Bryan Steele: From Garage Band Guitarist to Fleet VP
by Cindy Brauer
Growing up in a family replete with musicians and musical instruments, it was fitting that, in heady days of 1960s rock, the teenaged Bryan Steele joined three friends in creating a garage band. Although band days are long over for the now Senior VP of Client Relations at LeasePlan USA, those rock group experiences significantly shaped Steele’s approach to his career in the corporate world.
“It is amazing how similar being in a band can be to a corporate job — minus the groupies,” says Steele. “It is all about managing different skill sets and personalities to ultimately create something that others will enjoy and appreciate.”
Growing up in Federal Way, WA, near the southern reaches of the Puget Sound, Steele was surrounded by musically inclined family members. “On my mother’s side of the family were all musicians. My mother played piano, saxophone, and clarinet. Her mother also played piano; her father also played piano, flute, and saxophone; one of her brothers played trombone, and other brother played trumpet,” he recalls.
When 10 years old, Steele began playing drums, but, as he says, “it drove my parents crazy.” He switched to the piano, then the guitar, in part because “it is easier to carry around a guitar than a drum set,” he notes. In the mid-’60s, he and three pals, who provided the bass, organ, and drums, started a band literally in a garage. “We moved from one house to another depending upon who would allow us to play,” says Steele, who played rhythm/lead guitar.
They called themselves “United Flight” and played the rock and roll music of the times, particularly of the Pacific Northwest — hits from the Kingsmen, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Merilee Rush & the Turnabouts, the Wailers, Viceroys, and others — in and around Tacoma, WA. “We also played cover songs from the British Invasion — The Animals, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Searchers, Beatles, The Kinks, etc.,” Steele remembers.
Performing “basically for fun,” the group played in high school gyms, town halls, and specialized dance halls, such as the Tacoma Community Hall. One well-known local venue the band played was the Spanish Castle Ballroom, managed by local DJ Pat O’Day on station KJR in Seattle.
“United Flight” stayed together for nearly two years, members going their separate ways when the need arose to secure “real jobs,” Steele explains.
Taylor 12 String
Martin D-41 6 String
Martin 12 String
Taylor 6 and 12 String
He went on to what is now a 30-year career in the automotive industry, which included positions as sales and marketing VP for EV Global Motors (a Lee Iacocca company) and at PHH. He joined LeasePlan USA in November 1999. As the current senior member of the company’s client relations team, Steele manages a “dedicated” group of management executives, proactively interacting with clients to identify and improve efficiencies of operations and cost-saving opportunities. He’s also been instrumental in implementing such LeasePlan programs as Future Directions, Client Review Team, Partnership Development Plan, and the Partnership Executive Program. Steele also created the fleet management company’s Client Activation Team.
The LeasePlan senior VP is active in many key industry organizations, including AFLA and NAFA Fleet Management Association, and frequently serves as industry speaker and panel moderator.
Yet the pleasure of creating and playing music remains a mainstay in Steele’s life. In these times of hectic and crowded schedules with hardly “enough hours in the day to get everything done, the ability to sit down and play some music for awhile helps provide a distraction from the hectic pace we all live. It is a form of relaxation. Honestly, I can play for hours and not be bored,” Steele says.
In the home in Cummings, GA, he shares with his wife, Melanie — the two married when just 17 years old and have one son and two grandchildren — Steele maintains a music studio. Although he rarely uses the studio, he does own 14 guitars, mostly acoustic models — Martins and Taylors. Preferring 12-string guitars, he also has several electric models, including a Gibson Les Paul and a Rickenbacker.
In addition to guitars, his studio is equipped with amplifiers, microphones, a PA system, bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, keyboards, and a recording system. “I play music while we’re watching TV during the commercials. My wife has gotten used to it,” Steele explains.
He describes the way the ability to create music and play songs can directly impact how a professional conducts business.
“Clearly to make a song, everyone has to know their specific part and the correct notes to play. If someone doesn’t play the correct notes, the song doesn’t sound right,” Steele notes. “That works the same in business. When everyone works together, the service delivery flows properly, the execution of the business becomes flawless, and the end result is a successful business with satisfied clients.”
This dynamic relates directly to developing a successful team, says Steele, who compares the process to playing in a band. “Different individuals have different roles and responsibilities, but the end result is when everyone works together, there is a successful execution of the business delivery.”
As a child of about 9 or 10 I started boating with a buddy, Steve Brooks, in the Naples Bay, Long Beach, CA, in a 8' Sabot which has the Sail Logo of a Wooden Shoe for its class. They are extremely tender, lee board and all, but the whole idea at that age is to get out on the water and get wet, and did we ever! I think we spent more time in the drink getting it back upright, then bailing, than we did sailing it.
As my parents divorced at about that time, I then spent my summers from about the age of about 12 to 18 with my mother off and on, who each year with my stepfather they would charter an older wooden 28' Ketch that we used to take to Catalina Island, then getting a mooring in Avalon, three or four times a Summer spending several weeks living on the good old “Beachcomber,” as the boat was called. She was a tried and true older wooden vessel that was slow but most seaworthy. As the auxiliary engine was a screaming 9 HP Scott Atwater outboard that would start about one out of ten times on a good day, you had to have a boat that was seaworthy, to say the very least!
Although this lack of a dependable outboard made life most interesting, one time when we left Catalina at about 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning to come back to the mainland, Long Beach, in the last part of August, it being about some 90 humidsSummer degrees in the cool Pacific, I am guessing in about 1956, when out to sea about 4 or 5 miles off of Catalina we became becalmed! Yep, a gas pain would have moved us faster! You could have lit a cigar and the smoke would have gone straight up without a hint of any disturbance of the smoke rings.
Oh, what a joy this was — the good old Scott of course gave us the finger of fate and there we lie, bobbing around like a cork for about 5-6 hrs sculling ( this is where you use the tiller, rudder, going back and forth to advance), off and on trying to keep all in a straight line! We got back to Long Beach about 10:00 p.m. as I recall; yes, all 26 miles, 14 hours, as the wind started to blow again at about 3:00 p.m., giving us just enough push to experience the true meaning of a “slow boat to China!” After a day such as this, you look into a mirror and then say to yourself, “why do we all go boating?”
In addition to these thrills, my mother and stepfather also had a friend who was the master at the Sherman Boat Works, in the LA Harbor, where he and his wife lived aboard a converted WWII Landing Craft. It had a big GMC 671 Diesel that he would prime and start on ether. Oh boy, what a buzz this would give you before before you even got out of the slip!
Needless to say, all of this was a lot of fun until I learned what a paint brush was used for and got talked into helping paint the bottom on some of the boats that were hauled there in the yard, like 40-65 footers, for about a $1.00 an hour! Of course, that was big money to a kid — but I got too high on that old lead/copper bottom paint. I think I lasted for about three boats, if I recall correctly!
I then got to use the yard's 18' Dory and I would row it about 8-10 miles a day all over the LA and Long Beach harbors looking at all the big ships from around the world, wishing that I could board one and see that whole world out there. Talk about an upper body! Of course, now it has slid down far too far where it now covers my belt buckle! At about the same time my father bought a 15' flat bottom wooden row boat with a 7 HP Lawson Outboard that was air cooled and it ran about 50% better than the Scott (that being, it would start about five out of ten times). Yep, out came the oars... as I was already a wiz, my father would sit back and drink a cold beer while I was exercising the oars. Then we would load it onto a trailer we made, towing it back home with our almost-new 1955 Ford Customline. Those were the days, though!
Then we speed up to Wedded Bliss. In early 1966, Ms. Judith Anne (that being my bride of now some 45 + years) and I saved up enough money to buy a New 14' Chrysler Cadet Runabout (yes, they were owned by good old MoPar), with a 40 HP Evinrude! Hot darn, we had made it to the big time! Then... in 1970, we bought a new 15' Bow Rider Crestliner with a big 50 HP Evinrude with seating for six! Big move up from the 14 footer — as on a good day, three was a crowd in the narrow bench seat of the Cadet!
And then... we really hit the big time for sure, for in 1974 we bought a used 25' Trojan Cabin Cruiser, it being a 1964 Model. It had a Ford 289 Interceptor engine and it saw Catalina several times with no problems but lots of prayers as we hit some rough water several times. As it was built in Lancaster, PA, by the Amish, I think they blessed all of their boats. We kept it in a slip in LA Harbor where you never had to paint the bottom as the oil in the water kept anything from growing on it and kept all sealed! I fell in one time and it took a week to get clean again as I left oil rings in the bath tub! The good old days, as EPA was just getting off the ground!
Then... we joined the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, FL 68, Div. 6, doing all the fun things that they do as well as also joining the San Pedro Yacht Club and doing all the fun things that yacht clubs do, if only I could remember some of them! No, those were the days, as the song says. Then in about 1976 we went on and bought a beautiful 28' Chris Craft Constellation, this being powered by Twin Chevie 283s... at last, we had twins! The next 30 years to the present, we went from running and maintaining an almost new 42' Chris Commander, to buying four new Carvers, the current one being a 2007 Carver 35 SS, which is 39' 6" overall, 13'6" beam, ( which is 6 inches narrower than the Chrysler Cadet was long). Yes, the AC, TV, Gen Set, microwave, and all the joys of a 2-bedroom home on the water. This is a convertible for you avid boaters or what we used to call a Sedan Fly Bridge.
It's a far cry from those 8' Sabot days that started it all — but the theme is still just the same, get wet, enjoy boating, and...once it's in your blood, you can't get rid of it — and yes, there have been a few very recent days where I have again looked into that mirror and said, “Why do we all go boating?”
Ms. Judith Anne and I have been most blessed as we never would have ever dreamed that we would have the beautiful boat that we have today as we would look up at that New 1967 18', Glass Par with its little Cutty Cabin, and we would say, “if we could only afford one of those.”
Randy Shadley, CAFM has been known as a son, husband, father and friend. He has been known professionally as a fleet manager, safety expert, association officer and sales guy. Now he can add business owner to his list of accomplishments. Recently Randy started his own company, ProFleet Solutions. He specializes in working with Fleet and Risk Managers to develop customized, step-by-step programs that have been proven to reduce accident rates, collision repair costs, and the liability settlements that follow — regardless of whether the company provides vehicles to employees or reimburses them to drive their own. He is so confident that his method works that he offers a “No Risk, Share the Savings” pricing option.
Now don’t think of Randy as a sales guy, because in his new role he’s not. His intent is to be consultative. When you ask Randy why he started this new endeavor, his face lights up. “I saw a need,” he says. “There are many ‘one size fits all’ safety programs out there, most of which are pretty rigid. Not many offer a step-by-step approach that is customized to meet the distinct needs of the client.” He is using what he’s learned in nearly three decades of managing fleets in order to help today’s fleet and risk managers reduce both the number and the severity of crashes. “These solutions reduce costs and provide a tangible record of the value of a professional fleet manager,” says Shadley. “Once you have the fleet basics in place, like cost-effective processes for acquiring, maintaining, and disposing of your vehicles, there are not many other ‘big ticket’ items where you can make a substantial impact for your employer. But if you can reduce the number and severity of crashes, and you can keep your vehicles and drivers on the road producing, you can make a HUGE difference for your company. This can give you a great answer when your boss asks ‘What have you done for us lately?’”
The amount of Randy’s involvement can also be customized. After evaluating a company's current program he will recommend suggested steps for improvement. He then offers various pricing options depending on the amount of involvement the client wants: His fees can be project-based; hourly, with discounted rates for buying blocks of time; or an innovative “Share the Savings” option, where he receives a percentage of the client's savings that result from the client's reduced accident rate. Shadley says, “I suppose that's the ultimate example of putting your money where your mouth is — if I can't help you reduce your accident rate I don't cost you a thing.” He adds, “When a client uses my consulting services I want them to think of me as just another member of their team, putting their interests first and foremost. I’ll do most of the work, they get all the credit,” said Randy.
Shadley doesn’t target only companies with fleet vehicles, he also works with companies that reimburse employees for business use of personal autos, and increasingly finds companies that want to address their liability exposure from having employees who regularly rent vehicles for business travel. Randy explains that the doctrines of negligent entrustment and vicarious liability apply to all companies with drivers, not just those that provide vehicles. “The courts consider the company (the ‘Master’) responsible for the actions of those who are acting on its behalf, regardless of whether it was a company-provided or a personal auto. And the courts have consistently ruled that company drivers are ‘professional’ drivers, and therefore hold them to a higher standard than the general public. Huge settlements, jury awards, and penalties are proof that you can't simply rely on someone holding a valid driver's license as proof that they are qualified to drive on company business. You must know who your 'high risk' drivers are, and you must proactively deal with them. Failure to do so is the very definition of negligence, and you need to protect your company (and yourself!) by being aware and being proactive.”
In addition to being a fleet safety expert, Randy Shadley is an avid cycler.
And, Randy says, there are lots of moving parts in an effective risk management program. “You need to first get a company policy in place, with established driver standards, and then execute your program fully and consistently across the company. Screen your drivers, starting with the MVRs, but also include any preventable accidents, so you have a more complete picture of each driver’s risk profile. Look for common problem areas that appear in groups of high risk drivers, and implement training or processes to address those specific problems.” ProFleet Solutions can also help companies be in compliance with FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) regulations. This is really important, because these regs kick in whenever a company obtains MVRs through a commercial (paid) source. Shadley explains: “Many HR departments are not aware that FCRA regulations apply when employment actions are taken as a result of info gleaned from commercially-obtained MVRs. The regs spell out specific steps a company must follow before taking any disciplinary action. The penalty for not complying can be enormous. I know of one case where an insurance company was fined over $1 million for not complying. So yes, it's very important, and you should make sure your HR department is up to speed on the regulations.”
While Randy clearly has safety consulting front and center, he continues his relationship with Corporate Claims Management (CCM). According to Randy, “There are many synergies between my consulting and CCM’s services. I can help existing CCM clients implement an effective safety program, and am especially excited to now offer a combined Driver Safety and Accident Management program.”
Randy offers a “no risk, no obligation” review of a company’s existing driver risk and fleet safety program. He is also available to present safety related topics at company and association meetings. He can be reached at (303) 472-2227, or email email@example.com.