When the Trucking Industry Woman of the Year Award was announced at the ATA Convention in Sydney earlier this year, Roz was a popular winner – all due to the fact she lives and breathes transport, her exposure to trucks and trucking beginning at an early age with involvement in the family Hawkins Road Transport business a natural part of life.
Hawkins Road Transport was founded by her great grandparents Bartholomew and Rosina Hawkins in 1921 and was the first company to run in competition with rail in Brisbane. Things were decidedly different then with cartage rates not to be lesser than railways charges, resulting in profitability ahead of what we know today.
The Hawkins business is one of the country’s success stories and as time went on it became a very diversified carrying business encompassing general, refrigerated freight, fuel cartage and the operation of a banana farm with a sizeable fleet delivering a wide range of services.
As one can imagine, Roz spent much of her young life around the Brisbane depot and even gained her truck driving licence at the age of 17. Roz had been up close and personal with the business with plenty of hands-on experience before joining the company in 1981, so it was little wonder she was named as CEO of the business in 1997, the fourth generation family member to take the reins.
“It was very much in the blood, the usual family business exposure, and I joined the company as a girl Friday and time passed by until one day I became the boss and wondered how that happened,” Roz smiles.
“In 2006 we bought out Mum and Dad (Neville and Shirley Hawkins), and my first action was rationalising of the business, identifying the good and bad parts of our operations. At that time fuel haulage was a minority part of our business but I identified general and refrigerated carrying was a burden and every day I thank goodness we divested this part of our business in 2009 to concentrate on fuel carrying,” Roz says.
“Transport is a tough industry but those sectors are really tough with so many variables. If you have a cyclone in Tully you have no loads for a year and there are no guarantees of return loading and it is very labour intensive trying to lull contracts together and if you don’t have back-to-back contracts with people you are in the lap of the Gods when it comes to how best utilise your fleet. You can be successful one day and the next you don’t have any work.
“On the other side of that, when you have fuel business it is all about contracts. We went into the business to be one of the top carriers with good equipment and the highest safety levels. With all of the extra red tape required we were fine with that because we do get a reward for that work.”
Hawkins Road Transport operates fuel tankers throughout Queensland with head office at the Port of Brisbane and depots in Gladstone, Mackay, Townsville and Richmond. The fleet consists of 31 prime movers and almost 100 tankers, in B-Double, triple and quad combinations servicing mainly mine sites in the Bowen Basin.
“It tough in the Bowen Basin where we operate, because you have to keep increasing your wage prices so much that your contracts can’t keep up. It is difficult to keep putting your hand out to your customers all the time. Wages in mining areas are high and you have to keep pace retaining drivers,” Roz says.
Such is the driver shortage that 50 per cent of the drivers operating out of Mackay fly in from Brisbane and fly out, but the Hawkins company uses only the most professional operators to service customers.
Very much the hands-on CEO, Roz is more than aware of the challenges facing the industry and driver recruitment is one of those, but she points out the industry has an enormous number of benefits.
“When I employ people I can assure them they will never be bored, every day is different. Imagine a person in an office daily, or in a job where life is ordered every day of the week, transport is not like that, you never know each day what you are going to get,” Roz smiles.
“You have got to be a particular type of person to like that, it’s not for everybody, but there is a sense of pioneering in transport. We have just put our first BAB Quad on the road running from Townsville to Mt Isa, an exciting time, and I have sent photos of it to the companies we carry for showing them our next step in service. Australia is at the lead in multi-combination vehicles and the productivity gains have been enormous.”
While gaining approval for the BAB Quad has been a two-year exercise, Roz says she is excited by the fact Queensland has a new government committed to cutting red tape.
“Every government for years has promised they would cut red tape for not only our industry but others, but so far nothing has happened. This government said it would and so far we can see evidence of that already. All the doors used to be closed but now people want to have a discussion about our ideas, after all we are the backbone of the economy.
“Small business employs 80 per cent of the people in Australia, it’s not the big banks, so it is vital those in the ground floor can get their ideas across and have a say. Governments want higher productivity but we have a driver shortage so how do you address that?” Roz asks. “It’s simple, really. You allow higher productivity vehicles so there are less trucks carrying more freight and that helps everybody by better protecting roads and lowering accident rates while increasing freight movement.”
Roz would like to see more high productivity movement out of Mackay, particularly accessing the harbour as there would be a 30 per cent productivity gain. For a tanker she says a pocket road train is roughly a metre longer than a 26 metre B-double. “It doesn’t need to be a very long vehicle but the productivity gains speak for themselves,” she says.
The Hawkins activities also encompasses tourism, operating the popular Moreton Island Adventure Micat vehicular and passenger ferry service and operates the truck stop and truck wash at the Port of Brisbane. The company employs around 180 people over the three businesses.
Trucking is where Roz has her heart, and that’s why she is Vice President of the Queensland Trucking Association and extremely active in industry affairs. She is a champion for women in the industry and is always keen to promote jobs and careers for them.
“We have a few good women truck drivers who have been with us for quite a while. We like to encourage their employment, but it is still challenging to get more women into the industry. In our business the starting vehicle is a B-Double which means experience and a MC licence, so it is a challenge.” Roz says.
“The women you talk to in transport that have made the transition from another industry all love it. Today’s industry with advances in technology means there is not as much heavy lifting, but in saying that you still have to be strong. In trucking, and certainly in our business, there is not as much heavy work such as dogs and chains and lifting gates.”
Roz has seen many changes over her time in road transport but says one of the most significant of those has been the success of industry associations in lobbying governments – but there is a long way to go. “We need to support industry associations, become members to present a stronger voice. Take a look at the Australian Trucking Association (ATA). We run a tourism business and a trucking business, and the ATA successfully lobbied the government to not reduce the fuel subside by 6.5 per cent, now that has been a real boost for transport but as a tourism operator I am now paying 6.5 per cent more for my fuel and have no way of getting that back.
“As a transport industry group it has been very successful in its lobbying activities and I don’t think enough people realise how hard the ATA works for the industry as a whole. People should get behind their local industry association to enable a stronger voice to be heard and be successful in the pursuit of important ideals,” Roz tells with passion.
The office at Hawkins is a busy transport hub and as a mother with two young adult children Roz would appear to have little spare time to pursue interests, but one thing she does enjoy, and makes time for, is continuing contact with people. Not surprisingly most of those are involved in transport and some of those are ex-employees.
“This industry is all about people. A highlight of my time in transport revolves around the good people who make up and have contributed to this industry. Many of those are truck drivers, good honest family persons who are vastly different to how the public perceives the. Most are tee totalling men and women, not the ogres made out by many. A lot of truck drivers had a trade before taking up driving and it is difficult find better people,” Roz says.
Another of her loves is truck driving, after gaining her licence at 17, Roz has always enjoyed being behind the wheel and when the company rationalised the fleet she kept a Freightliner eight-wheeler.
“I sold that truck and rarely these days have the opportunity to drive,” she says, “but it is always nice to know I can get in a truck and drive a Roadranger gearbox without crashing a gear.”
A true transport woman recognised for her contribution to industry and admired by many.