2016 cover stories: Xtreme Freight

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


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

2016 cover stories: Xtreme Freight
Xtreme Freight's Amanda O’Brien.

 

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."

 

X-Freight -ATN2

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.

 

Gender gap

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."

 

X-Freight -ATN3

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."

 

 

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