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In the Driver’s Seat #10 With Ernie Garcia

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For our 10th edition of In the Driver’s Seat, allow us to introduce you to Ernie Garcia, Director of Fleet and Business Systems at Gothic Landscape — the largest family-owned landscape company in the United States that has become the go-to choice for clients requiring quality outdoor spaces in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Their ongoing success is largely due to their family-oriented approach, fostering trust and long-term relationships among team members and clients.

We got to know Ernie and Gothic Landscape as a client a couple years ago, and even visited him and the team in Santa Clarita last year on our big US trip. We were even lucky enough to take a ride in his beautiful Ford F-150 Lightning EV.

Ernie’s always been a great bloke; huge respect for his determination to stay on top of the fleet game and the latest in fleet safety. He’s always supported Fleetyr and I’m glad we got to catch up again at this year’s NAFA 2024 in San Antonio.

What is your dream vehicle and why?

What a difficult question to answer! I think my answer has changed over the years; when I was growing up, my dad had a ’69 Chevy Camero that I idolized.

My tastes have slightly changed as I have gotten older. In the realm of “dream” possibilities, I am drawn toward the ’64 Lincoln Continental. I have always been captivated by the timeless charm of classic American cars. The ’64 Continental embodies this look with its long, wide body and classic aesthetics that effortlessly command attention. A dream vehicle that always makes a statement.

On the flip side of the coin, the appeal of new-age tech and versatility makes me lean more toward the GMC Sierra. When I was young, my dad instilled in me that “every man needs a truck,” and now, having my own family and home, I have found that true more often than not. My admiration extends beyond aesthetics; I am more fascinated with the vehicle’s overall efficiency and adaptability, a fully equipped vehicle that stands ready for any adventure life throws its way. I am drawn toward its unique features that are not commonly found in other makes and models, which makes me believe it is a vehicle tailored to suit the dynamic needs of a modern lifestyle.

I am also a fan of the pickup truck now because we have plenty of room for all the golf bags and coolers when the buddies and I head out to the links.

What is something you’re working on right now at Gothic Landscape?

The safety of our team members is always at the forefront of any priority list. We are also working diligently to automate fleet data and dial in how that is imported into our fleet system.

My job is to make the fleet manager’s life easier. To do that, we automate manual processes as much as possible. We are focusing on a telematics solution that fits our specific needs as closely as possible. We also need to make sure to use and distribute this information effectively. Tasks like auto reporting utilization with auto job-costing equipment are a few areas of our strategic initiatives.

What is something you’re most proud of at work?

We always aim to send our team members home in one piece and do our best to accomplish this daily. The safety of our team members is the thing I am most proud of. It could be as simple as reevaluating our vehicle specifications to add features that will help avoid accidents or adding running boards to ensure every employee can get in and out of our trucks safely. Our fleet department and safety team work tirelessly to ensure every team member returns home to their loved ones the same way they came in to work.

I am also very proud of Gothic’s charitable contributions to the local communities. Our company and its branches partner with great organisations that aim to help those in need. We strive to make a positive impact and will continue to contribute where possible.

What is the hardest part about what you do?

Balance. We strive to innovate while simultaneously addressing the daily operational requirements and adhering to state and government regulations.

Ensuring that our client services consistently meet the high standards we set for ourselves adds an additional layer of challenge to this balancing act. It is a challenge, but our team loves what they do.

Managers in the mobility space have a tough job too. What is your company doing to help make it easier for them?

This touches back on our strive to innovate and create automation for manual tasks. Whenever we are presented with a problem, we take it apart and see what steps we can remove.

Is there a solution that we need to utilize that is already available? Can we customize that solution to Gothic’s requirements? How can we make this process more efficient?

These steps take time, and I wish we could wave a magic wand, but when the process is finally implemented, the best feedback is none at all. That means the solution is working. Our team is busy; if they aren’t calling me to tell me about what’s not working, I know it’s working as intended.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met in the mobility industry and why?

I have had the pleasure of meeting several industry leaders in my short, 5-year span in Fleet. I credit a former colleague, Chris Williams, as by far the most interesting. Now retired, he was our Fleet Manager for the maintenance division.

Chris had over 50 years of experience managing fleets of all shapes and sizes. He was crucial to my development here at Gothic and became a person I can, to this day, lean on with questions and seek advice. He also showed me the value of building long-term industry relationships and networking with peers for best practices. It was helpful he knew DOT law like the back of his hand, a bit of a fleet guru. I am privileged to have been able to work with him and call him a friend.

What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing the mobility industry?

State and federal mandates for Zero-Emissions Vehicles and equipment. Although we understand the need, as we are a green company, the timelines for ZEV initiatives are aggressive and have posed a challenge for us in finding efficient equipment that can perform the duties we are tasked with.

Technology advances on a daily basis, and we know it will eventually get to where we need it to be. As of now, it means we have some challenging targets to achieve.

What do you think is still missing or poorly understood in the mobility industry?

I quickly realized there is no one cookie-cutter approach that blankets all fleets. There are so many different compositions, management styles, state regulations, etc. Some tech vendors I have worked with have the technological aspect of things down but aren’t viewing their solution from a Fleet Manager or Technician standpoint.

This creates gaps in solutions that take time to bridge. There is always a pitch that this system or tech is perfect for any fleet, vs. taking the time to understand the different needs of different fleets.

Don’t get me wrong, some tech companies do this very well. Others could benefit from “getting behind the wheel”, so to speak, of a fleet-related job to see how their solution can better fit the industry you are catering to.

What do you think the mobility industry will look like 10 years from now?

Flying cars? Maybe not. But I do believe we are headed in a much safer direction for vehicles, safer in terms of accident avoidance, vehicle communication, and self-driving.

I don’t know if EVs are the end-all-be-all, but whether it be EVs or other fuel sources, we are headed in a more efficient technological direction.

Keen to learn more about Gothic Landscape or Ernie? Reach out to him directly on LinkedIn or visit the Gothic Landscape website.

If you think you have what it takes to be interviewed for our next In the Driver’s Seat or if you have suggestions on who we should talk to, get in touch with us.

Tim Hill

As an experienced startup leader hailing from sunny Queensland, Tim is a natural problem solver and innovative thinker — yet simultaneously everyone's best mate. As the Founder and CEO of Fleetyr, Tim is on a mission to bring affordable, simplified, and integrated mobility analytics to the entire industry worldwide. Connect with Tim.