Family bond helps drive success of charity truck
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.
COASTAL QUEEN: The pink Kenworth from Ross Transport turns plenty of heads wherever she goes.
True is proud of the charity money raised.