Followmont Transport: follow the leader

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


Followmont Transport is riding a wave of success thanks to its people

Followmont Transport: follow the leader
Mark Tobin became involved with the family business 27 years ago

 

Building a successful business through people is the secret behind Followmont Transport’s 35-year-long history.

The Queensland and New South Wales-based business has grown steadily over the decades thanks to its 850 employees who, according to managing director Mark Tobin, "own the business".

Tobin has been striving for a healthy, happy workforce ever since coming on board 27 years ago, helping guide the business into a new era.

With a focus on leadership training, succession planning and performance reviews,

Tobin is very much a hands-on manager whose company is personal – not commercial.

Having poured every cent back into the business since becoming a shareholder 15 years ago, Tobin says he’s not afraid of debt either.

Three years ago, Tobin and his brother Ben became the two major shareholders after buying the business from the founding family.

With aggressive growth year on year, they continually invest back into the business through staff development, property and equipment.

"A business is like a tree: if it doesn’t grow, it will die," Tobin explains.

"I’ve been more structural around people; since I’ve run the business, I’ve gone from having 350 people to 850, so I’m very big on leadership.

"The people own the business, not me. I put my people first."

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As the transport industry competes for talent in a tight economy, Followmont Transport has a few strategies in place to combat that.

A business that’s 100 per cent dedicated to service; its main focus is internal training.

"We really work hard to bring out the values that make the business strong and embedded into the business for the business purpose," Tobin says.

"Our business purpose is a passionate family business – hands-on relationships with our customers, our people and suppliers.

"What we’ve done is taken what’s special and formulated it into everything we do every day.

"I have a one-page strategy for every business unit, so everybody has structure and everything leads to the one page to know what we are doing for our customer, what we are doing for our people and what the expectation is for business performance.

"It’s about taking the customer pain and using our network to relieve the pain and bring the two businesses together for a better relationship for long-term successions."

GROWTH

Followmont Transport marked its 35-year anniversary this year by hitting another milestone – opening a new depot in Mackay in August and another in Bundaberg in September.

The $11 million facility at Diesel Drive in Paget, Mackay, includes 16 driver rooms, a wash bay, docks and a segregation area.

The company is also building another $12 million-worth depot in Cairns, due to be completed in November, and has secured another piece of land purchased in Toowoomba for a later site.

"We keep putting back into business – we always have," Tobin says.

"Every cent that we make goes back into the property to sustain the long-term sustainability of the business."

He’s a firm believer of acquisitions – aiming to take over a company every two years. The recent takeover of Towers Transport has bolstered its New South Wales presence.


More on Followmont's takeover of Towers Transport, here


A strategic move, the Towers purchase offers additional services to their existing customer base for the benefit of their businesses, and is currently in the process of ramping up further.

The move sees an extensive network expansion for both providers, benefiting customers with a personalised inter- and intrastate service offer throughout Queensland and NSW.

Tobin says identifying the right partner for the merger was the most important factor.

"We always have a number of businesses we are looking to buy," Tobin adds.

"That’s the job of a CEO; I have to identify good opportunities.

"It takes skill to find a good one; it’s about how you bring two cultures together and understand how you can take cost out of an acquisition through current cost and use an amalgamation of two businesses to create income."

BEGINNINGS

From humble beginnings in 1984, Bernie Tobin and Alan Salpietro saw a gap in the market when a rail strike affected newspaper deliveries to regional communities.

The two men loaded their only truck and took to the road to ensure Queensland towns remained connected and it wasn’t long before their work ethic was recognised by multi-national retailers.

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The company has since evolved from "two men and a truck" to becoming Queensland’s largest family-owned transport company.

Now led by Bernie’s son, Mark, Followmont has 850 employees, close to 1,000 pieces of equipment, 25 plus depots throughout Queensland and NSW and 150 local contractors.

Tobin hails the firm’s continuing dedication to providing the best service possible.

"It’s been this dedication that has set a precedent for how we operate and why we have achieved so much over the 35 years," he says.

"We form partnerships with our customers and understand what they need to be successful in their business and how we can help them achieve that."

Founded on family values, Mark has every intention to continue the business in that direction, he adds.

His 10-year plan is to continue to grow and stick to the same strategy.

"While my brother is still interested in the growth of the business and while my senior leaders are empowered and enjoy it, I don’t see any reason to change the current strategy," Tobin says.

"We will continue to grow and focus on service and how we build really good relationships for our customers and our people – we live by that purpose."

Followmont Transport has more than 1,200 customers on its database. Its vehicles travel 120,000 kilometres each day, with some 130,000 consignments delivered each month at a DIFOT (delivery in full, on time) rate of 98 per cent.

"Service is what sets us apart; we have a service where no one can reach the regional towns of Queensland and New South Wales as quick as we can without issues," Tobin says.

It delivers everything from mail, paint, magazines, pharmaceuticals, food and dangerous goods.

EVOLVING INDUSTRY

The only thing that’s becoming challenging over the years is compliance and risk, according to Tobin.

Those who failed to set their business up for that would have failed, he adds.

"If you did not invest back into your business five years ago around compliance and risk, you would not survive," Tobin says.

"Because we send our people to work safe and we expect them to leave work safe, it’s a family business – we care about our people so I would never put our people at risk.

"My people are the business. They own it and without them we wouldn’t be who we are today."

DIGITAL TRANSITIONING

The company is in the middle of transitioning to improved digital platforms, offering better customer and employee experience.

It has implemented a unified human capital management system through OracleHCM, its project manager Renee Dumble says.

"At the time of implementation, we achieved a four per cent increase in our recruitment efficiency index as a result of process automation and efficiency gains," Dumble says.

"We are able to connect with our geographically dispersed workforce because of the mobile first capability of the OracleHCM cloud-based solution."

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The solution has been designed to streamline its people and culture operating models across recruitment, on-boarding, learning and talent management – mirroring the employee lifecycle.

"Leveraging the system functionality, we launched anytime feedback for peer-to-peer recognition, regular check-ins to replace the mid-year performance review and cascading annual goal setting for greater transparency, all of which reinforced the ‘meaningful conversation culture’ embedded within the organisation," Dumble adds.

"The positive uptake has enriched our employee experience and the implementation was never perceived to be an investment in a system but an investment in the growth of our people."

Tobin says the digital transformation is fit for purpose – a tool to communicate and give feedback.

"It’s all about engaging the people, giving them a sense of belonging," he says.

"It’s about creating a culture and a sense of belonging where they actually care about the business and treat it like their own.

"Having a business of values is so important, I care about my people and I don’t treat them as a way of making money, I treat them as family and I put every cent back in to continue into the bigger picture."

SELF-SUFFICIENT

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Tobin believes in running an autonomous business.

Almost 20 per cent of his drivers are sub-contractors and the company owns its properties, fleet and workshops.

"I’m self-sustainable for the reason I have to service the customer; you’re only as bad as your weakest link.

"My thought is I have to have control and be self-sustainable to drive the best service network for the value."

The company’s preferred truck supplier is UD, with 247 trucks located in Queensland and NSW.

Its 180 prime movers for the linehaul services are made of American and European models.

Some 400 trailers support the general freight.

Follomont also has a mixture of other fleet including tug trucks and dollies that support the business.

It uses 200 Toyota forklifts across its businesses.

 

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