Western Front

Since 2004 Goldstar Transport in Western Australia, an all-rounder in logistics, express freight movements and specialty equipment transfers has established itself as a serious player in the market.

Managing Director Sean Carren, a mechanic by trade, cultivated in those early years a customer-orientated family-owned business into a respected outfit that today offers a range of premium freight services. These include bulk freight, DC shuttle runs, mining roadtrains and linehaul.

The business is essentially Daimler aligned, sourcing a majority of its commercial vehicles from Daimler Trucks in Perth, where it more recently purchased two new Mercedes-Benz Actros 2646s and four of the more powerful Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663s.

The company also runs Fusos, with some 6x2s and the more unique 8×4 configuration of which it operates four assembled with a customised 14-pallet freight dry van.

At present Goldstar Transport is evaluating a demo version of the Freightliner Cascadia, the first in Western Australia.

Having attended the launch event for the next generation linehaul truck earlier in the year, Carren did not pass up an opportunity to trial the 13-litre 505 horsepower vehicle when offered to do so by Daimler.

It’s paired with a DT12 transmission and is committed to ferrying general freight between distribution centres in Kewdale, Hazelmere, Welshpool and Canning Vale for the moment.

The Cascadia is far from the first Freightliner at work in the business. Goldstar Transport runs a small fleet of Coronados on triple roadtrains into the Kimberley and the far reaches of the state’s northwest which are complemented by the cabover Argosy Carren describes as an excellent option for extendable work into remote areas.

The trucks are moving steel and general supplies to mining settlements, running from Perth 2,500 kilometres one way.

A hallmark of the Coronado is the distinct spatial advantage of its cabin according to Sean who describes the trucks as a home away from home for his long haul drivers.

“The drivers basically live in the vehicles a few days at a time and the Coronados provide the guys with that extra space so they have enough room to be comfortable,” he says. “On these trips the combinations are averaging around 100 tonnes and the Freightliners are well suited to application.”

In total, the fleet operates 20 Freightliner trucks.

The Coronados are powered with a Detroit DD15 engine and Roadrangers, specific for the people tasked with driving them — a demographic not, incidentally, impartial to a manual gearbox.

In Western Australia where loads into the Pilbara regularly exceed 140 tonnes, Goldstar Transport finds a good fit with Daimler Trucks in Perth.

The two companies have reached a mutual understanding on the requirements of the Goldstar business.

For a bulk distribution contract, the company has devoted the Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks which Sean says have been uniformly acclaimed by the staff.

“I’m exceptionally happy with them and the effort Mercedes-Benz puts into looking after us,” he says. “The Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663 is a spectacular vehicle for us. Driver feedback is always positive. We’re pulling ten bricks through the wind and they excel at doing that job.”

As much as the company understands the importance of having the latest and safest technology it values its people above all else. This is often repeated by Carren who has been willing to train younger staff and provide them with the opportunities to upskill and gain vital experience.

“You can have the best truck in the world but if the driver is not that good at his job you’re not going to have the result you’re after for the customer,” he says.

“For us it’s all about the customer at the end of the day. Our customer focused ethic sets us apart. We have a focus on safety. A lot of people say safety is a given. Well it’s not. Safety is about effort in your people. Our recent Worksafe Platinum Safety award is a direct result of the effort our people put in. We’re in a people business as much as a transport business. A successful business is one that looks after its people and its customers.”

According to Carren many of his 150 personnel are under 30 and working their first job. The workshop employs around 20 staff including five apprentices.

Meanwhile, a key part of the operations team is Sally Brown, 30. She has been with the company going on eight years since she accepted a role while out from England on a working holiday visa.

At the time hired, she was qualified to teach school children.

First employed in administration, Sally worked in the small office that oversees warehouse distribution and eight 14-pallet rigid vehicles. She had no previous experience in the transport industry. Now she works out of the main office in Kewdale scheduling semi-trailers in the metropolitan focused domain of the business.

“This involves containers, contracted DC delivery, ad hoc work scheduling, such as moving barriers on freeways for road works,” Sally explains. “I manage the schedulers who manage the drivers. My role is to look for improvements.”

The role also requires Sally to bridge the gap between safety and operations by linking different areas of communication.

Part of her remit is working towards a goal of streamlining the business to a newer commercial vehicle fleet once they have met their next target.

“The goal is to remove trucks from or before 2010 and swap them out with replacements by 2021,” she says. “I’m happy to say there is less than ten to go.”

The growth trajectory of Goldstar Transport is made manifest in these kind of commitments to operational improvements.

Despite being what is generally considered young for the industry, Sally has been at the company for half of its history. She’s very much part of its growth.

“With growth you get structure. More people, of course, means more personalities and having to find ways to get everyone to work towards the same ambition,” she says. “That’s gratifying and not without challenges. The industry is a pressure bubble at times. It keeps you on your toes. The same day is never repeated. How each situation occurs and is handled is always different.”

The calls by an ageing industry to include more women in senior roles has not been missed by Sean. He is adamant that younger people need to be given an opportunity.
“It’s my belief you need to give people a go. Not everybody is going to get it right the first day. It’s a tough business,” he says. “What’s really great about our company is the people. Our people are what we are most proud of. Our staff retention rate is exceptional for the road transport industry which traditionally has quite a transient workforce.”

Just last month the company announced a groundbreaking new EBA agreement with its staff who will receive a 9.3 per cent wage increase, a remarkable outcome given it will become effective during a global pandemic when national and global economies are stalling.

Human Resources Manager Kieron Crowley was recruited two years ago to negotiate the new Enterprice Agreement with a view of ‘lifting the standard’ across the business.

“A key part of this was to significantly lift the pay rates,” he says. “We shared the view that better pay rates attract better people, who provide better results. Increases across all 150 plus employees covered by the agreement were proposed, with the majority of employees set to receive a 9.3 percent increase in their base rate.”

When COVID-19 hit, according to Crowley, there was a strong business case to defer or reduce the proposed amount. Carren, however, was committed to proceeding as a reward for the great work that the staff does.

At the end of March, a vote was held and returned an overwhelmingly positive result in favour of the new Agreement explained Crowley.

“It may seem counterintuitive to provide employees with a significant increase at this time, but we’ve taken this leap of faith because our people are our greatest asset and we wanted to reciprocate the loyalty that they have shown us,” he says.

“Overall, it’s a fantastic result for our people and provides them with some much-needed stability of employment during these difficult times. Our people are our greatest asset and we’re very happy with the new Agreement.”

Throughout the course of the year Sean rolls out a collection of historic military vehicles for Anzac Day and other charity events he supports. These include a 1917 light patrol car that saw service in Palestine and Egypt.

The only one of its kind in the world, it is commemorated in a framed photo in the national museum for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

There’s also an Austin Champ from the Royal Marines, a Ferret Scout car of the 10th Light Horse and a 1915 ambulance used on the Western Front.

Although he can’t exactly pinpoint where this passion for Australian history derives from, he likes to share it where possible. Once he found the first collector’s item, the rest, Sean says, have found him.

“We go to other events to make sure people don’t forget their history. Australian history is important,” he explains. “It seems like the right thing to do.”

Recent events that have stretched many transport businesses thin have required an additional effort of commitment and planning. The panic from people forced to close down their businesses was palpable. Uncertainty reigned.

At one stage Sean had 30 containers worth of toilet paper in his yard and his team couldn’t get it out fast enough.

“If you look at the most recent COVID-19 disaster Australia rode on the back of a truck driver,” he says. “The first line of defence, that first point of contact, is the truck driver. Everything that we do is so linked to that driver.”

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