True grit – the foundation of a trucking empire
From two trucks to 120 in 45 years of hard work
FOR a person who hated school – to the extent he left when he was only 13 – Peter Cochrane has done OK for himself.
The South Australian trucking industry stalwart is testament to what can be achieved through sheer hard work and determination.
During the past 45 years, Peter has built one of the country’s largest independently-owned trucking companies.
Not that you would know it by speaking with him.
The humble businessman is more at home driving a forklift loading one of his trucks than talking about the empire he built on the back of two small delivery trucks in the mid-1970s.
“Never in a million years would I have ever dreamt that one day we would have this,” Peter said from his office overlooking the vast 17 acre headquarters of Peter Cochrane Transport at Torrensville, in Adelaide.
“The business was built on the back of hard work – and we’ve just continued over the years,” he said.
“Pretty much from the start I was a workaholic – and so was my wife (Christine, who passed away from cancer 12 years ago).
“Christine had the same vision as me and could work as hard as her old man – we wore out a few people along the way.
“But it was bloody hard work – in the early days, for the first 7–8 years, I never had a holiday. In saying that, we’ve had a seriously good life – there’s not much I would change.”
Peter’s foray into the transport business was as an 11-year-old boy selling newspapers for family friend Clive Hunt, who owned a local newsagency and small transport business.
Aged 13 –and “absolutely hopeless at school – Peter’s father, together with Clive, decided it was in everyone’s best interest if the youngster left school and began working full-time for Clive.
“The best decision I ever made,” Peter recalled fondly.
As soon as he turned 16, Peter got his driver’s licence and began driving trucks for the family friend.
Fast forward a few years – and following an interstate surf odyssey with two friends on the back of concerns they would soon be selected for National Service (they weren’t) – Peter returned to Adelaide with his girlfriend, Christine, who later became his wife.
He quickly found work driving long-haul trucks for various companies in South Australia and Western Australia, including transporting pipes to SA’s far north for the Moomba
gas pipeline and water pipes between Geraldton and Dampier in WA.
Then, in 1974, aged 27, an opportunity arose to buy his business –a two-truck operation from the family friend who gave Peter his start in the industry a decade earlier.
“They weren’t boom times but they progressed to boom times,” Peter said.
“Magazines were gold back then – it’s where it all started for us,” he said.
“The majority were made by Frank Packer – Kerry’s dad – back then, and we delivered three titles in SA….Women’s Weekly, TV Times and The Bulletin.
“They were great days – tough, hard because you needed to be available 24/7, but bloody enjoyable.”
The turning point for the business occurred in 1987 when Peter made the brave decision to take over the garage of the now-defunct The News – which included the state- wide distribution of the afternoon newspaper.
It gave him an opportunity to start carting magazines by road – previously transported by rail – with the daily newspaper run in SA. He won the contract to also deliver The Advertiser to regional SA – paving the way for the business to run trucks across the state morning and night.
“Taking over The News garage was the turning point for the business – that was really the start of Cochrane’s Transport,” Peter said.
“At the time we had about a dozen staff – The News garage had about 20 so overnight we tripled our staff and took on all the vehicles … that was where we really kicked off.”
Today, Peter Cochrane Transport has a turnover of $50 million a year, employs 280 staff (including 100 contractors) and operates 120 trucks delivering all kinds of products in SA.
And it continues to grow, with the firm announcing last week the acquisition of another trucking business, Scholz Transport Services, based in Whyalla.
Not a bad effort for a boy who left school at 13.
Away from the industry, Peter is renowned for his passion for Variety the Children’s Charity and Operation Flinders for which he was awarded an Order of Australia earlier this year.
His passion for both causes is worthy of another story at another time. But his real passion is his family – daughters Jodie (who works in the business) and Rebecca and their families, including five grandchildren aged 4–9 years.
“They are the absolute joys of my life – they keep me sane,” said Poppy Pete.
“We do a lot of stuff together – probably not enough though – but they’re all marvellous,” he said.
“We joke that it’s good to see a third generation of family coming through – not that I think I will be around to see that.”
A self-confessed “red hot” Liberal, Peter speaks from the hip when commenting about the business climate in SA.
“It’s never been this tough – never – in the 45 years we’ve been around,” he said.
“We’re working so much harder for so much less. If it was like it is now back in the 1990s, we wouldn’t be here ... we wouldn’t have survived. We would have walked away because it’s all too bloody hard,” he said.
“There’s absolutely no encouragement whatsoever from any politician – from either side.
“It’s a bloody tough environment to run a business but we’ve done enough to survive.
“We must be doing something right.”
Taking over The News garage was the turning point ...
Peter Cochrane when he received an Order of Australia earlier this year.
Peter Cochrane meets the Pope.
Peter Cochrane, who started his trucking firm in 1973 at the age of 27.
Peter Cochrane's first truck.
Peter Cochrane with his grankids.