Article from The Globe and Mail, published May 18, 2020
By: ANDREW WILLIS
PUBLISHED MAY 18, 2020
Below is an excerpt. Download the full article PDF.
Jay Forbes already owns more than a million cars and trucks. As governments and companies work through the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s hoping to help out by acquiring millions more. Mr. Forbes is the chief executive of Element Fleet Management Corp., a global giant most Canadians have never heard of, even though they see it every day. Toronto-based Element leases and maintains $18-billion worth of vehicles to about 3,000 businesses and government agencies in more than 50 countries. In a narrow niche, the company is twice the size of its nearest competitor. The van that drops off packages or brings the plumber to unplug toilets on your street? It’s probably Element’s.
When the pandemic hit North America in March, Element was already doing well. Mr. Forbes, a turnaround expert who took the wheel in 2018, had largely completed a two-year repair job on the balance sheet. Sales rose 14 per cent over the past year as customers bought into Element’s sales pitch: Letting the world’s largest fleet owner run your vehicles cuts costs by 20 per cent. Element saves money by buying in bulk – it’s the single-biggest customer for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. – doing maintenance efficiently and getting the best slots from auction houses when it comes time to sell used vehicles.
Then came COVID-19. "All of our clients found their business model was vastly disrupted, but they are still in business,” Mr. Forbes, 58, said in an interview from his home. “The majority of our clients offer essential services, like telecom and delivery. They still need mission-critical vehicles.”