For their dedication, contributions, and commitment to the fleet industry, Elizabeth "Bette" Natoli, Frank Grochal, and Carolyn Edwards were inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame at the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association annual conference.
Sponsored by AFLA, the Fleet Hall of Fame honors and recognizes fleet industry leaders and pioneers who have contributed significantly to the commercial fleet management profession. Eligible nominees must have at least 10 years of fleet management experience, and finalists are selected following an extensive public voting process.
The 2021 inductees were named and honored by Mike Antich, editor and associate publisher of Automotive Fleet Magazine.
Elizabeth J. “Bette” Natoli
Elizabeth J. “Bette” Natoli was one of the first women to make a career as a full-time fleet manager and an early pioneer in fleet management. She passed away after a long illness on July 11, 2020, at the age of 90.
In 1949, Natoli (nee Jackson) was 20 years old and hired at the Norwich Pharmaceuticals Co., famous for its Pepto-Bismol product. She worked there until retirement and was one of the first female managers at the pharmaceutical company. She was the head of the fleet department that managed the nationally dispersed vehicle sales fleet and oversaw vehicle purchases and remarketing, sales, maintenance, and salesforce reimbursement. As fleet manager, she reported directly to the treasurer of Norwich Pharmaceuticals. She was also one of the first female members of the management board of Norwich Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1982.
As an industry trailblazer, Natoli helped pioneer fleet management as a career for women, which previously was a 100% male-dominated profession. Natoli, along with Marie Loehrner of Yale & Towne and Betty Quinlen (company unknown), were the only women members of The Round Table Group, which was the precursor organization to the NAFA Fleet Management Association. The Round Table Group was formed in the early 1950s when fleet managers in the New York/mid-Atlantic area decided to formalize their informal business relationships. To keep meetings manageable, membership was restricted to 20 fleet managers to facilitate the free exchange of ideas about fleet-related operating problems and solutions. The meetings were held monthly with each member taking turns at hosting these full-day meetings.
The Round Table group played an important role in the early development of the fleet management profession and was the seed from which NAFA emerged. Many of the methods used in fleet management today were developed by The Round Table Group.
NAFA was founded in 1957 and Natoli was one of the first female fleet manager members of the association. Later in her career, Natoli was one of the co-founders of the newly formed Empire State Chapter of NAFA in the 1970s and served as its first-ever chairperson.
Frank Grochal , retired vice president, remarketing for ARI, passed away on July 18, 2021, in Mount Laurel, NJ. He was 85. Grochal retired from Automotive Resources International (ARI) and Holman Enterprises on March 31, 2005, culminating a successful career that spanned five decades. Grochal was ARI’s and Holman’s longest tenured employee serving the company for over 53 years when he retired.
Grochal started with ARI as a clerk on June 8, 1953, after graduating from high school. Over the years, he worked his way up to his final position as vice president of used-vehicle sales. During Grochal’s tenure, spanning five decades, he saw ARI grow from 3,000 vehicles when he started in 1953 to 460,000 vehicles when he retired in 2005.
During his career, Grochal was recognized as an industry leader and was the first remarketer in the fleet leasing industry to be honored by the National Auto Auction Association (NAAA) in 1983 when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame for his major contributions to the growth of the company and the industry. In recognition of his 50-year milestone of service to ARI and the auto industry, Grochal was singled out by the NAAA and NAFRD (National Association of Fleet Resale Dealers) organizations and presented with special awards. Grochal built strong relationships with fleet resale dealers and through the strength of his personality he helped them compete with the auctions. Grochal knew that ARI needed both types of remarketing outlets to be successful. Those dealers eventually formed NAFRD, which presented Grochal with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
Grochal was a pioneer who recognized the value and impact of auctions when they were still in their infancy. There were no corporate auctions or chains as we know today. They were privately owned and the owners were personally involved in every aspect. Grochal was an early adopter and was tremendously influential in how auctions became more professional. He pushed for written condition reports that didn’t previously exist and Polaroid pictures of damage. He created some of the first auction report cards to measure their performance. Every month he would send out an inventory list to each auction with bold red check marks and handwritten notes for any vehicle over 30 days old. He was also one of the first to track auction performance results against industry averages using AMR (Automotive Market Report).
While Grochal was instrumental in the development and growth of auctions and commercial fleet sales, he never forgot the independent dealer/wholesaler was also an important part of the remarketing equation. Grochal’s greatest joy was selling vehicles and negotiating the price one-on-one with the dealers directly. “Hammering” them on price, as he would say, while knowing to leave just enough that they could make money and continue to buy more vehicles.
Carolyn Edwards wanted to elevate women’s voices and give them a “place at the table.” She envisioned an organization for women in fleet to share industry knowledge, experience, collaboration, and camaraderie.
In 2011, Edwards founded Women in Fleet Management (WIFM), which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2021. One decade later, this vision counts hundreds in membership, has established an open forum for learning and networking, provides recognition for women industry contributions, and a mentoring platform for all whom care to listen.
The idea of the organization began with a car ride in 2009. Edwards (then director of operations, vehicle acquisition at LeasePlan USA) and her colleague, Nancy D’Amico (LeasePlan CIO), shared a ride following a gathering of a women in technology. They wondered whether there was such a group for women in fleet. After a bit of research found no existing women’s fleet group, Edwards contacted four members of LeasePlan’s Future Directions Board: Sue Miller, director fleet management services at McDonald’s; Gayle Pratt, global fleet director for Ecolab; Ginny Liddle, CAFM, corporate fleet administrator at Terracon; and Christy Coyte Meyer, corporate global fleet director for Johnson Controls, Inc.
Since its inception, WIFM has experienced dramatic growth in both female and male membership and collocated its annual meeting with the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) conference in 2012, which have grown in popularity to be standing-room only events. WIFM provides networking, mentoring, and other opportunities to women and men in the fleet industry. WIFM now comprises more than 2,500 fleet professionals via its associated AFLA membership, LinkedIn discussion groups, and industry receptions. WIFM offers several programs, including periodic webinars focused on personal and professional development topics, a dedicated speaker session held in conjunction with the AFLA annual conference, and a year-round mentorship program.
Edwards is currently the director of sales for XL Fleet, which provides vehicle electrification solutions for commercial and municipal fleets. Previously, Edwards worked for 29 years with LeasePlan USA, serving last as senior vice president of client success and prior to that as vice president, client relations. Edwards is also a member of NAFA Fleet Management Association, AFLA, and the Women’s Leadership Council.