and analysis of trucking issues and equipment.
“Jim Hutchinson never wavered in his support of our philosophy and mission,” Condra recalled. “He was dedicated to his family and the company – a man of good nature, humor and honesty. His focus was always on doing the right thing.”
HDT was the flagship of the Hutchinsons’ Newport Communications Group, which acquired or started additional successful trucking magazines, marketing programs, radio, and events prior to its sale in 2012 to Bobit Business Media.
Hutchinson said in the announcement of the sale, “Newport has always concentrated on serving the heavy-truck industry with editorial excellence and premier marketing services. We know that Bobit will use its highly successful publishing expertise to build on those strengths.”
Dave Spence of General Motors: 1949 – 2020
Dave Spence, past director of commercial and specialty vehicles at General Motors, passed away on Oct. 26, 2020. He was 71.
Spence retired from General Motors in 2008 after working at the company for almost 40 years. In his role he served as director for commercial product planning, automotive marketing, and business planning.
Following his retirement, he worked as a consultant for Adrian Steel Co., where he oversaw and consulted on the business operations of the company’s Truck Equipment and Bailment Pool subsidiaries.
Spence earned a Bachelor of Science from Drexel University.
He enjoyed classic cars, model trains, traveling to South Florida for the winter, and spending time with his four granddaughters.
He is survived by his wife Sharon; children Matt Spence and his wife Emily Grumet Spence and Laura Spence DeAngelis and her husband Edmund DeAngelis; grandchildren Sarah Mae Spence, Hollie Spence, Katelyn DeAngelis, and Elise DeAngelis; and sister Susan Spence.
Jim McCallum of General Motors: 1949 – 2020
Jim McCallum, former director of commercial dealer operations for General Motors, passed away on Nov. 16, 2020 at the age of 71 after a battle with cancer.
McCallum was employed at General Motors for 37 years before retiring in November 2008. He began working in the Chevrolet Fleet Department in 1979 under the late George Frink, who was the division’s fleet director at the time.
He served in a number of areas of GM Fleet, including fleet distribution, field operations, GM global fleet, and fleet dealer operations. He was a NAFA Affiliate and member of the Affiliates Committee and served on the NAFA Foundation Board of Directors.
At GM, he helped to establish the first fleet secondary codes, convened the initial Chevrolet Fleet Sounding Board, expanded Chevrolet’s in-shop warranty presence, and guided its initial efforts in global fleet.
He is survived by his wife Debbie; children Tony McCallum and Lindsey Matiyow; grandchild Cooper James; and his siblings John McCallum and Janet Maruska.
Mark Boada of Fleet Management Weekly: 1950 – 2020
Mark Boada, executive editor for Fleet Management Weekly, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, after suffering a fatal heart attack, according to the publication. He was 70.
Boada was an Ivy League educated, award-winning business writer who previously served as the editorial and public relations specialist for The CEI Group from 2005 to 2016. He joined fleet management weekly in early 2017 as the publication’s senior editor.
He graduated from Princeton University in 1975, with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and later received a certificate of marketing from Columbia University School of Business in 1989.
Boada was active in his community and politics, and was a member of The Newtown Democrats and Newtown Township Finance Committee.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn Christiansen Boada; daughters, Sarah and Lauren Boada, son, Andrew Boada, and daughter-in-law, Hellen Miller; his grandchildren, Eli and Nora Momtahan, and Eva Louise Boada; his brothers, Chris, Eric, Jeff, Albert, Larry, Stephen, his sister, Angelica, and step mother, Jean Boada.
Jason Alba of Ally Financial: 1973 – 2020
Jason Alba, executive director of remarketing operations for Ally Financial, passed away after suffering a heart attack on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020.
Alba held a number of roles during his career with Ally, a company he was with since 2007. Previously, Alba led operations for Ally’s SmartAuction and has worked on strategic planning and business systems for Ally Servicing. Before joining Ally, he worked at Daimler Financial Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Alba was also active with the International Automotive Remarketers Alliance (IARA), and was a member on the alliance’s Compliance Committee.
“We are just stunned, shocked, and very sad about Jason,” said Paul Seger, president of the IARA, and VP of asset remarketing for Element Fleet Management. “He was such a significant part of our association and the industry. He will be so sorely missed.”
He was raised on Staten Island, New York, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from New York University – where he also played baseball for the university – and an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Alba is survived by his wife Patricia, and his three children of Naomi, Nate, and Noah. He loved to attend his kids’ games and performances. He enjoyed not only cheering from the sideline, but helped as a baseball coach as well.
A funeral mass for Alba will be celebrated on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020 at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Beatrice Coolican of AFLA: 1946 – 2020
Beatrice Coolican, a past president of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA), passed away on Dec. 26, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19 in Commerce Township, Mich. She was 74.
Coolican served as AFLA president from 2000-2001 and, up to that point, was only the fourth woman to hold that position. In addition, Coolican was one of the early fleet managers who attained global fleet management responsibilities at a multinational corporation while working at AlliedSignal Corp. In 1995, Coolican was honored as one of the nominees for the Professional Fleet Manager of the Year Award presented by Automotive Fleet magazine.
Coolican was born in Furtwangen, West Germany on Aug. 2, 1946. While living in Germany, Coolican studied at the Sabel Business School majoring in international business/trade/commerce. She graduated in 1977. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1978 following the epic Blizzard at the Waterkant of 1978, one of the largest ice storms in German history that buried northern Germany in snow, which stranded millions of people in their homes and stopped all rail and road traffic.
“Beatrice could not speak a word of English when she arrived in the U.S. She learned English by watching soap operas and taking classes,” said her long-time husband, James Coolican. The two were married in 1985. Coolican’s first job in the U.S was working for an importer of European equestrian equipment.
Coolican started her automotive career in 1983 working at Volkswagen of America (VWoA) in international purchasing. From 1985-1989, she worked as the fleet administrator for VWoA. Coolican joined McCullagh Leasing in 1989 working as the director of fleet operations.
In 1992, Coolican joined AlliedSignal in Southfield, Mich., where she worked for the next 12 years. In 1997, she was promoted to global fleet manager for AlliedSignal. At the time, AlliedSignal’s fleet included 2,200 sales/managers vehicles, of which, 1,600 were based in North America and 500 in Europe, along with 120 executive vehicles. Coolican managed AlliedSignal’s Fleet Management organization as an operating unit within Business Services, which was an internal service organization that offered over 78 different services to employees and businesses of AlliedSignal. During Coolican’s tenure at the company, AlliedSignal acquired Honeywell in 1999 and following the acquisition assumed the Honeywell name for its brand recognition.
While at AlliedSignal, Coolican’s responsibilities included acquiring company cars for sales force and executive staff, along with negotiating purchase prices, quantity discounts, and drop ship prices. Her job function required that she administered the company cars throughout the life of the vehicle in accordance with company procedure, managed titling, licensing, and the ultimate resale of the vehicles. Her remarketing responsibilities included negotiating the sale of the cars with drivers, auto auctions, and/or individual buyers. Coolican’s job duties also involved negotiating with leasing companies and implementing agreements.
Coolican departed AlliedSignal in 2001 and worked in a fleet capacity for Frito-Lay in Plymouth, Mich., from 2001-2004.
In 2005, Coolican started a new career as a care giver working in the assisted-living industry. She worked for various assisted-living companies, such as Home Instead Senior Care, Visiting Angels, Sunrise Home Care, and TLC Home Care in Commerce Township, Mich. While at TLC Home Care, Coolican cared for the resident senior citizens, which included assisting those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
At the time of her passing, Coolican was retired. In addition to her husband James, Coolican is survived by her sister Roswitha Geiger and a brother Ekehard Albicker. Both live in Germany. Her brother Armin Albicker and both her parents preceded her in death.