The Luff family’s Border Express organisation is one of Australia’s largest privately-owned transport operations. Under direction of CEO Mostafa Kassaby, Border Express, continues to evolve through its dedication to being at least one step ahead.
The Australian transport market continues to undergo numerous changes and successful operators have to be on their ‘A’ game to merely survive, let alone prosper.
A significant factor in the Border Express journey so far has been recognising that the company’s client base itself has evolved as well.
“There was a time about seven years ago when we weren’t much involved in parcels and were virtually 100 per cent bulk, yet today parcels account for around 35 per cent of the business,” says Mostafa Kassaby, Border Express CEO.
“Previously we were probably carrying goods that many in the industry didn’t want to carry and today we are carrying products that many would be in envy of doing.”
Border Express initiated its parcel business in September 2014 and the rapid growth has been largely organic with no acquisitions of existing operations other than Ross Freight in NSW which was ultimately consolidated into Border Express in May 2018.
Border Express continues to perform a significant amount of traditional freight that was the foundation of the business which Max Luff created in 1981 and still has ongoing contracts that the company has serviced for more than 30 years.
With the transition to more parcel deliveries the business has evolved to where it is today and significant changes have taken place affecting equipment, facilities, and even the service network.
Driving the organisation has required an understanding of not just what the market needs but also trying to get ahead of other market players. Border Express is a place of continuous development which extends to the various equipment acquired to suit the current and future requirements.
“We didn’t have any electric mezzanine deck floors three years ago,” says Mostafa. “Today we have more than 20 because we look at what is efficient and what is safe.”
A similar philosophy extends to truck purchases where the current driver shortage affecting the entire industry was anticipated by Border Express management years ago.
“We haven’t bought a manual truck for seven years,” says Greg Maytom who is in charge of Network and Infrastructure at Border Express and has the responsibility of overseeing the development of the organisation’s equipment requirements. “Typically most of our bulk fleet and our main core of express vehicles are UD Trucks. It’s been the case for about seven years and there are now well over 100 UDs in the fleet.”
Both executives are impressed with the technologies available with the current model of the UD Quon ranging from its advanced safety features to the analytics available via the telematics systems.
“For us to reduce accidents as well as our costs in maintenance these are the type of vehicles for us,” says Mostafa. “That’s why we’ve invested in UD trucks which has put us in a good position to be able to get good drivers into these vehicles and want to drive them.”
The Border Express fleet is largely company-owned and has quite regimented requirements for its sub-contractors in terms of vehicle type and age.
The sub-contract vehicles also carry the Border Express livery truck colours, with presentation and driver behaviour both important factors.
“It’s fair to say most sub-contractors in the bulk fleet will go with UDs as well,” says Greg. “And not just for consistency.”
Last year the company, according to Mostafa, purchased a particular new UD truck with a new body with an electric mezzanine deck.
“The driver loved it so much he asked if he could buy it and become a sub-contractor,” says Mostafa “That’s a real testament to that type of vehicle.”
The UDs are contributing to the rigorous management of compliance at Border Express which operates its own service workshops with support from the CMV dealerships from which they acquire their UD Trucks.
“We’ve got a great relationship with CMV,” says Mostafa. “They come out onsite and do on-board training in the UDs and they spend a lot of time with us in the understanding of the equipment itself. CMV have really catapulted us to another level altogether and their support for Border Express has been fantastic. I have to give them a plug in that respect because the team there have done everything they possibly can to mentor us and to train us. It helps us feel comfortable from a Chain of Responsibility perspective that we are compliant and we believe they are advising us in the right way. Their partnership with us and support for our own national compliance team has given us a confidence we are doing the right things in this area.”
Greg agrees. He says the support of the UD Trucks factory through CMV cannot be underestimated.
“There is nothing I have asked for through CMV that the factory hasn’t helped us with particularly in configurations and specifications and different little things we have asked for throughout the journey they have supported. We certainly hope that continues,” he says.
Border Express has built its own new terminal facilities in Victoria and on the Gold Coast and early this year moved into its new company-owned purpose-built premises at Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast.
With the eastern seaboard covered Border Express has also entered into partnerships in regional South Australia and Western Australia which has resulted in a national service network.
Third party logistics (3PL) is also the subject of increased investment with major facilities at Barnawartha just outside of Border Express’ original base of Albury, as well as in Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.
“At the end of the day we are an Australian family-owned business and we are more than happy to continue to invest in Australia,” says Mostafa.
“We don’t off-shore jobs or processes, unlike some of our competitors who are starting to do it. That includes our call centres and back of house services because once you hand over to an agent you lose some of your control and visibility.”
Mostafa’s preference has always been to keep jobs in Australia and that remains a focus point for future growth.
“We’ll probably double our business within the next five years so we need to have the right partners on board. For example, we used to have our own forklifts, now we don’t have to because we hire them off Linde Material Handling. The industry is going through some significant change and if you’re not at the front of it and looking for different ways to evolve your business you’re going to get left behind.”
Mostafa sees a big challenge for infrastructure in Australia and the inability of the road network to reduce congestion and cites a simple metric of urban parcel delivery rates to illustrate the seriousness of the situation.
“The rate of average deliveries has come down significantly. In the past a driver doing parcels could do around 60 deliveries and now drivers can be doing as few as 40 during a shift. I think the government has greatly underestimated the net effect that is having on Australian transport businesses. Let’s be real about that. When you look at the telematics the rates have really come down, chewing up people’s time, fleet assets and fuel due to stops and starts through traffic. The government clearly needs to support the transport sector and understand the impacts of trucks sitting on the roads or we can quickly get from bad to worse.”
The evolution of Border Express hasn’t merely been about facilities and trucks.
It’s been about the entire company embracing a culture of relentless improvement and a passionate commitment to high ideals. One of the values introduced into the organisation has been simply looking at being better every day.
“Seven years ago we had ‘committed to deliver’ as a position statement and I remember saying to the Board what are we committed to?” Mostafa recalls. “We need an exclamation mark on it and it is not just about delivering a parcel. We are committed to returning a phone call or an email and getting back to our people. We are also committed to support our partners 100 per cent of the time, not 98, not 99. Only then the by-product is delivering the parcel. That’s what really shook the business up and it’s how we are with our business, our people, and our culture. We have to stay ahead of it and we have got to be ruthless in that.”
Border Express hasn’t been immune from the universal shortage of competent drivers and has an active policy of internal advancement for employees who want to perform other functions. Mostafa is also supportive of an industry-wide approach to make working in road transport more appealing.
“The fact of the matter is we are an industry with a low attractiveness to some degree. We have to look at the young person who leaves school and doesn’t want to go to university and we have to ask how we make it attractive for the younger talent to come through the businesses. And that’s a question for every transport company. The industry is rapidly changing and it’s driven by technology with cutting edge tools and innovations and ideas that can provide opportunities to get ahead.”
Mostafa is excited about the future of Border Express and expects the growth rate to remain rapid without sacrificing service.
“Our bulk freight business has lead us into the parcel business. We’re serious about warehousing and now the parcel business will lead us into airfreight. That’s our next succession as an organisation and it’s what our customers are telling us they are wanting from Border Express,” he says.