Inspiring Woman in Fleet: Sarina Vale
“It’s okay not to know everything from the start”
Sarina Vale – European Vehicle Fleet Manager (Aggreko)
In 2008, Sarina Vale rolled into the fleet industry by accident. In 2023, she won Fleet Manager of the Year at the Business Car Awards in London. The path to success passes by sacrifices and mistakes. “Failures are seeds to growth”, she says.
“In the 2000s, I found myself switching from job to job until, completely by chance, I entered the fleet industry as an analyst”, Sarina recalls. “Having no experience at all is daunting, but I saw this as an opportunity to learn something new, and to transfer the skills I had already gained."
What was the gender imbalance a challenge?
“The department where I started out was wholly male dominated at every level. There is no doubt that my early fleet career was challenging, but for two different reasons. Firstly, because I entered a new arena which presented a new set of hurdles.”
“And secondly, because my colleagues were highly skilled in the field, which meant that I had to adapt and accept a change of direction, a new way of working. Learning new methodologies, new approaches, unfamiliar skills: that’s very difficult if you know nothing about managing a fleet.”
Did being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated environment offer any strategic advantages?
“It certainly did! I believe we women can have unique insights, and have a range of talents that set us apart, including well-rounded decision-making and various communication styles.”
“Being a woman in this environment set the stage for a new era. I’m proud to be part of that change, and thrilled that I can use my voice and experience to help the next generation of women who decided to join the fleet industry.”
Can you tell us a bit more about that new era? What has changed?
“From 2008 until now, workplaces have become more gender-diverse and fairer for all. It is now evident that women can be as effective as men at managing a vehicle fleet – if not more effective (laughs).”
“Our workplaces are now more dynamic, with better collaboration, more innovation, and a more balanced representation of voices in decision-making processes. I believe this has led to a more accepting professional environment, one where women are now seen as equals to men."
Sounds good. But what if I’m the CEO of a company that’s not there yet? What should I do?
“Acceptance and inclusivity starts at the top. CEOs should commit to diversity, to inclusive policies and to open dialogue. By educating, training and mentoring on these topics, dedicated employees of all kinds will thrive in the workplace.”
And what would you advise people on the other end of the hierarchy, the young people who are taking their first steps in fleet? How can they further their career?
“Career management involves several moving parts, including setting goals and figuring out how you will achieve them. Learning is key to evolve your career. So, figure out how you will educate yourself, and how your employer can help you with this.”
“It’s important to remember that there will always be challenges. You should learn how to manage them. Communication is also important – in every role, in every industry. Know how to communicate with your audience, and know that not everyone will agree with you. That is another challenge you need to overcome.”
“Another important thing to keep in mind: Careers span many years, so it’s okay not to know everything from the start.”
Looking back on your own start, what advice would you give your younger self as she starts out in this industry?
“Embrace the learning process. It’s okay to not know everything at the beginning, but it takes character to stay the course. Take constructive criticism in a constructive way – not everyone is out to get you. Success is a journey, so trust the process. Every experience is shaping you for the future, and more importantly, for who you will become.”
It sounds like you followed much of that advice, because a few weeks ago you won Business Car’s Fleet Manager of the Year award. Congratulations! How did that impact your career?
“Thanks! It’s the pinnacle of my career so far. It was totally unexpected, and I truly appreciate the accolade. The impact of the award? Give me twelve months, and I’ll let you know! (laughs) Honestly, so far, the impact has been very positive. Mainly it feels good to be recognised for the hard work and challenges our industry has faced over the past few years.”
“Also, I’m thankful and proud to have been mentored by some amazing managers. They saw the spark in me at times when I didn’t see it myself and pushed me to see things from different angles. I’m glad I remained in the fleet industry, when at times it would have been easier to change careers because of self-doubt or mistakes made along the way. Yes, we all make mistakes, but I believe failures are seeds to growth.”
Women often face a challenge that men don’t: they have to juggle work responsibilities with several roles at home, whether as a wife, a mother or a homemaker. How do you deal with those challenges?
“There’s no denying that juggling all those roles can be challenging, and leads to some tough decisions. In the early stages of my career, I had to make sacrifices with my daughter in order to establish myself as a dedicated and hardworking professional. Even so, although I occasionally missed the school run, I never skipped a school play.”
“Back then, the guilt seemed unavoidable, but now I genuinely believe that it has influenced my daughter positively. She has grown into an independent and industrious individual of whom I’m immensely proud. I’m grateful to all who supported both my daughter and me in the initial phase of my career – especially my husband, who has always been understanding of my goals and responsibilities, both as a mother and as a professional.”
Two final questions, about where you get your inspiration. Who is your hero? And what is a motto that you live by?
“My hero? In the industry: every manager who has had to put up with me over the years! (laughs) And in general: my daughter, without a doubt. She inspires me every day to be the best human being I can be. We have experienced so many challenges together and she is everything I wished I could have been at her age.”
“And as for my motto, I have two. You get what you give. And: Be a good person, it will take you further than you could ever imagine.”