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2016 cover stories: Russell Transport
RB Russell Transport director Julie Russell wants to be recognised for her achievements than family name
Julie Russell turns 40 this year – not that it matters. The National Trucking Industry Woman of the Year plans to make the industry safer whilst taking her 90-year-old family business to a new level.
She’s been involved since 1997, earning her stripes while studying psychology and business management.
Always the one to forge her own path, Russell entered the industry as a receptionist working full time and studying until early mornings.
She sought work outside her family business, saying it was important to find her own identity.
"I always wanted to be known as Julie Russell, not Russell Julie," Russell says.
Being part of a well-known family business is not a right but a place deserved and she owes a lot of her work ethics and integrity to her late grandmother, Beryl Russell, who mentored her until she died in 2001.
Julie Russell had planned to spend a decade in Beryl’s shadow but a sudden stroke at the age of 78 saw Russell take over the company.
Married to the firm’s founder Roy Bayley, Beryl was 20 years his junior and had continued working in the business when Roy retired and their son Philip took over the reins in 1970.
As Philip puts it, Beryl was an "incredibly dedicated woman" who wanted to work until her 80th birthday.
She started her career as shorthand typist, later overseeing the company’s payroll department.
Philip says his daughter Julie reminds him of Beryl, with her hard work and passion for the industry speaking volumes.
"The types of jobs she’s charged with are the difficult end of the transport industry – compliance, injuries and accidents," Phillip says.
"Julie reminds me of Mum; they’re both hard working, focused women that are competent.
"Mum started her business career using Pitman shorthand and she finished with Microsoft, she was able to adjust herself to her working life as well.
"You have to reinvent the business and you have to reinvent yourself too."
Knowledge to power
Interested in gaining more experience at a directorship level, Russell plans to strengthen business operations by tapping into the minds of other transport managers through her involvement as the chair of the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) industry skills and workforce committee.
"I have an interest personally of getting more experience at the directorship level, so external directorship where I can take some of that learning from my business here and the other industry boards and governance groups I sit on," Russell says.
"I want to bring it back here so that we’ve constantly got a new flow of information from other industry sectors in how we can make road transport better and a great company."
To make it happen, she’s working on a succession plan. Russell and her brother Ken are both company directors and still work alongside Philip, who is slowly thinning out his role in time for retirement.
"I don’t think family business in transport is dying and I don’t think it’s the families that are killing off generational growth; I think it’s an evolution in the transport industry itself that changes the players in it," Russell says.
"At the moment, I see the industry moving through a change in there being amalgamations; you just don’t have your two or three top transport organisations in terms of large entities, so there’s a few more now on the scene and those have a way of cutting out the family in the business because it’s corporate."
The pair is seeking to modernise the company, introducing sign-on glass technology and updating its IT systems.
It was a necessary move that otherwise would have seen the company lose customers, Russell explains.
"The clients we are currently working with and tenders that are coming up we see a growing trend of the need for proof of delivery and real time traceability of the vehicle," she says.
"It’s no longer about where’s the packaged goods of my box of electronics, they want to be able to look at where an agricultural plant is at any point in time so they can talk to the dealer about how far away it is or that they’ve got evidence that it was delivered in a good condition."
Roy Russell won a contract in 1925 to distribute motor spirit for Dalgety & Co – the Queensland agent for the Commonwealth Oil Refineries.
Today, the business spans cranes, warehousing and customs/quarantine services.
The Russell Group specialises in heavy haulage, specialised transport and freight terminal services and is made up of Metro Lift Cranes, Caloundra General Transport, Bayley Industrial and Lytton Industrial – all acquired over the years.
Its fleet of more than 100 vehicles is made up of Kenworth trucks in the heavy sector and Hino for the lighter operations.
It has some 280 employees.
However, the business has lost a significant amount of employees when it moved out of a contract in 2008.
"It was a decision we made because of risk; we became a lot more focused on our safety and compliance systems, making sure we’re aligning our values and that of the customer we’re engaging with," Russell says.
"Over the last few years, we have started to upgrade how we spec our fleet and thinking more about how we integrate technology and safety solutions in that spec rather than just how the spec of a vehicle suits the operational purpose."
Attracting skilled people is still a challenge for Russell Transport.
It takes more time to find those with experience than attracting females as the company is not the typical entrance employer because of its heavy haulage business.
"It’s a ‘catch 22’," Russell says.
"From my insurance premiums, it’s not about how old they are because they recognise what we do, it’s not the age excess but it’s the experience excess so how do we get around that?
"When we’ve got people who want experience but I don’t want to give them experience because for the next two years I carry the risk of higher excess if they make a mistake.
"Our recruitment has always been that we’re not the entrance employer, we’re looking for people with experience already so there are other companies out there that are happy to get new entrants because of the type of work they do is low risk whereas ours is higher so we don’t want to have a magnifying effect by also having an inexperienced person on high-risk items."
There are nine women working for the company, two of whom are drivers.
It has never been about gender but recruiting the right person with experience, Russell explains.
"Just because someone’s a female does not automatically mean I should run out and sponsor them as another female if I don’t necessarily have any likeness or feel that they’ve got something that’s unique about them," she says.
"It doesn’t matter about the gender; it’s your choice to sponsor someone or to champion somebody.
"I have women and men come through this business that I can sit there and say ‘Look at that diamond in the rough’.
"We can really champion them and get behind them, coach them on the certain behaviours and whatever it is to help them become better."
When the company seeks new employees it looks for a generalist – someone’s that’s across a wide set of skills.
"I like to do adverts out saying to people if you want a general understanding of things rather than being pigeonholed you need to come and work in a place like this," Russell says.
"The transport industry offers that to people, so the people coming out of high school want to know everything to then decide where they want to go; why don’t we let people know about that and not be seen as "I’m going to come into a dirty operation where there’s dust flying everywhere and there’s large heavy vehicles at my feet"?
Firm but fair
The reputation of the family business is what makes Russell firm but fair with those she deals with.
"I would like to think my employees perceive me as someone that doesn’t discriminate," she says.
"If I have to talk to somebody about an unpleasant conversation, I’d talk to them in the same way regardless of whether they were someone who I knew really well or someone who I had just met.
"I come with standards of these are the expectations and let’s make sure we are all meeting those standards rather than trying to change for individuals but I also try and be open to hearing what they have to say and understand where they’re coming from rather than being close-minded and I’ve only got the company-way of doing things."
She’s got a different way of looking at things thanks to the five years she spent working outside the family business.
The way she documents risks has resulted in the business winning larger projects with blue chip mining companies.
"We used to be the second tier, now we are often the first tier with engagement in some of the larger mining projects and the heavy haulage which is great to be because when you’ve got specialised heavy haulage fleet which we want to get working and we need to be able to demonstrate good safety record and solid systems to support a continuation of that safety," Russell says.
Smaller transport companies should be in the know if they want to survive the times ahead, Russell says.
She believes participating in industry associations is the only way of keeping up to speed with current trends.
"That’s really important for a small business or else they can find themselves on the wrong end of the law without intending to," she says.
"For large businesses I think it’s the age old issue of as you get bigger you become more inefficient because of the volume, so I see a lot of big companies wanting to keep the values and the behaviours of a family business but they want it on a bigger scale.
"It’s how they find the right balance to get the best of both worlds. It can be great for a large organisation but you can actually lose some of those family values and connectivity of the work you’re doing because it’s so disjointed."
Her involvement in the ATA has helped bring a new perspective into the company.
"To not be part of it we would be just a little bit more into the forest," Russell says.
"I sometimes feel because there are so many things going on that are affecting the transport industry we’re just one tree in a massive forest; to get your branches up in the air and oxygen to breathe you need to do something more than just stick your head in the ground and hope that other people would let you know; you actually need to look around and take it on board yourself and to hear it yourself and to put that into your business.
"You then have an influence in the say."
Woman of the Year
Russell was named the winner of the National Trucking Industry Woman of the Year Award last year.
Proud to bring the trophy to Queensland, she’s humble, saying there wasn’t anything unique about her that made her noticed.
"I don’t think it’s my uniqueness or anything that I’ve done that’s been fantastic to make me stand out," Russell says.
"I just think it was the everyday person, the everyday woman that could be seen and just keeps working.
"I’ve always been average at everything – I was an all-rounder, I think I was recognised by my peers because of my all-rounded contributions.
"I’m there and I’m consistent and I want to work for the betterment of the business so it’s that all-round that may have seen me rise up in the eyes of many people to say that’s something that we want to promote and encourage because I don’t see it as the work that I did in the past has got me the award – it’s what you stand for and can show women to succeed in the future."
When asked if her grandmother would be proud of her achievements, Russell takes a moment before responding: "I don’t go to bed at night saying this is not what grandma wanted of me.
"There are certain days I do walk around thinking I’m sure this is not what my grandma wanted for me but at the end when you go to bed I think I’ve put in something to make her proud of me."
Julie was named the winner of the National Trucking Industry Woman of the Year Award last year.
Into the new century
Phillip Russel has no doubts that his kids will take the family company into the new century.
He was a tough father who made sure they both learned hard work from an early age.
"There was no schoolies for those guys; when they finished high school they started work the next week," he says.
"That was my attitude with them – if you think Year 12 was hard work I can tell you working was going to be even harder. You don’t need a week off because you’ve done Year 12.
"You need to get into it."
Having worked in the business for 45 years, he’s seen significant changes but says it’s no easier nowadays, just different.
"It’s still a robust and cost-focused industry. You’ve got that generational renewal where they’re young, they’re energetic, enthusiastic and they want to do things," Philip says.
"That’s where you get businesses growing when you get a new younger management team wanting to do things.
"I’ve learnt that the industry is cyclical; it goes up and down and it’s got its good times and quiet times. You just have to adjust and reinvent yourself when things change.
"Change is inventible, you’ve got to embrace it if you want to survive and succeed."
Going forward, Russell wants to keep diversifying the business and possibly open up new depots in other states.
With 60 per cent of its fleet servicing various contracts within the manufacturing and retail sector, 30 per cent of the business is found in general haulage and the rest in heavy haulage.
"There will be areas where we’ll look at diversifying the spread of interest so we have capabilities within that spread," Russell says.
"We don’t want to be too broad but we also don’t want to be too narrow; it’s making sure we’ve got the right mix. I don’t want to be just only known as a heavy haulage company, we certainly take pride and do that very well but we also don’t want our business to be so diversified that we’re stretching ourselves too thin."
Woolworths sell-off: Prepare for petrol price pain
We could be forking out even more for fuel in 2017 and 2018.
IF YOU thought there was too little competition in petrol prices already, I have bad news. Woolworths is selling all 527 petrol stations it owns. BP is going to buy them and become even bigger. Could the sale of all those petrol pumps to BP make matters worse?
The competition watchdog - the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission - is already laser focused on the fuel industry.
It took a bunch of fuel retailers to court recently and is constantly monitoring petrol prices looking for collusive behaviour.
In parts of Australia, fuel prices already move in patterns that imply competition is not too strong.
If the sale goes through, the chances of strong competitive pressure in the petrol market get weaker still. That could hurt all of us when we fill up our tanks.
It comes at a bad time for motorists. The global oil price cartel, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has recently made pledges to cut supply and push up the global oil price.
Prices at the pump could be about to skyrocket just as this deal goes through.
THE MASTERS CONNECTION
Competition is important. Without it, capitalism becomes completely unfair. If big businesses can pocket huge profits and set prices wherever they want, our whole system is broken.
Low profits are ideal, but negative profits are no good. They cause collapses that actually reduce competition.
The Masters hardware collapse was spectacular. Woolworths' attempt to take on the hardware market never got going.
That left Bunnings as the big green giant of the hardware sector. Home and Mitre 10 are trying but they are like a mosquito on the side of a racehorse. Bunnings is boss in that sector and that makes its owner Wesfarmers sit pretty.
Masters cost Woolworths a lot of money. Many millions were spent, for little return. Woolies posted a loss of more than $1.2 billion last year.
Now Woolies is selling up its petrol business, in order to "strengthen the Woolworths balance sheet and reinvest in its core business".
This is the link to Masters. If it had succeeded, Woolies may not have needed to bolster its finances, and we'd have more competitors in both fuel and hardware. Instead, once again, Australia is sliding towards oligopoly.
AUSTRALIA ONLY LIGHTLY COMPETITIVE
Australia is famous for having what is called market concentration, where a handful of firms control much of the market.
Two big supermarkets, for example. Or four big banks, two big airlines, one big telecommunications company, etc.
The head of the ACCC was complaining about this just a few months ago.
"The revenue of Australia's largest 100 listed companies increased from 27 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) in 1993 to 47 per cent of GDP in 2015," he said.
The big guys are getting bigger - and it is often through mergers and acquisitions like this petrol station deal.
He then argued that mergers can, in some cases, "reduce competition and cause harm to consumers and our economy" mentioning - just by the by - that the largest petrol retailers were "making good profits", while "many retailers with only a few outlets struggle".
What's interesting here is the ACCC will have to approve the Woollies-BP deal before it goes through. Will they do so? It seems likely but is not certain.
BP says it is confident that clearance will be granted.
"Australia has a highly competitive fuel market and we are confident the ACCC will ensure this isn't altered by the transaction," a BP spokesperson said.
"Our partnership with Woolworths has the customer in mind - it is about reinventing the convenience sector in Australia."
COMPETITION - NEXT YEAR?
If the deal goes through, Woolworths gets $1.8 billion dollars and can focus on its supermarket business. If the deal falls apart, then it might be in trouble.
Because 2017 could be the year when really serious competition comes to Australia's supermarket sector.
Amazon has launched its Prime Video service here, and rumours are its fresh food business is not far behind. If that happens, Woolworths will need its A-game.
This kind of pressure - businesses fighting for their lives - is exactly what good competition looks like.
In fact, 2017 could be a very good year for supermarket consumers. Even if Amazon doesn't come to Australia, the threat is going to keep supermarkets on their toes.
Aldi is renewing its stores so it can sell more fresh food and compete better, while Coles is also knuckling down, renovating 50 supermarkets in 2017 and ever-ready to compete on price.
We can only hope that, one day, we see something similar in fuel too.
Lack of Education for Local Councils
Victoria’s trucking industry and the Victorian Transport Association as its representative has issues with the lack of education for local councils. There are 73 councils in Victoria many of whom are not geared up to dealing with access enquiries on last mile issues. Many have limited transport expertise.
“They are making decisions affecting our industry from an uneducated position,” says Peter Anderson, VTA CEO. “They are trying to do a good job, but they don’t necessarily have the resource to do the best job they can. The industry then has to try and move around what they do, and compensate.
“A good example of what is happening is in the inner west of Melbourne. People in Yarraville and Marybynong don’t want heavy vehicles driving down their streets. They are main streets, we are not talking about little alleyways.
“Unfortunately, within three kilometres of them is the port, which moves up to 8,000 containers a day. We can’t move the port, so we can’t restrict access to the industry, to do the job they’re there to do. They are saying, ‘We want to shut you down, because we don’t like you driving through our municipality’.”
The port still needs to be serviced. The answer can’t be to stop ships from coming to Melbourne. Exclusion for the industry may end up with companies making commercial decisions not to send ships into the port. These issues would have a major effect throughout the supply chain.
“They are planning a tunnel and a route into the port,” says Anderson. “The only issue we have is, it will be the only route. If you have to pay for it, $15 a time. Can I have a discount on my taxes? Because I’m paying for roads already and then I’m not allowed to use those roads and I have to use one I have to pay for.
“It might be OK if the transport companies could pass the costs on to their customers. They wouldn’t accept a toll levy. Some businesses here are already paying over $1 million a year on tolls.”
In the North-East of Melbourne the authorities have put a curfew on trucks at night on five of the north/south arterial roads. Trucks travelling down from Sydney, 3000 a night in all, have to skirt the city to the West even if they are heading for the East of the Melbourne region.
In fact, in one area there are two pressure groups. One wants trucks off the roads at night and another is wanting them off the roads in the daytime. Congestion on those roads in the daytime has increased due to the curfew. Fines currently sit at $300 for breaking the curfew.
“When they did this kind of thing in London, fifteen years ago they took freight into account, they understood supply chain,” says Anderson. “If you start to shut down the networks, the whole supply chain system breaks down, unless you have an alternative plan.
“One of my big issues is the lack vision and leadership, when it comes to planning infrastructure development. I think this particular government might get around to coming up with a solution, but they get caught up too much in their marginal interests, voting cycles. This is where we need broader based plans and perspectives.
“We have got to follow through. The bigger the plan, the better. I was hoping Infrastructure Australia would deliver, but it is not going to. It will rubber stamp, but won’t make things happen.”
The general public who are driving these restrictions are looking at the trucking industry and not liking what they see. Anderson and the VTA see this as an issue caused by a lack of understanding of the industry, its make up and its value to the community.
Hino Dakar Team gears up for 2017 Rally
Hino Team Sugawara is chasing a record eighth successive class victory in the 2017 Dakar Rally, which starts on 2 January.
The two-truck team will race through the South American desert, setting off from Acunción in Paraguay and finishing in the Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires on January 14. The team’s 4x4 rally trucks are loosely based on the brand's medium-duty Hino 500 Series.
Hino Team Sugawara is chasing a number of records in the 2017 Dakar Rally, including its 26th straight finish and eighth straight victory in the Under 10-litre class.
The Hino Team Sugawara 4x4 rally trucks are loosely based on the medium-duty Hino 500 Series.
Upgrades to the two trucks include further engine, chassis and suspension upgrades based on feedback from the 2016 Silk Way Rally, which served as a testing and shake-down opportunity for Hino Team Sugawara.
Key specifications of the two 2017 Dakar Rally Hino trucks include a 8,866cm3 direct-injection turbocharged and intercooled engine matched to a six-speed direct-drive gearbox with high-low range switching.
The A09C-TI engine in its race specification outputs 478kW of power at 2200rpm and 2255Nm of torque at 1200rpm.
Hino Team Sugawara’s line-up consists of father and son drivers Yoshimasa and Teruhito Sugawara, with navigators Mitsugu Takahashi and Hiroyuki Sugiura and a carefully selected team of Hino dealer mechanics and support personnel from Fukushima Hino, Ishikawa Hino, Okayama Hino and Hiroshima Hino.
Mills Freightlines celebrates 50 years
Bart Barford is eager to get back into the 2015 Freightliner Coronado 114 with a 58-inch XT sleeper cab, pictured here with Mills Freightlines’ 50-year anniversary trailers.
The grain harvest is in full swing and Mills Freightlines of Brinkworth, South Australia, is busy carting grain throughout the state’s Mid-North.
It is a busy end to a milestone year – 2016 is the business’s 50th anniversary.
Mills Freightlines was founded by the late Bob Mills who began carting farm supplies in a Ford Thames Trader in 1966.
Bob’s son Gavin continues the company with his wife Margi. Their children Paul Mills and Toni Ashby also work at Mills Freightlines.
Paul’s wife Jayne works there too, and their son Thomas represents the fourth generation.
Having a strong management team makes it possible for Paul to spend time on the road. From March until August each year he spreads gypsum on farms in the Mid-North, Upper-North and Yorke Peninsula with a Mercedes-Benz Actros 2644.
The Mills family owns 23 trucks, including 11 used by its recycling division, Clare Valley Waste.
The 12 trucks in the red-and-white Mills Freightlines fleet are all from the Daimler stable and specialise in bulk cartage for farming clients.
Paul has been visiting Daimler Trucks Adelaide since he was a baby in Gavin’s arms. Back then it was a Mercedes-Benz dealership.
Their newest trucks are a 2015 Freightliner Coronado 114 with a 34-inch sleeper cab and a 2015 Freightliner Argosy. Black-and-white photographs have been reproduced within the trucks’ white stripes in celebration of the 50th anniversary.
Paul says staff have been an important part of Mills Freightlines’ history. Shane Verran has worked for the family for 38 years.
Bart Burford has spent 21 years with the company. He returned to work in November after a leg amputation. Bart is optimistic his MC licence will be reinstated before the end of the grain season.
Queensland's motorways are some of the most dangerous in Australia
Queensland's motorways are some of the most dangerous in Australia, the latest figures show.
Sections of the Pacific Motorway and Bruce Highway have some of the highest casualty crash levels of major roads, according to the Australian Road Assessment Program report.
A truck lays on its side on the M1 at Beenleigh in October. A report has listed the Pacific Motorway among the nation's worst roads.
RACQ, which released the report, said four of the 10 most dangerous sections of national highway were located in Queensland.
There were 23 deaths across three sections of the Pacific Motorway between 2010 and 2014, spokesman Paul Turner said.
"The number of people dying on the Pacific Motorway is truly frightening and we need the federal and state governments to deliver the upgrades needed to reduce this statistic," he said.
"We desperately need safety improvements on this motorway between the Gateway Motorway and the NSW border including funding for eight lanes in the northern section and six lanes in the southern section."
Calls for drivers to be patient during festive season
We say it around this time every year, there are people with us now who won’t survive the Christmas holidays.
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) wants us all to slow down and take breaks if we are travelling on the roads during the festive holidays.
ATA Chair, Noelene Watson, says lives can be saved, if safety is the number one priority for road users.
“The Christmas period is one of the busiest times of year for many trucking businesses, and it’s also one of the busiest times on the road.
“With heavier traffic, long traffic queues and different festive events to get to, it is very important to plan to ensure your driver schedules have allowed for time to account for the increased traffic volumes on the road,”
“Fatigue management is essential, with big meals, long days and late nights making it easy to feel sleepy behind the wheel.
“Keep to the speed limit and pull up when tired.
“Share the drive with another qualified driver, and avoid driving if you don’t feel up to being able to give 100% concentration to it.”
To raise awareness and remind all road users of safety these holidays, the ATA has developed this short animated video…
Freight efficiency key to Western Sydney Airport
The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) says freight movements will be the most critical component of the new Western Sydney Airport.
“Australia’s large and rising national freight task includes significant growth in the air freight sector and so it is imperative Sydney’s next airport is planned and built in such a way that accommodates expected future freight flows,” said Michael Kilgariff, ALC Managing Director.
“According to the 2013 Aviation White Paper, air freight volumes are expected to double by 2025 while the NSW Government predicts Sydney Airport will deal with more than 1.5 million tonnes of cargo each year by the 2035 - up from 650,000 tonnes in 2012.
“It is therefore imperative that a second Sydney airport, which has been identified by Infrastructure Australia in its Infrastructure Priority List as a High Priority Initiative, is established in the most efficient manner possible to share this growth in traffic.
“In a practical infrastructure sense, this means appropriate land preservation to construct future logistics facilities and infrastructure links when they are required.
“And from an operations perspective, Badgerys Creek airport has to be a curfew-free airport. We cannot afford restrictions to be placed on the airport that inhibit the efficient movement of freight.
Kilgariff added. “The ALC 2016 election priorities document ‘Getting the Supply Chain Right’ and video ‘Now is the time To Get the Supply Chain Right’ highlighted the critical role air freight will play in the future supporting more efficient freight movements.
“And with the Government recently confirming the development of a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, today’s confirmation is a timely step to ensure air freight capacity is appropriately recognised in Australia’s national supply chains.
“We congratulate Minister Fletcher on today’s important announcement and look forward to engaging with the State and Federal Government to ensure the airport can contribute to improved freight efficiency in Australia.”
2016 cover stories: Xtreme Freight
Like a chameleon; she’s malleable and knows the effect her attitude and behaviour has in the transport industry. Xtreme Freight CEO Amanda O’Brien has pushed down a lot of doors to get ahead and she’s just getting started
Amanda O’Brien has had her fair share of challenges since taking over the privately-run business established in 1988.
Having spent the first 18 months on turning business around, the global company continues to grow, servicing the transport, logistics and warehousing sector.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for O’Brien has been breaking down unconscious biases, proving to the male-dominated industry that women can also do the job, if not better.
The company was under liquidation when O’Brien stepped in, but she had no doubt in her ability to turn it around, having worked for big corporate companies for 20 years in project management and statistical analysis.
"It was becoming non-profitable, the challenges with turning the business around as well as getting it back on track were huge," O’Brien says.
"It was very small, probably only turning around over $700,000 and was going backwards."
Fast forward eight years and the company has 84 customers and 20 employees across its three depots in Melbourne.
With 80 subcontractors on its books, its fleet consists of four trucks – down from 10 due to maintenance costs.
Xtreme Freight grew into 3PL services when O’Brien took on smaller contracts, staying true to the company’s motto of "We never say no to our customers" – big or small.
Its warehouses facilitate bulk storage, racked freight, pick and pack and container deconsolidation.
The last leg
Xtreme Freight is the last piece of the logistics puzzle and can handle most demanding jobs thanks to its experienced staff.
It stays innovative by looking at overseas trends and jobs in the most uncommon places, such as moving high-end fashion for Melbourne’s shopping complex Emporium.
"I think I approach transport very differently because I know it touches every area," O’Brien says.
"I don’t necessarily look for transport in the common places or go to freight forwarders because I know that freight touches everyone, so it’s a case of looking for ways to improve people’s lives like going to people that deliver bathrooms or lights.
"You can have your big global forwarders that we do lots of business with, but you also have to have a good mix of that pie to have a very good split in business."
That’s why she believes the industry is big enough for everyone. What sets Xtreme Freight apart is its ability to customise solutions to each client’s needs.
O’Brien incorporates clients’ branding to its consignments as most customers want to be known as the complete end-to-end provider.
"It’s the way I see freight moving; it has to be transparent, but it also has to be about the customer," O’Brien says.
"The reason we have survived is because people are very ego-driven, they’re about themselves, it’s the nature of the beast and organisations are about their image and themselves.
"From a personal point of view, I think profitability in a business is more important than any of the glamour of perception.
"We don’t necessarily advertise our brand as much as the other players in the market do because we want to blend in with our consumer and client," she adds.
"We are like a chameleon; we infiltrate the market in many different areas, but we also stay hidden because we become seamless as everybody has their own set of processes, their own culture.
"Every driver is not going to fit in to David Jones or Myer, so you need to fit a certain type and I think that’s where our innovation comes from."
Even though the company is big, it is often perceived to be small because of its limited branding, she adds: "I’m very guarded and confidential when it comes to my clients and their needs, so I’m always out there, but you may not perceive us to be those people and that’s why I’ve survived and thrived in this very difficult industry."
Established in 1988, Xtreme Freight services the transport, logistics and warehousing sector.
A competitive market
The transport industry has seen its fair share of acquisitions over the last two years, creating an even more competitive market. As a result, Xtreme Freight has learned to become flexible.
"We have to be more transparent in business transactions and deliveries, everything is seen now," O’Brien says.
"I think it’s because of security; it’s one of the big issues in the world we face and freight is a very important part of that.
"People want to be able to measure it, and I always say if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
"There’s such an impetus for transport to take on all these costs with the way the world is changing, however, transport costs haven’t risen very much and we have to absorb those costs and move with the regulation and compliance required," she adds.
"Acquisitions have become second nature in the logistics industry because it’s about survival.
"Customers and consumers are fickle these days, and everybody will turn on a dime because everybody is so cost-conscious.
"Loyalty is slowly becoming more tied up with profit gain, which unfortunately sometimes drops service levels."
The company provides online tracking of its vehicles and real-time event information, including sign-on glass and instant proof of delivery (POD) retrieval.
O’Brien, 48, still has days where she’s not being taken seriously by fellow operators.
"It’s been tough," she says. "Let’s be honest; I’ve been abused, I’ve been stood over by intrastate truckies, I have copped laughter in container yards – but it’s never fazed me.
"In fact, I thank everyone for that bad experience I’ve had because they’ve made me survive, they’ve actually helped me and challenged me," she adds.
Despite her journey, she does believe the industry is fit for women and encourages anyone to be part of it.
"There are so many different careers within the transport industry and the supply chain," O’Brien adds.
"It is a global commodity; it is something that people can work within. You have to be able to deal with every part of the community and you have to be able to deal with directors, CEOs, industry, middle management and workers.
"This industry is the best training you will ever get because life is not always easy, it is tough. Every year has its challenges but I think it’s an exciting, amazing and growing part of the world."
Through the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA), O’Brien has recently hosted Women in Logistics forum in Melbourne, showcasing women in the mining, transport and logistics industry.
"These women are self-made and I’m self-made," she says.
"I will never put myself in the same category of others who have been brought with the family and have had transport going since they were teeny boppers.
"When you’ve been around for 100 years you’ll survive, however, I’m very proud of the fact that I’m self-made and I didn’t have any assistance and that I had to do it with my own financial prowess and ability to survive and thrive in this industry."
Its warehouses facilitate bulk storage, racked freight, pick and pack and container deconsolidation.
Freight of all kinds
Xtreme Freight carries all kind of freight; from cement, piping to retail.
As competition gets stronger, sleep for O’Brien is scarce. She wants to change the way the industry is being perceived, saying people should pay as much for transport as they do for Chanel products.
"People have called me crazy, nuts, insane," she says.
"I think you always need to look at new ways to do business – you have to look at opportunity because opportunity isn’t visible, you have to find it.
"I can’t quite explain how I am or why I don’t sleep, but I think the mind is an amazing thing and if you want things badly enough you’ll succeed.
"The goal for Xtreme Freight was not to come in and be gone in five years.
"I think the hardest thing for newcomers or women is that they have to get through those first five years because I don’t think others take them seriously.
"I think it’s about tenor and this industry is built on tenor, not what you know but it’s who you know; and I’ve walked enough pavements to get to know those people and realise at the end the small, medium or large are the same, but the only difference is zeros at the end.
"It’s still running a business and staying competitively viable, it’s about managing profit and loss."
Rest area death trap
A dangerous truck parking bay snapped by driver Brendon Carlson
WHILE enforcement agencies hammer truckies in the name of safety, councils and state bodies escape liability with death traps like this rest area, picked up by driver Brendon Carlson.
Near the Victorian town of Skipton, imagine being loaded and tired at two in the morning, pulling in to this one - disaster!
Even though it is signed as a rest area, the access is totally inappropriate and the gravel dumped there for some future upgrade could mean a very nasty rollover.
There is no signage saying the rest area is closed.
Brendon shared the photos with Big Rigs and said he wouldn't have been able to use the bay if he was fatigued.
"Even though there are towns nearby, it's not good enough," he said.
"Fatigued drivers should not have to be pushed to find another bay."
A dangerous truck parking bay snapped by driver Brendon Carlson
Thinking About Training New Drivers
One of the truck manufacturers which has been thinking about training new drivers is Volvo. The company has been developing its training system over the years and has declared its intention to work towards some kind of certification for drivers to enable for them to demonstrate their professional ability. Although still in its early stages, Volvo have declared their intention to take on the issue of driver availability and professionalism.
“It has moved a little bit,” said Paul Illmer, Volvo Director Vehicle Sales Strategy and Support. “It used to be all about the handover. It was to make sure the driver was aware of the basic functions of the truck and to make sure, when they get the keys and go on the first trip, they know how to operate the truck in the correct manner.
“Then it moved to much more focus on safety, making sure the driver is driving in a safe manner, anticipating traffic and was also fuel efficient. From there it moved to making sure they were fuel efficient, safe, but also courteous.
“We do a lot now with the drivers about being ambassadors for their company. It’s an interesting term, but it’s to make sure they are aware their role as a driver is to be courteous to car drivers, bicycle riders. They need to make sure when they interact with their customer’s customers, they portray the best image they can for their customer, but also for the driving population of Australia.”
Volvo is still formulating its way forward, but does have the intention of driving some kind of national qualification, a passport drivers can take with them to assure potential employers they are responsible and able to drive in the correct manner.
“A development from what we have got would be an academy,” says Illmer. “It would be formalising what we get. What we do today is training drivers who are already employed in a customers business, but what we are trying to get to with a driver academy is to take somebody who has got the license then put them through the programs.
“Today, we are able to put a driver in with a customer who has been through the fuel efficiency course, through the ambassador type course and is safe, keeping the truck safe. From day one when they start with the customer they already have these tools in their back pocket.
“What we are looking at doing later this year is bringing the top driver trainers in major fleets, sitting them down with our driver trainers. Then bring in someone from NTI, someone from the ATA and not make it a Volvo Group initiative, but actually sit down and talk about what we are offering in terms of course material. We can then look at what is developing as the course requirements in the market. We can then ensure we are dynamic enough to work with what the expectations are in the market. I think that’s very important.”
Sleeping in summer
Despite the Australian heat, there are no rules or official pieces of advice that we can find on bunkrooms, cab bunk cooling and day cabs running long distance
With the advent of air conditioned single bunk rooms and integrated sleeper cabs, it’s easy to forget just how tough long distance truck drivers used to do it in summer in the "old days".
Sharing a bunkroom with a dozen other farting, snoring blokes with maybe a swivelling fan for relief; heads hanging out of dog-box doors to get a bit of fresh air; swags under the trailer; stretching out across the bench seat; and so on.
Thank heavens that’s all just a thing of the past right? Well, no.
There’s no doubt sleeping conditions have greatly improved in many ways for many long distance drivers, to the point of single motel rooms being commonly provided. But there are still some primitive cases out there.
Take some dealer and operator bunkrooms. We’ve previously reported on shared bunkrooms in dealerships and depots which are right next to the noisy TV/lunch room or clanging workshop; and even one which other drivers had to walk through to go to the toilet. That’s not to mention demountable bunkrooms right next to trucks and forklifts coming and going all day, with no sound barrier in between.
At least bunkrooms mostly seem to be air conditioned these days.
However there are still some long distance sleeper cabs with no air cooling whatsoever even though the truck’s driver might need to sleep in them during the day – for example if they’re waiting for a changeover or can’t get back to base or simply have a penny-pinching boss.
In those sometimes impossible summer conditions our advice is to crank up the 550 horsepower air conditioner under the bonnet. (If you do that it’s widely advised to lift the engine idling revs to about 1200rpm so you don’t glaze the bore.)
Ditto if you’re unlucky enough to be needing to sleep in a day cab truck. We’ve noticed what seems to be an increasing number of these on long distance and even interstate work, and they are usually owned by the bigger fleets.
You can bet the company managers who send drivers out in these day cabs have never experienced a delayed changeover; or a breakdown halfway up the highway; or simply needed a 20 minute power nap to keep themselves going in the early hours of the morning.
One day cab driver we spoke to always carries an oversized bag so he can stuff it between the seats and stretch out if he needs to sleep. And he has no hesitation in running the truck aircon.
Asleep at the wheel
So what do all the government agencies, peak trucking and customer bodies, and university experts have to say about sleeping conditions for truckies in the Australian summer?
From what we’ve been able to see and hear, nothing. As far as we can tell, amongst what seems like millions of words on fatigue, there are no standards whatsoever for bunkrooms, sleeper air cooling or the use of day cabs.
The Australian Design Rules for new trucks have all sorts of rules for sleeper cabs, but don’t say anything about cooling.
There are dozens of pages of guidelines for operators accredited under the Basic and Advanced Fatigue Management schemes – and reams of paperwork they have to fill out - but the term "air conditioning" doesn’t rate a mention.
Neither do the ATA’s Trucksafe nor the Australian Logistics Council’s Retail Logistics Safety Code specify anything about a cool sleeping environment.
Meanwhile day cabs seem to enjoy just as good a rego deal as sleeper cabs under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS).
And there’s nothing specific about bunkrooms or sleeper berths under the Chain of Responsibility legislation on fatigue, although we reckon poor sleeping conditions could make for a very interesting test case one day.
In fact the only specific rule or official piece of advice we can find anywhere is that according to reports on the internet, in Western Australia trucks have to have air conditioning if operating north of the 26th Parallel between October 1 and March 31. We don’t know if that includes sleeper aircon or not.
The WA Department of Transport didn’t know anything about it when we emailed them, and suggested we contact WorkSafe. We couldn’t find anything on the WorkSafe website.
Semi-autonomous trials to begin in Melbourne
The Victorian State Government has committed to an 18-month trial of semi-autonomous vehicles on the EastLink Freeway in Melbourne.
The trial, carried out in conjunction with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), La Trobe University and ConnectEast, will focus on passenger cars with driver-assistance technology such as lane keep assist, auto braking and adaptive cruise control.
“This first of its kind research project … will be conducted in traffic on EastLink to assess whether the latest technology is compatible with current infrastructure such as road signs and line markings,” said Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Luke Donnellan.
“We’re working with Australia’s top road researchers and road operators to ensure we’re at the forefront of this technology to reduce congestion and increase road safety.”
According to ARRB, stage one of the project will see the development of a classification system for assessing Australian roads based on the level of automated vehicle features they support – essentially a grading system so car manufacturers can enable hands-free driving, on roads that meet the criteria.
In the second half of 2017, stage two will test a range of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technologies that allow communication between vehicles and road infrastructure.
Finally, stage three will see a small number of semi-automated vehicles tested on EastLink with hands-off-the-wheel technology in 2018.
Following the research, ConnectEast will work with car manufacturers and VicRoads to ensure that vehicle technology and road infrastructure allow for the safe introduction of hands free driving in everyday applications – an option that is currency also widely debated in the heavy vehicle field.
In October, US start-up Otto ran a real-life trial in Colorado that cumulated in the world’s first shipment using a self-driving truck.
The ConnectEast trial has received $578,000 funding from the VicRoads Intelligent Transport System (ITS) Grants Program.
Car driver suffers just minor injuries after colliding with a truck on the Augusta Highway, near Port Pirie
A CAR driver has reason to be filled with the Christmas spirit after escaping with only minor injuries after a collision with a truck on the Augusta Highway, near Port Pirie, on Thursday.
The vehicles collided at the intersection of the Augusta and Wilkins highways, near Warnertown, about 15km south of Pt Pirie, about 8am.
“The male driver of the car, who was the only occupant, sustained minor injuries and was taken to the Pt Pirie Hospital by ambulance,’’ a police spokesman said.
The truck driver was not injured.
Rescue services at the scene of the crash.
Traffic was restricted on both highways for more than an hour while emergency services cleared wreckage.
Police are investigating the crash and warned road users to take extra care on the roads during the festive period.
“There is more traffic on the roads as people take advantage of the long weekend and holiday period,’’ the spokesman said. “Drive safe, arrive safe.’’
Truckies call on Ikea to stop exploitation
Aussie truck drivers have called on Ikea to stop ripping off and exploiting their working conditions.
Members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) gathered outside the store in Tempe in Sydney's south on Wednesday morning to protest against low wages following alarming reports of the working conditions of truck drivers transporting Ikea's goods in Europe.
A 12-month investigation by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) found the company's low wages of around $300 a month was forcing truckies in Europe to live, eat and sleep in their trucks.
TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon delivered a letter to Ikea on Wednesday, following two years of meetings with the company, which he says has repeatedly refused the unions' offer to work together on a solution.
"I have not seen the degree of exploitation that occurs in supply chains to the degree that it occurs in Ikea supply chains," he told AAP on Wednesday.
"In Australia we are finding more and more drivers coming forward and our investigations are demonstrating there are similar patterns starting to develop in the Ikea supply chain within Australia."
He said the "horrible conditions" are contributing to truck fatalities on NSW roads which as of 2015, reached 2500 over the past decade.
"Ikea needs to sit down with unions around the world, sit down with unions here and actually work out a solution to their supply train havoc because they are turning around an exploiting many many truck drivers."
Mr Sheldon, who has been in the trucking industry for almost three decades, also called on the federal government to bring back laws that protect owner drivers.
"Otherwise you are just playing at the hands of Ikea and allowing them to run roughshod over Australians," he said.
Mr Sheldon said the Sydney protest was held with eight other similar protests around the world, saying the issue was only going to escalate.
"These drivers are in a desperate situation, they have been treated like slaves to their trucks and slaves to Ikea supply chain," he said.
"Ikea needs to be held to account and needs to turn around and start fixing and co-operating with its work force in its supply chains."
Ikea says it was aware of the transport unions' action and would endeavour to understand the complaints and concerns.
"Even though the drivers who transport our products are not employed by Ikea Transport it is very important for us that they have good and fair working conditions," Ikea said in a statement to AAP on Wednesday.
"Ikea transport follow up and make regular audits to ensure compliance."