MacGregor Logistics: putting people first

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


Chris MacGregor is one of the few female leaders that’s thrived in a male dominated industry for almost 50 years

MacGregor Logistics: putting people first
Chris MacGregor

 

Coming out on top despite gender disparity has its tricks but managing director Chris MacGregor has enjoyed the journey and has no regrets.

Seated in her boardroom in a signature red suit, MacGregor has a lot of charisma – a competent trait that’s helped her run a successful business.

MacGregor Logistics was established in January 1990 with a humble $13,500 in sales for that month.

At 74, MacGregor has begun slowing down but has no plans of retiring yet.

A creative thinker, MacGregor has transformed her business through hard work and exceptional customer service.

With 110 customers, the business has 18 staff and four owner drivers.

ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES

MacGregor Logistics specialises in alcohol delivery but was tested 10 years ago when it lost one of its major long-standing customers in 2009, United Distillers.

It became a turning point for the business as it had to reinvent itself in order to continue.

"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," MacGregor says.

"It hurt but you have to get over that; to me it was personal because I had managed that account since 1972.

"When you lose your biggest customer that you had worked with for over 30 years, you have to go back into the market and say ‘hey, here we are’.

"The one thing I have learnt is to not have so many eggs in one basket, even though for such a long time for us it was brilliant. If anything happens with the relationship, it can be devastating to the business so that was the philosophy we then followed."

STRATEGY

MacGregor had been in the transport business for 27 years when her husband Bill became ill, becoming completely paralysed down the left side.

She went back to work in 1990 when told he wouldn’t improve, commencing the current trading name of the business.

Bill was the largest single fuel distributor in Australia based in Albury when he took over a country-based alcohol carrier in 1971.

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Soon after, he gave up the fuel side of business, concentrating solely on alcohol distribution.

Whilst many thought that she wouldn’t make it on her own following the passing of Bill, MacGregor has proved people wrong, having grown the company thanks to reliable drivers and staff.

"We’ve just had to learn to be better every day, trying to improve on what we do and how we do it," she says.

"You move on, you cannot afford to stay still for very long, otherwise you sink.

"Never in a million years have I thought I’d come this far; all I wanted to do was to make enough money to pay the two mortgages on our house and pay off my car and pay my husband’s hospital bills.

"But there comes a point where you no longer own the company, the company owns you.

"It gets to that point that your whole life revolves around what the company needs."

APPROACHABLE

MacGregor’s office door is always open, as she values feedback.

Her drivers are her "eyes and ears" to the industry trends and she keeps a close relationship with her staff.

"We’ve got 70-odd cameras around our premises here, I can see what’s happening without getting up but I love to speak with the guys to find out how it’s going," MacGregor says.

"I might watch them load a trailer and if I see them put a bag of product on the trailer without using plastic sheet in between to protect the bags, I’ll race out screaming at them because the bag product is so easily damaged – not by us but by whoever the end receiver is.

"Years of experience of knowing what you’ve got, to be so interested and take so much care in looking after your customers’ freight to make sure it gets there in the same condition – they’re the things that keep us in business because we’re aware and we care."

MacGregor attributes her success to truck drivers who have taught her everything there is about operations.

"Everything I have learnt about the operational side I have learnt from owner drivers; they even taught me how to drive a forklift.

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"We might have had three major customers at the time when we lost United Distillers but today we have 15 major customers, so should we lose one it’s not going to destroy the business anymore, but because we’ve been in business for such a long time I think I’m allowed to say our company does enjoy a very good reputation.

"If we need additional fleet it’s really easy for us to pull together that because of our reputation.

"Truck drivers have got a lot of time they spend sitting in trucks alone and what do they do – they talk, and everybody wants to know who we’re working for and what we’re doing so if we need some help those drivers will refer somebody they know to come and join us."

EXTERNAL HELP

MacGregor had never considered investing in her own fleet as she believes owner drivers treat their vehicles with greater care.

"They’ve got a huge financial interest in their gear and we’ve met some brilliant blokes over the years who tend to look after the gear really, really well," she says.

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She’s seen a lot of change within the liquor industry over the years, with many companies being bought out.

"For instance, just in the last 10 years, IGA Supermarkets had bought out Southern Independent Liquor and Capital Liquor, so there’s two liquor distributors that are no longer in the market.

"But the same thing is happening with the producers of the product – we stay on top of all of this by being very aware what their needs are and working with them to come up with solutions that fit the requirements. You have to listen."

The company has a strong female presence; half of the workforce is women.

Her first finance director was with the company for almost 35 years. She was in her 80s when she retired.

According to MacGregor, age is not a factor.

"As long as you’re capable of doing the job, I don’t care how old or how young you are.

"I believe it’s best man for the job and that’s what we’re always looking at. We’ve got a young girl who’s only 20, she started off last year working at the warehouse as casual and we are now training her up in the office.

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"When we see somebody who shows initiative and shows that she wants a job and she’s prepared to work at it, I love giving young people an opportunity to do better."

PEOPLE INDUSTRY

What MacGregor has learnt from Bill is that only people can make a difference.

If one works with the best and you encourage them and inspire them to be their best, regardless of their role, one will become successful.

She’s never considered it a disadvantage being a female – in fact, she’s benefited from it.

"When I first started in the industry, there were few girls in it, it was nearly all men, so to go and see a customer and you were a girl, that was different," MacGregor says.

"I never ever had a problem. It’s been nearly 30 years since Bill passed; life continually changes but that was a challenge I just had to meet.

"It just meant that you’ve got to learn more and I would say that I’m fortunate with the people who were working with us."

OPERATIONS

The company moved into its new Derrimut location west of Melbourne four years ago.

Transitioning from 2.5 acres in Sunshine to 12 acres will allow for future growth, MacGregor says.

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Along nationwide transport, the company also offers container unpack and long and short term storage services.

It has partnered with AutoMonitor, fitting its vehicles with a black box that combines four technologies into one.

Featuring a rollover prediction system that was initially developed for the US military, it also has GPS tracking, a tachograph and an on board vehicle health system.

It replaces driver log books, recording the full history of any trip including petrol consumption, load weights and driver rest stops.

The company was the first to embrace the technology after working closely with AutoTest Products during the production phase.

MacGregor, who lost a driver in a truck rollover accident in 1978, says her company is all about safety.

"I have spent months and months over the years educating our customers that dead on time is not a good look for anybody. We will do anything in our power to say that," she says.

"We can keep to their required timelines but have your freight ready early and allow us to travel so that we’re never putting anybody on the roads at risk and we’re not putting your precious goodies at risk either.

"With customers who have time slotted freight, we will try and get it to our depots a day before so that the depots then have time to meet the time slots," she adds.

"If it’s a full load they are told what time they must have the load ready by to achieve the timeslot that their customer has nominated."

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MacGregor keeps on top of industry issues by being involved with the Victorian Transport Association and other transport bodies.

Not one to hold back on her opinion about changes to Chain of Responsibility laws, MacGregor believes laws around work diaries need to be relaxed.

"It’s all revenue raising – what they need to be absolutely on top of is safety, not the revenue raising from stupid logbook spelling errors," she says.

"They have to find other fish to fry if you like, other ways to gain the revenue because our industry has become so good that the same revenue is not available to them from the safety aspect."

 

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