Little unfazed by share market, but not sold on carbon tax

Outgoing Toll Managing Director Paul Little says the business is well-placed to ride out an unsteady share market

By Ruza Zivkusic | August 8, 2011

Toll’s outgoing Managing Director Paul Little believes the unsteady share market will not affect the transport and logistics giant.

Addressing Australia’s American Chamber of Commerce business lunch on Friday, Little described the current market as "tough", saying consumer confidence is disappearing which in turn affects the economy.

Although the Federal Government’s proposed carbon tax is positive, Little says the timing needs to be reconsidered.

"I can’t see how we can have a carbon tax introduced now and still be regionally and globally competitive with our industries – manufacturing in particular. It’s going to put this country under pressure and the timing is clearly something that needs to be readdressed," he says.

"There is no doubt that the carbon tax at some stage is going to be good for our industry, our country and our planet. However, sitting here in Australia where our neighbours are some of our biggest offenders in greenhouse emissions, that’s not necessarily the length we should be following."

The company has put long-term strategies in place which are unlikely to be influenced by the stock market, he says.

Little advises companies to introduce a succession plan, saying Toll has been following a "robust, clear and precise" – from senior executives and non-executive leaders in the company.

"It’s important to have a plan; I don’t think you can just aimlessly go through life. My plan was always to retire when I got into my early 60s because I thought the company probably needed fresh ideas and new energy levels. We all started to get a bit tired after 90 acquisitions," Little says.

"We have grown into a new business, there’s a lot of travel and new challenges inside Toll today. I just think it’s been a marvellous period for me and to say I have enjoyed it doesn’t do justice to how I really feel."

Little will step down from his position on January 1, 2012, which will bring an end to a 26-year reign. Toll last week announced Chief Financial Officer Brian Kruger would step into the role of managing director.

"For Toll to maintain its success we needed to implement a succession plan. We also needed to chose between an in-source and out-source task in creating and building that succession plan," Little says.

He says Kruger is "extremely well suited" to the role.

"Coming into Toll as CFO has allowed Brian to gain an insight into the group that he can take into his role as managing director," Little says.

"He would never gain this valuable insight coming straight into the position."

Little says he has no plans to influence Kruger’s decisions once he takes over the role.

"I’m very sensitive about not wanting to create any adverse expectations or having any adverse influences over Brian Kruger. It would be silly for me to do that because I know how important it is to have full control in a business. You don’t need other people chipping away on the side creating a distraction for you."

"I want Toll to work. Obviously Brian will have as much face as he wants and at the same token I still believe Brian needs to call on me for advice should he be able to do that."

With a string of global acquisitions, Toll is ready to "take a dynamic approach in integrating the business into the mother ship", Little adds.

"Toll is going through a one Toll approach at the moment which sees us creating standard branding and discipline across the business. It will all become one Toll rather than different companies.

When asked by Victorian Transport Association’s (VTA) CEO Phil Lovel what is most important to him in terms of employees, shareholders or customers, Little says customers are important in building a successful business.

"I’ve always through my career tried to understand what the customer is really thinking, not what they’re saying," he says.

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