Fam­ily bond helps drive suc­cess of char­ity truck

Big Rigs - - DRIVER PROFILE - James Gra­ham James.Gra­ham@bi­grigs.com.au

BY THE time you read this, legendary Illawarra, NSW, truck­ing icon Frances Ross will be half­way through a five-week re­turn cruise from Syd­ney to Hawaii.

But don’t take that as a sign this sprightly 76-year-old ma­tri­arch is ready to sit back and let son Alan, 57, and grand­daugh­ter True, 22, have all the fun on their own at Ross Trans­port in Port Kem­bla.

Far from it, laughs Frances as she chats to Big

Rigs while pack­ing for a rare break away from her front­line of­fice du­ties.

“I couldn’t sit at home and do noth­ing,” says Frances, who built up the busi­ness from hum­ble be­gin­nings in 1975 with then-hus­band Reg.

“It keeps my mind ac­tive and I love the adrenalin of it all, and the peo­ple – they’re gen­uine, down-to-earth peo­ple.”

Be­sides, con­fesses Frances jok­ily, she also has a new talk­ing point to show off on her re­turn from hol­i­day – the Don Wat­son Me­mo­rial Award, which is pre­sented each year to a per­son who has given ex­em­plary ser­vice to the Aus­tralian truck­ing in­dus­try.

Duped by True in at­tend­ing the glitzy Can­berra event un­der the guise of sup­port­ing Alan as an award con­tender, an un­sus­pect­ing Frances said the win was both a shock and one of her proud­est mo­ments.

“I didn’t know what to say. Ev­ery­one else had speeches but I didn’t,” she said.

Frances said the hon­our ranked along­side her in­duc­tion into the Shell Rim­ula Wall of Fame in Alice Springs in 2010, and the thrill of see­ing True fol­low in her foot­steps.

Both share the same pas­sion for see­ing more women in­volved in the in­dus­try, hence their head­turn­ing de­par­ture from the tra­di­tional blue and white colour scheme with a pink Ken­worth T909, which holds pride of place in the 57-strong fleet.

Frances said the idea evolved from their long-time sup­port of the i98FM Illawarra Con­voy, which raises money for var­i­ous char­i­ties. Ross Trans­port has con­trib­uted more than $600,000 in the past 10 years.

“We thought, ‘Why not have a sym­bol to sup­port women with cancer, and also to en­cour­age more women into the in­dus­try?’ ” she said.

An in­stant hit wher­ever it goes – it won the Peo­ple’s Choice Award in its first show – the truck also cel­e­brates the unique bond be­tween Frances and True, with a play­ful blend of their names, Tru­ely Fran­tas­tic, em­bla­zoned on the cab.

Since she was just a lit­tle girl, True has been in­spired by Nan’s tire­less work ethic and ded­i­ca­tion, and soaked up every morsel of in­dus­try in­sight from Alan and Frances along the way.

“If Nan was do­ing petty cash, I was there watch­ing. If Nan was do­ing the wages, I was there watch­ing her. What­ever Nan did at work, I wasn’t far be­hind watch­ing her,” said True, who joined the com­pany full-time in 2013 while jug­gling stud­ies for a com­merce de­gree at Uni­ver­sity of Wol­lon­gong.

“I was, and am still, amazed how much they both know, but more specif­i­cally my grand­mother – any­thing you ask her she knows re­lat­ing to the trans­port in­dus­try or life in gen­eral. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

It hasn’t al­ways been a smooth ride to where the busi­ness is to­day, how­ever, with 57 trucks and a sec­ond-to-none reputation for han­dling a di­verse ar­ray of freight jobs, both in the Illawarra re­gion and right across Aus­tralia.

Af­ter Reg walked away from the busi­ness in 1989, Frances was left car­ry­ing the can and fight­ing for sur­vival.

She was forced to sell four of the small fleet just to stay afloat and called in Alan, who was driv­ing trucks in­ter­state, to help her out.

De­ter­mined to prove the naysay­ers wrong who said she wouldn’t make it work, Frances also took up a job as floor man­ager of 370 staff at a Bonds cloth­ing fac­tory so she could keep pay­ing the drivers.

They’re still her num­ber one con­cern to­day.

“You’ve got to lis­ten to their needs, they’re the in­dus­try,” said Frances.

“They’re the ones cart­ing all the food and ev­ery­thing for the peo­ple, and the peo­ple don’t re­alise that if it wasn’t for the trucks, they wouldn’t have any­thing.

“Peo­ple want it on the rail, but they’ve still got to get it from the rail to the shops and to do that they’ve got to use the trucks.”

Frances said she’ll be check­ing in on ev­ery­one while she’s away – she can’t help her­self.

She knows all the longterm drivers by name, and their fam­i­lies.

“They’re good peo­ple. What they’ve got to put up with is tough. They work long hours, they’re tired when they come in. You don’t ask them any­thing or an­noy them. You just let them go be­cause you know they’re tired,” she said.

While Alan and True share most of the day-to-day run­ning of Ross Trans­port now, True can’t imag­ine the day com­ing when Nan’s not around in some ca­pac­ity.

“She comes in every day and still does var­i­ous roles such as over­see­ing of­fice staff, coun­selling the drivers, hav­ing a chat and calm­ing peo­ple down, and still does of­fice roles that a com­puter is not needed for.

“My grand­mother keeps ev­ery­one happy, re­mem­bers ev­ery­one’s birth­day and some­times when nec­es­sary gets that dreaded stern voice no­body wants to hear.

“When that stern voice comes out, ev­ery­one knows she pulls the rank. She is mak­ing that de­ci­sion, not my­self, not my fa­ther, not the op­er­a­tions man­ager.”

Although True ad­mits that Nan has yet to teach her how to not bite back at ev­ery­thing her dad says to stir her up, she’s grate­ful for

❝If I am half the woman that my grand­mother is, I will be happy.

the chance to keep learn­ing from the best.

“My grand­mother has taught me the sto­ries of dif­fer­ent drivers, how to pick if a driver will last or not, taught me about the his­tory and changes of com­pli­ance within the in­dus­try, taught me in­for­ma­tion about fel­low trans­port com­pa­nies in our area and around the state,” she said.

“She has also taught me so many valu­able lessons in life: never yell, even if a driver is yelling at you, al­ways re­main calm, be re­spect­ful to all, al­ways be open minded to learn­ing and to learn off oth­ers, whether it be of­fice staff, other man­agers, cus­tomers, drivers or sup­pli­ers, show care and sup­port oth­ers.”

True said she could go on about the many life lessons im­parted too, but we wouldn’t have the room.

“If I am half the woman that my grand­mother is, I will be happy. If I know half the stuff my grand­mother does, es­pe­cially re­lat­ing to busi­ness, I will be happy,” she said. “She re­ally is a re­mark­able woman who al­ways acts with in­tegrity, re­spect and self­less­ness, and in the best in­ter­est of the com­pany and our em­ploy­ees.”

A stunned Frances cel­e­brates with part­ner Phillip Rixon, Alan and True at the gala awards din­ner in Can­berra.

PHOTO: LNLIGHTS PHOTOGRAPHY

COASTAL QUEEN: The pink Ken­worth from Ross Trans­port turns plenty of heads wher­ever she goes.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

True is proud of the char­ity money raised.

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