The story of Followmont Transport is one of palpable family values, proactive market agility and ongoing loyalties to both customers and staff. It should come as no surprise that its personnel, now over 850 and counting, is bolstered by many long serving employees some of which are 20-year servants.
Followmont also has an expanding workforce, nearly 200 strong, of women. Its most recent delivery of 14 UD Quons, mainly 8-litre units for palletised services between facilities from Cairns down to Sydney, occasioned an opportunity with which to celebrate them.
The showstopper, a striking magenta pink 390 horsepower 11-litre vehicle with a prototype reverse safety system, headlined a recent event at Volvo Group Australia focused on the contributions women make in the industry.
A panel discussion convened by Followmont Managing Director Mark Tobin included the likes of Roz Shaw, Head of Transport at Gallagher, Julie Russell, Russell Transport Director and Lauren Downs, the new Vice President Sales, UD Trucks Australia. The forum promoted opportunities and pathways for women in commercial road transport.
Neither was it a token appearance for the built-for-purpose 6×4 14-pallet curtainsider named ‘Pinky.’ Those who reside or live in a town with a Followmont depot can expect to see more of it in the near future.
The unveiling of the pink UD Quon, something of a flagship for Celebrating Women in Transport, was part of a bigger project to show those outside the industry what a bold and daring place it was of growth and acceptance.
“Women play a huge part in shaping and advancing our industry, however, they may not always receive the recognition they deserve,” Mark says. “This event was created to allow networking opportunities for likeminded individuals and organisations as well as to celebrate those driving change within our industry.”
Followmont Transport Fleet and Compliance General Manager William Fisher says the pink Quon is equipped with every option available including Active Emergency Braking, Lane Change Assist and Radar Cruise Control. Unique to the vehicle is a reverse safety system, developed by a newly founded engineering startup.
According to Will it’s the only truck in the current market equipped with the groundbreaking system. “I’ve built hundreds of trucks over the years and ‘Pinky’ is by far my favourite truck,” he says. “It’s certainly the most publicised that I have worked on.”
The truck, as per Mark, was built as a symbol to encourage people to unite behind the idea of making a difference together.
“I am passionate about finding opportunities of growth for my people and this industry despite age, gender or race,” he says. “It’s about recognising the great people that make a difference and having a proactive and positive approach to embrace and encourage equality within our industry. Hopefully that will lead the way for other industries to do the same.”
With 81 service points Volvo Group Australia has a compelling offering to further strengthen the relationship with Followmont. That’s advantageous given the company’s growing footprint in Northern Queensland. Earlier this year it opened depots in Mackay and Cairns.
“What Volvo has that the others don’t have is they’ve got the most service locations,” says Will. “They’ve got the best aftersales and the trucks have got good resale. Of course, they’re based here in Queensland and we’re a Queensland business supporting local jobs in Queensland. It fits our whole business.”
The strong association with Volvo Group Australia stems from Mark’s personal passion for UD Trucks. He had a longstanding relationship with former Vice President of Sales Mark Strambi, who retired late last year.
“I look forward to continuing and strengthening it even more with Lauren Downs as the new VP of Sales,” he says. “Beyond UD, Volvo Group, as a whole, is a key relationship for Followmont. I have an incredible amount of respect for Martin Merrick. He is an amazing leader and the recent negative press around him and VGA is a disgrace to the industry”.
The increasing size and variety of the company fleet, according to Mark, has allowed Followmont to accommodate its clients’ needs by providing them with a full service.
“It allows for us to keep up with their growth as much as our own,” he says.
Because fleet replacement for the business is usually a periodic consideration around the end of financial year, Will staggers orders throughout the calendar year so that the business has constantly got mobile assets coming in when old gear is going out.
As it can be a drawn-out process, up to 122 weeks before a body is even built, it needs to be managed closely with financing and cashflow requirements.
“That’s where a lot of the planning and fleet forecasting comes in to make sure you know when you want it. Just because you’re ordering it today doesn’t mean you need it today,” he says. “If you need it today and you’ve ordered it today than you’ve left it too late.”
Followmont Transport is known as one of the biggest operators of UD Trucks in Australia, likely its largest customer in Queensland, where it has been headquartered in Brisbane since it was founded in 1983.
The newest arrivals join an existing family of 200 UDs and fill a need to introduce new vehicles into its general freight delivery network prompted by recent growth and planned fleet upgrades. In both the 11- and 8-litre format, the New Quon makes use of a group driveline. The engine, transmission, axles and suspension are essentially derived from the Volvo Group platform. The 12-speed Escot VI transmission in the UD shares a commonality with the highly rated Volvo iShift. In the rigid market, where the trucks are plying their trade, they have horsepower to spare.
“With over 300 horsepower in this application the trucks are not really working that hard so we tend to get a lot more out of them,” Will says. “We’ve got UDs in our fleet that have done a million kilometres and they’re rigid trucks and they’re still going strong. They’re well priced, efficient, strong and reliable which means we get good resale on them.”
New Quon comforts have been welcomed by the drivers. In-cab conveniences, such as enhanced ambiance and its ergonomic environment, are hardly inconsequential attributes for a vehicle being driven 12 to 14 hours a day.
Fuel efficiency is also delivering above expectations.
“Now that we’ve had ample time to evaluate the units that were delivered last year the Quons are getting 3.1 to 3.2 kilometres to the litre,” Will says.
Health and Safety Manager Karen McTainsh, now in her thirteenth year at Followmont, worked with Will on spec’ing the latest UD additions.
“Obviously access and egress is always really important and making sure it is safe for drivers to climb in and out of the vehicle. Ultimately that’s a constant requirement,” she says. “For tailgates and so forth we’re looking at that for protection and Followmont is very proactive in the safety space. We are always looking for equipment to meet the highest standards.”
During her time at Followmont, Karen has seen it transform from a magazine delivery business to the leading freight carrier it is today. After starting out as a picker and packer she was encouraged by Bernie Tobin to get a forklift licence.
She was soon unloading trucks.
From there she worked her way into the magazine department for two years and later the Human Resources department. In 2012 she was appointed to her current role. All those opportunities were offered to her from either Bernie or Mark.
“It’s probably unusual to have so many 20 year servants at a company. In some cases there’s staff who have been with us for 25 years,” she says. “That has a lot to do with the Tobin family. It’s testament to their management and the staff enjoy working under them.”
In 2018 Followmont Transport embarked on a fresh approach to training practices throughout the business to help people understand what new chain of responsibility regulations would mean to them. Karen took an active role in breaking it down for everyday tasks and actions that would lead to superior compliance.
Aside from general health and safety her expertise is in dangerous goods transportation. At present she manages all the training for the forklift loaders and drivers handling DG.
Although it comes under CoR it is subject to manifold variations given it changes when multi-combination loads, for example, are involved.
In 2017 she put in place a compliance inventory process bolstered by a final checklist for dangerous goods and load restraint. It was recognised with an award by the Queensland Transport Association the same year.
“I guess it was a culmination of working with all the team members here and the supervisors to implement it and get it out,” she recalls. “So it really was an award for us all.”
By early March of this year coronavirus panic had reached Australian shores. It left many employed in the freight and logistics industry uncertain as to how the supply chain and the workers within it would be adversely affected. For its part, Followmont established a COVID Response Team responsible for communications, a critical role for setting a standard across multiple depots.
Senior executives came together and formed a plan in accordance with a series of what ifs. If shipping was besieged by disruptions and revenue dropped below a certain threshold; there was contingencies in place.
Worst case scenarios were outlined. No matter if it was suppliers or customers, everyone seemingly was looking to implement their own solution. In addition to this the COVID Response team had to disseminate information, some of it conflicting, from health organisations and government.
A fogging machine was purchased to clean trucks during driver changeovers. Medical supplies, once sourced, were distributed per capita. Ultimately, through its coordinated approach across many teams, Followmont protected the business and its workers, none of which lost any work.
“Drivers fell into their roles very quickly. For our long haul drivers it was more challenging as they were travelling over borders and when that second wave came through from Victoria that certainly added more pressure,” says Karen. “They were having to complete their COVID declaration every seven days and get tested every seven days.”
At first it seemed very odd that they were having to go through these different processes to make a delivery according to Karen. It didn’t take very long, however, for this to become the norm.
“It’s been quite challenging,” she says. “But I feel like we’re getting to the end of it. Hopefully we have turned a corner.”
In conjunction with the Celebrating Women in Transport campaign, Followmont has announced a new initiative called Launch into Work. The pre-employment program recruits job seekers into positions that offer career pathways.
Ten females will receive training and experience to earn full time work on Followmont’s PUD team. Right fit candidates, as indicated by Mark Tobin, will be measured on the values and attributes they bring to their roles.
With the increasing presence of women in more operational roles across the industry, it’s now a common sight to see female PUD drivers and forklift operators.
“I think where women tend to be limited by their physical capabilities they can compensate with their problem solving abilities,” says Karen.
“There’s always another solution and it’s not always about brute force to get something done. Most women can cope in a hard industry like road transport. Equipment has gotten so much better over the years. So it’s gotten easier to manage gates and curtains and that type of thing. In general most women operators are very articulate in what they do. So their paperwork is great. Their logsheets are legible and clean. They’re very precise about what they do.”
The transport industry is, contrary to external alarmist optics, one of the most accepting industries where care is an underlying value for a majority of those within it. It cannot function on pro forma entitlements.
That usually means those that have a role, no matter how seemingly incidental, are an asset to the business.
One of the key strategies, according to Mark, is to have the right people in the right places — whether male or female.
“Our industry is changing everyday with many challenges and we won’t succeed unless we’re open to recruiting the best people for the job,” he says.
“Which in many cases can be females. By having the right people in the right roles, the people that are dedicated to and live by our values, it allows us to not only service customers at a premium level but also to maintain and grow those existing and potential relationships including our network and suppliers.”
At Followmont many key leadership roles are already filled by women including the Health & Safety Manager, Financial Controller, Claims Manager, Customer Service Manager, Lead Business Partner and a host of others.
“They are in the role because they are the right person for it,” says Mark. “I will always encourage our team to grow across the business in the right roles for their own development as much as the organisation’s.”
Karen, who has seen Followmont Transport evolve, appreciates the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into building it into the company it is today. At root much of that can be ascribed to the people she works with.
“It’s not just a job. There’s a rapport you make with people when you walk on site and spend time with them,” she says. “I’ll find that I always take something away from it. There’s a payoff with the relationships that you make.”