In the continuing evolution of Burlington Industries' private fleet, one thing has remained the same: delivering first-class transportation that enables the company to fulfill its mission, which is "Fashion Plus Speed."

"When we talk about speed, we're not talking about highway speed," says Tom Glascock, director of transportation and distribution for the textile manufacturer. "We're talking speed from the raw material to the finished product to the customer."

Burlington is one of the world's largest manufacturers of textile products, serving a wide variety of apparel and interior furnishings markets. The company operates 38 manufacturing plants in 7 states.

To deliver on its goal, the fleet, which operates a separate transportation subsidiary under the banner of B.I. Transportation Inc., has earned a reputation as one of the country's most innovative private fleets.

So it comes as no surprise that the top graduate of the Private Fleet Management Institute's Certified Private Fleet Manager certification exam is James Nelson, regional manager for the Burlington, N.C.-based fleet. Nelson has been with the transportation division for more than 20 years. He was the terminal manager in New Jersey before moving down to North Carolina at the beginning of the decade. In his current job, he coordinates fleet operations with selected linehaul and distribution partners. This includes carrier selection, rate negotiations, cost control, and customer service. A graduate of New York University, Nelson earned his MBA from Rutgers University.

Still, it was a surprise for Nelson. "When I decided to sit for the certification exam, it became painfully obvious that, despite my experience, there was still much I didn't know," he says.

He took the four home study modules over the past 18 months and referred constantly to PFMI's desk reference set. "Preparing for the exam helped give me specific knowledge about the broader issues involved in the operation of a private fleet."

Thus armed, Nelson has been able to break out of his functional silo. "With this broader knowledge I have a better understanding of issues, which helps me make better decisions for the company."

The fleet is based out of two terminals: a 72-door facility in Gastonia, N.C., and the other a 68-door shop in Burlington, where a 10-bay shop and transportation headquarters are located. The fleet runs 15-million miles a year hauling raw materials to the plants, goods in process between the plants, and finished product shipments in and out of distribution centers. The fleet is comprised of 137 power units (including yard jockeys and local units), 810 company-owned trailers, and 150 rental trailers.

That high 7 to 1 trailer-to-tractor ratio reflects the commitment to continuous-flow manufacturing. "We carry minimum inventories," says Nelson. "We literally work off the backs of trailers. That may run up our transportation costs, but it pales in comparison to manufacturing cost savings."

One of the early proponents of motor carrier deregulation, Burlington put many of those options to good use, including obtaining supplemental for-hire authority and performing compensated intercorporate hauling. That philosophy led the company to establish itself as a stand-alone subsidiary of Burlington. Today, 45% of the fleet's revenues are generated outside, primarily hauling textiles for other companies.

At the same time that deregulation opened the doors for Burlington to improve its efficiency, other carriers began flooding the market with intriguing price and service options. Some of the packages were enough to shift some of the longhaul private carrier movements to for-hire carriage. "We used to be in the longhaul business," explains Ron Walker, director of fleet operations, a certified private fleet manager (CPFM), and Nelson's boss. "Before we closed terminals in Memphis, Chicago, and North Bergen, N.J., we operated our trucks to all points east of an imaginary line from Minneapolis to Dallas.

Burlington realized it didn't have to do everything itself. Instead, it turned over most of the longhaul runs to for-hire carriers. "The objective of the in-house transportation has always been to get the best dollar value for traffic, whether that be on the backs of our own units or somebody else's," explains Nelson. In addition, the company looks at how smoothly the transportation of goods integrates with the manufacturing operation. That means it constantly evaluates timeliness of deliveries, loading and unloading practices, and eliminates the volume of activity at the back door of the plant.

"We haven't given up any responsibility," he continues. "The only thing that has changed is who owns the tractor and trailer for the longhaul." Burlington still uses a network of delivery agents to get shipments to the final customer.

"That's where Nelson comes in. As a regional manager, he overseas 40 loads a week going into the Northeast.

"Jim's greatest value is his knowledge of the Northeast and the players serving that market," says Walker. "We moved Jim south to get him involved in other management functions, like freight flow analysis, for-hire pricing, cost benefit analysis, and hands-on day-to-day managing."

Nelson serves on the fleet's central planning staff, a group charged with improving efficiency throughout the operation. Some areas Nelson and the planning staff are targeting are a reduction in the company's empty-mile percentage and greater utilization of the company's equipment.

Burlington currently trades equipment on five-year cycles to take advantage of warranties and turns the units out before a major overhaul is needed. New tractors help productivity and driver morale.

The strategy helps reduce B.I.'s maintenance costs. The company already has halved its maintenance staff to 19 mechanics who handle routine servicing, safety inspections, and minor repairs. "With so many trailers," Nelson says, "we must have a trained and professional maintenance staff."

The planning function, for which the CPFM designation already has proven valuable, is a different environment than running a terminal. "There the phone rings off the hook constantly," he says. "You're always reacting to something. Now I have ability to sit back and do more planning and formulating strategies. I have gone from being reactive to being proactive."

Since the National Private Truck Council formed the PFMI as its research and educational arm in 1992, 233 transportation professionals have achieved certification as private fleet managers or private fleet specialists. "These people recognize that staying ahead of the learning curve is the ticket for success in today's ever shifting legal, regulatory, and competitive environment," says Lisa Deyo, director of education and certification for the PFMI. "They have taken the initiative to broaden their perspective, and in the process are raising industry standards and increasing the respect and prestige of the private fleet community."

To be certified, candidates must pass a two-part exam. The first part is a 31/2-hour multiple-choice exam that focuses on the core areas of fleet management. The second part is a case study in which applicants have two hours to submit a written analysis of an operational problem and develop recommendations for solving it.

The curriculum is not ivory-tower academia stuff. Rather, it is drawn from a comprehensive job analysis study conducted by the NPTC that broke down the key aspects of running a private fleet into 69 specific tasks. These have been categorized into the core areas of private fleet management addressed in the course: equipment and maintenance, safety, human resources, finance, and operations.

These core areas have been reviewed by the NPTC membership to help construct a certification exam that reflects the real world. Based on the feedback of these fleet professionals, the course materials and the certification exam have been tailored to reflect how critical each task is to running a private fleet and the frequency with which each task is performed.