People First

Linfox President Consumer and Healthcare Group, Kylie Fraser has been named a Mentor of the Year finalist in the 2021 Women in Industry Awards.

With an extensive career in freight and logistics, Kylie Fraser is currently responsible for Linfox’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and healthcare customers in Australia, which involves developing end-to-end supply chain solutions for many of the world’s best-known consumer brands and healthcare  organisations.

After leaving school Kylie’s first role was with Rapid Transport, then a division of the Mayne Nickless group.

She was based at head office in an administration role, but soon after commencing transferred to an operational site.

“I think I was too noisy for head office”, Kylie says.

The move ignited an interest and subsequent life-long passion for warehousing and transport.

This was quickly recognised by management and Kylie became the company’s youngest site supervisor.

“I didn’t enjoy school at all, and when I went into operations it was as if I’d found where I was meant to be,” Kylie says about joining the transport industry.

“The world of operations and everything within it resonated with me, and I loved that no two days were ever the same. That’s still the case, thirty years on.”

Relying mostly on her own initiative, Kylie rapidly developed her own leadership skills.

“I never had a formal or even informal mentor myself, which is probably why I am now so passionate about mentorship,” she said.

Being the youngest person and only female on site may have been isolating for Kylie, yet she seized the opportunity.

“At the time it never dawned on me that I was different or that I wouldn’t be afforded opportunities as a female,” she recalls. “I always believed that working hard would get me where I needed to go, and opportunities continued to come my way. To be honest, I’ve been very blessed and have never been in a situation where gender has been a challenge for any opportunity I’ve been given.”

The relationship with Linfox began when the company acquired Mayne Nickless transport operations.

Kylie’s career continued to progress under the new ownership, and she eventually became a national manager looking after some of the larger FMCG clients, many of which are still her customers today.

She was later appointed Vice President of Operations for the FMCG division.

“I had just returned from maternity leave and Kathryn Fagg was President of FMCG at the time. She was an absolute inspiration and has been an unbelievable influence in my career, particularly when I went to BevChain,” Kylie explains.

“Kathryn nominated me for the position and her words of encouragement, ‘you can do this, I believe in you’, gave me the resolve to accept the role.”

Despite some initial misgivings and even admitting to a little self-doubt, in 2011 Kylie took over as CEO of Linfox’s BevChain, where she oversaw the business doubling in size during the first four years of her tenure.

“Being holistically accountable for something was a definite game-changer for me,” Kylie says in reference to the overall management function which came with the position she held until 2017, when she returned to Linfox.

“When it comes to mentoring, I always reinforce that people don’t recommend you if they think you’re going to fail. It’s an indication that person backs you and wants you to succeed.”

Upon further reflection, Kylie acknowledges she has had the good fortune in working for many good leaders over the years. Of course some have been less than great.

“My leadership style has been more influenced by the latter, as I never wanted to be that type of leader,” she quips.

Kylie views the transport industry rising to COVID-19 challenges as a watershed response with the last two years having taught the wider community how important the supply chain is.

“Without it, countries break down. There is a new-found appreciation for the truck driver, forklift driver, warehouse team and transport team,” she says.

“These people keep our country going and are literally putting food on the plates of millions of families and households around the country.” She adds, “Our experience throughout the pandemic provides an opportunity for us to refresh and rebrand the importance of logistics.”

Kylie completed her MBA in December 2020 after studying part-time for four years.

A Large distribution warehouse with gates for loading goods

She saw those studies as yet another avenue to grow her network, expand her thinking and to meet people outside her day-to-day business activities.

As an industry leader, Kylie keeps an eye on the post-pandemic future while ensuring current demands are met for business and operational innovation during this period of constant change.

What post-pandemic supply chains will look like presents a challenge and an exciting opportunity at the same time.

“Agility, consistency, quality and safety are critical for supply chains to respond to changing demands and influences, many of which can be largely out of anyone’s control,” says Kylie.

Looking to the future, Kylie sees investment in technology and automation as a way that businesses can adapt to and mitigate some COVID-19 challenges and, furthermore, maintain or even improve speed to market for customers.

She acknowledges that recruiting people for current and future industry requirements will, however, bring with it some challenges.

“People are critical to the success of any business and there are lots of opportunities for great team members in our industry right now. Linfox does a fantastic job of attracting, developing and retaining the best people, bringing rich and diverse backgrounds and perspectives to the business,” Kylie says. “We are also proud of our strong and successful graduate program.”

The future and the talent coming through the business is nevertheless exciting according to Kylie.

“These young people have so many opportunities, it’s exciting to be them in our industry and our world today,” she says.

Equally, Kylie sees there are additional levers to attract and retain talented people with advances in industry safety, automation, technology and increasingly important environmental commitments.

“Customers have always expected us to be at the table on safety, and they definitely want us there now with shared sustainability programs and goals as well,” she says. “That is another big, important shift for our industry.”

Kylie Fraser may have progressed a considerable way from tallying driver run sheets, yet she remains connected to the grassroots of her industry.

“If I’m having a not-so-good day, I go straight to a site and head for a walk into the warehouse to talk and laugh with our people,” she says. “A good day for me is a day out in operations – that’s just food for the soul and I come back with an ‘I can do anything’ mindset.”