ATN sat down with Women in Industry nominee Ann Lopez to talk about the important role of transportation in society and the impact women can have on the heavy transport industry.
Ann Lopez never thought she would end up working in transportation. Starting off her career as a primary school teacher, Lopez married into the Lopez family and its successful family businesses.
Then, as these things often go, Lopez was asked to help out with the business temporarily and never went back to teaching. Lopez has been at Strathfield-based Lopez Transport for more than 30 years now and is currently working in business admin, sales, accounts and compliance.
Though transport was never on her radar, Lopez can recall a childhood memory that hints at her potential interest in the industry and in heavy vehicles generally.
“I remember being on holidays in Tasmania when I was a kid,” Lopez says, “And I was watching all these trucks drive past and I remember thinking that each truck clearly had its own distinctive personality to it. Each one had a face.”
Since taking on the role, Lopez has come to love the work she does and is always interested and excited by the industry and appreciates the important role road transport plays.
“One thing I learned very early on, that went against the common misconception a lot of people have, is that they’re not all big dirty trucks. Trucks and transport play a vital role in our economy and in the world,” Lopez says.
“It really is a very intriguing industry, there’s always so much happening. And it came take up a lot of your time, but I do enjoy it. I like to learn and have my hands in all parts of the business.”
The business itself, Lopez Bros Transport, has a long and proud history that spans more than 90 years. The company started operating in 1929 when brothers Felix and Jack Lopez purchased their first truck to pick up fruit and vegetables from the markets for the family’s shop in Gladesville, Sydney.
Since then, the business has only continued to grow and now, as it approaches its 10th decade in operation, it has built up an impressive fleet of 18, mostly UD, prime movers.
Though Lopez likes to understand all aspects of the business besides driving the trucks, she admits the scope of her current role is mainly making sure the businesses comply with the law.
“There are, understandably, a lot of regulations in this industry and it’s my job to make sure that everything we do is done properly.
“It can be hard though, for small-to-medium operators like us, to take on the compliance roles ourselves,” Lopez says.
Seeing the complexities of the law and the toll is takes on operators also motivated Lopez to get involved in industry concerns through local road transport bodies.
Lopez currently sits on the board of Road Freight New South Wales (RFNSW) and uses the position to voice her concerns about ongoing issues.
“We try to affect change on lawmakers and regulators around all sorts of issues in the transport industry. Things like labour issues, to fuel costs, and issues with ports, for example.”
“A lot of the time it can feel like the road transport Industry is an afterthought for the government regarding policy. There is really not enough engagement and consultation with us.
“COVID highlighted a lot of these issues and other general pinch points between the industry and government,” Lopez says.
Like all transport operators now, the labour shortage is a huge, ongoing, problem for Lopez Transport. Lopez says encouraging more women into the industry is one way to help alleviate pressure on the labour market.
“There are a multitude of opportunities for women to participate in the road transport industry, not all just driving trucks. There are plenty of business management, administration and accounts roles that are each challenging and rewarding.”
As for her nomination for the Women In Industry Award, Lopez says it was unexpected.
“It was a huge surprise to be nominated for the Women in Industry Award. I feel very grateful to be in a position to speak up for the industry and for women,” Lopez says.
When it comes to thinking about the future of the company and her role in it, Lopez says she has already seen enormous progress in the digitisation of the industry and assumes things will continue to advance.
“All the time our equipment is becoming more technical, and our drivers are needing to be more tech savvy.
“The clean energy transition is also happening, and technology will go hand-in-hand with that. But there has been a disappointing lack of support from the government,” Lopez says.
Lopez has three children all of whom she says are in different stages of working for the family businesses, but not sure whether they’ll make a career out of it yet.
In the meantime, Lopez says the business will continue doing what it does, continue to be an employer within their region and she will continue to provide a voice for the industry.