True grit – the foun­da­tion of a truck­ing em­pire

From two trucks to 120 in 45 years of hard work

Big Rigs - - INDUSTRY PROFILE - Sean Whit­ting­ton

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.

PHOTOS: CONTRIBUTED

Peter Cochrane, who started his truck­ing firm in 1973 at the age of 27.

Peter Cochrane's first truck.

Peter Cochrane with his grankids.

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