Prime Mover Magazine

Russell Transport celebrates 90 years

Russell Transport celebrates 90 years

After a remarkable 90-year stint in Australia’s commercial road transport industry, third generation family business Russell Transport is well prepared for the future.

When Roy Bayley Russell bought his first truck in 1925, he could have never envisaged the success story his carrying company was about to write. Over the coming 90 years, Russell Transport would grow into a highly regarded business with a strong reputation for reliability that is still standing strong amidst a volatile economy.

Back then, all Roy did was seize an opportunity when he saw one. It arose when the Dalgety company, the Queensland agents for the Colonial Oil Refinery (COR) in Brisbane, was looking for someone to transport motor spirit. Roy took the job and, as they say, the rest is history.

Historic records confirm that from day one, Roy worked diligently to grow the business by focusing on customer service as a point of difference. With enormous support from his wife Beryl, the fleet grew considerably and the company rebranded to RB Russell Transport, before becoming Russell Transport in more recent times.

Behind the scenes, even more family members were at work – including Roy’s son EB ‘Phil’ Russell, who started with the company in the workshop, gradually moving through the ranks before taking over the business in the 1970s. As Director, Phil followed his father’s 45 years of hard work and continued to take the company along the road of growth and prosperity.

Looking back, he says Russell Transport always had the knack of identifying changes in both the transportation industry and customer needs. Being able to adapt operations to suit those changes has seen many clients form long-term relationships with the firm. For example, the early years of fuel cartage saw motor spirit delivered in drums, but as demand increased, the need for bulk transport arrived, so the company moved with the times and introduced tanks and tankers.

Over time, Russell Transport has also been able to design and build equipment itself to undertake specific transport tasks – including the challenging oversize and overmass loads that have become more prevalent in the second half of the century. Drawing on that knowledge, the current team is highly experienced in transporting big loads – including rail locomotives and carriages – and has even designed its own chocking system for safe transport and efficient loading and unloading.

Driven by a strong DIY mind-set, the company will still invest in in-house builds if it doesn’t have the right equipment available for a project. Until today, many aspects of the trucks in operation are also the result of work carried out in-house, including bodies and other application-specific equipment.

In the 1990s, Russell saw a growth spurt after taking over Caloundra General Carriers, which turned the family company into one of the largest transport businesses on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. From an initial customer base of 30 it grew to more than 160 overnight.

“The 1990s were a period of growth for most businesses and we were no different. We saw opportunities and acted accordingly, and this has delivered benefits to the Russell Transport business through diversification, allowing us to broaden our offerings to customers. The decisions we made have worked very well,” Phil says.

More importantly, the 90s saw the third generation of the Russell family assume control, with Phil’s son Ken and daughter Julie beginning careers with the company. Phil says that succession in road transport is always difficult, but the Russell offspring have taken to the family company with optimism, a professional approach and a committed desire to take it further in the future.

“You have to have people willing to move into roles with a family transport business. If they don’t have the passion to pursue on-going success, it will never work. I have been very fortunate: Ken and Julie both exhibit a real desire to be part of the company,” Phil says.

“And, they have to work hard to achieve that success. Ken started in the workshop as an apprentice in 1996 and gained a real insight into the operations of the company, while Julie started work elsewhere and gained a thorough grounding, putting her in good stead for what she does today. Julie joined us in 1997 and both remain keen to further the business.”

On the subject of succession and plans for the future, Julie says, “We don’t look at my generation and how we relate to the business, rather we look at what we can achieve for the next generation and how far we can take the family business forward. [That’s why] it is essential to recognise the importance of working on the business, not in the business. You have to maintain and achieve ideals to further the company in the best way possible.”

Honouring her business acumen, Julie has been recognised with the 2015 Australian Trucking Association’s Trucking Industry Woman of the Year Award for her work on advancing safety programs and compliance regimes, as well as promoting a host of other issues such as driver health within the trucking community.

But what’s closest to her heart is her family heritage. “Russell Transport has gained a wealth of experience in its 90-year history and continues to develop new strategies to improve its services,” she says. “It has experienced the highs and lows of fluctuating fortunes in an extremely competitive industry, but clever planning and recognition of available opportunities presented by diversification has paid dividends.”

In celebrating the company’s 90th birthday, the Russell family is extremely proud of its 160 employees, many with long years of service under their belts. Despite a challenging economic environment, the company promotes long term careers in all aspects of its operations, which is evidenced by past employees who were with the company for their entire working lives.

Phil himself has notched up 45 years at Russell Transport – just like his father and grandfather – and while the involvement of Ken and Julie means he can take a bit of a breather, he won’t be found far from the business. Most mornings he will be roaming the yard or workshop talking with drivers and keeping an eye on the equipment, followed by a detailed discussion with operations. And, there’s a lot to talk about: The company operates 116 trucks and a large fleet of trailers for a wide range of applications – including flat top trailers, drop decks, tankers, lowloaders, sidelifters, rigid crane trucks and a variety of B-double trailers.

Over the years, Russell Transport has operated many truck makes, including Ford, Diamond Reo, International and Mack. The first in operation was a Chevrolet, followed by Dodges to further the delivery of motor spirit as more motorised vehicles gained acceptance. Today, the heavy truck of choice in the Russell fleet is Kenworth, powered by Cummins, while Hino makes up the majority of numbers in the rigid truck fleet. An extensive and fully equipped workshop facility takes care of maintenance at the Eagle Farm headquarters.

“During my time at the helm, I focused on developing our reputation for quality and service. Based on my mechanical background, I was determined to ensure our vehicles were well maintained, presentable and reliable - and this has been an on-going and important part of our operations for 90 years,” Phil says.

In line with that attitude, each truck movement is now monitored by a sophisticated tracking system that can provide the exact location of each vehicle with real time images. This way, both customers and the company have peace of mind that everything is accounted for. “Technology has come a long way over the 90 years we’ve been in the business. One of the big things is the development of new safety technology,” Phil says. “When you look at the early days, for example, brakes were almost non-existent, but today, with bigger units and heavier legal payloads, sophisticated braking systems have really changed the picture.”

And according to Phil, there is still much more to come - both in terms of technology and business development. With the third generation of family members now at the helm, there is more than enough young blood around to help advance the business on every level, and they all agree it’s been a privilege to having had exposure to the work ethics and value systems of the previous generations.

“We are committed to ensuring the family business continues to be successful and look forward to working with our people to reach and exceed our 100 year milestone.”

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