Imagine taking 27 years of trucking experience and a very intense 80 hours of studying for the National Private Trucking Council's Private Fleet Management Institute certification exam -- and feeling like it was all for naught when you walked out.

That's what happened to Ralph Stockmayer, industry development manager for baking and snack foods at Penske Truck Leasing. He was convinced he had flunked the exam. How many of his friends knew he had taken the test? Would they remember? It was the toughest exam he'd taken since the SAT in 1960. But on this spring day in March, Stockmayer surprised even himself. He graduated at the head of a class of some 60 fleet managers sitting for the certification exam.

Stockmayer traces his interest in transportation back to his days in the U.S. Army in the mid-1960s. Although he was never "a motor head" in high school, he fell in love with the machinery in the service and did whatever he could to finagle a seat behind any wheel -- be it a tank, a flatbed truck, a road grader, or anything that rolled.

After his honorable discharge from the Army, Stockmayer attended Syracuse University, where he graduated with a degree in transportation. While finishing requirements for his degree, he didn't sit idly by. He put his love of transportation to good use, driving trucks for Matlack on weekends and nights for $3.20/hr.

Upon graduation, Stockmayer was hired by Mobil in its operations department. He moved to Albany and worked as the night foreman in charge of unloading fuel from barges and tank trucks. Within a year, he had his bags packed and was on his way back to Syracuse, where he served as a terminal superintendent, a position he held for about a year. During his tenure, Mobil endured a 51-day trucking strike with the help of Stockmayer and other managers who drove across the picket line.

Stockmayer was promoted to warehouse and shipping manager for Mobil's Brooklyn, N.Y. oil and grease plant. He then moved to Manhattan as motor vehicle operations manager, where he was put in charge of driver training, safety, equipment design, and engineering. In this position Stockmayer was responsible for putting together several new equipment specifications. He also began assisting in Mobil's transportation lobbying efforts.

Looking for a slower pace of life and a better place for he and his wife Judy to raise their family, in 1975 Stockmayer took a job with Charles Freihofer Baking Co., Albany, N.Y. During his tenure, the company grew from $40 million to $200 million in revenue. Meanwhile, the fleet expanded from 7 to 26 power units, traveling three million miles a year. Freihofer was bought by General Foods in 1988.

Stockmayer stayed until 1992, when General Foods tabbed him as director of fleet operations in Bay Shore, N.Y. In charge of 4,800 route trucks and 200 tractor-trailers, he handled distribution for all bakeries from Maine to California. As with many private fleets, General Foods began outsourcing several of its operations, "raising the question about its continued commitment to private trucking," Stockmayer says.

In 1997, he slipped to the other side of the desk. He was hired by Penske Truck Leasing to run the company's bakery and snack food divisions. Penske has developed a niche market strategy targeting efforts in vertical markets such as utilities, and now bakeries and snack foods.

Stockmayer's division now concentrates on bakery and snack vehicles, and provides support packages including contract maintenance, full-service leasing, and complete dedicated logistics. Penske says there are some 280,000 vehicles in the baking and snack-food industry, which traditionally have been owned and maintained by the bakeries.

"New product development and the need for manufacturing efficiencies is sucking up all the available capital," says Stockmayer. "That is challenging plans for prudent replacement cycles. Bakeries are notorious for keeping trucks for a long time -- even without this added pressure.

"The fleet was always considered a necessary cost of doing business," he adds. "But companies are getting more sophisticated in the financial management of fleet performance. With distribution costs running up to 40% of a bakery's operation, they can't afford to ignore it anymore. Fleet managers can't hide behind transportation lingo."

Pursuing certification through the Private Fleet Management Institute provided Stockmayer with a new point of view. "Twenty-seven years of old knowledge can be a liability in today's marketplace," he admits. "For a fleet manager, the environment can be awfully unsettling. I'm grateful to NPTC for raising the professional awareness and the professionalism of a fleet manager's role."

Debora J. Acierno, Roma Food Enterprises

Carmen Bartee, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

Richard Beck, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

Randy Blalock, Glen Raven Transportation

Michael Boock, MG Industries

Doug Burchett, Chelsea Milling Co.

Gary Cooper, OMG Americas

Fred Davis, Maiers Bakery

Glen Davis, Dennis K. Burke Inc.

Thomas Dimauro, Fleetpride Service Centers

Paul Dziekan, Tops Markets

David Edgerton Jr., Pope Transport

David Haber, OfficeMax

Ron Hackworth, Foster Farms

G.W. Hamilton, EOTT Energy Corp.

Patricia Horsley, Custom Carriers Ltd.

Terry Imlay, Hillyard Inc.

Allen Jackson, Tomkins Industries/Lasco Bathware

Arthur Lambert, Praxair, Inc.

Eric Lee, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

Michael Logan, McKee Foods Corp.

John Magley, Bell Atlantic New Jersey

Robert Mills Jr., RBM Logistics

Patrick Monaco, U.S. Postal Service

Larry Monaghan, LaRoche Industries

Peter Morgan, Unilever

Jim Mountain, Clifford W. Perham Inc.

Peter Mutschler, CENEX Inc.

Robert Neitzke, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

James Oleck, Sony Electronics

Barry Panicola, RAD Energy Corp.

Frank Patronik, Toys R Us

Mark Paul, First Fleet Corp.

Richard Petersen, Texaco Trading & Transportation

Rolland Petersson, Ruan Transportation Management Systems

Gregory Pletikapich, Tomkins Industries

Dale Priemer, Sony Corp.

Thomas Ratkovic, General Car & Truck Leasing System

Ron Rickard, Custom Carriers Ltd.

John Ruhl, Nabisco Brands

Jeffrey Rutkowski, Praxair

Willie Seale, EOTT Energy Corp.

Don Shaffer, General Car & Truck Leasing System

Roger Smeltzer, Praxair

Ralph Stockmayer, Penske Truck Leasing

Kurt Vanderhei, Ecolab Inc.

Michael Weaver, CENEX Inc.

Sondra Williams, U.S. Postal Service

Steve Wornick, First Fleet

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 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.