COL­UMNS

From the com­fort of his busi­ness-class seat 30,000 feet in the air, highly-paid con­sul­tant Martin Fysh-Monger pines for a trans­port in­dus­try de­void of owner-driv­ers and dom­i­nated by large, ef­fi­cient fleets. Is he just dream­ing?

Owner Driver - - News -

— in­dus­try ex­perts of­fer their opin­ions*

GIVEN THE the na­ture of my busi­ness, I of­ten fly from city to city to over­see cer­tain busi­ness deals, or even take part in del­i­cate ne­go­ti­a­tions from time to time. Such is the life of an in­dus­try con­sul­tant.

How­ever, it’s be­come a favourite habit of mine to gaze down upon the city from the plane’s busi­ness class and pon­der progress over a frosty glass of bub­bles.

I must con­fess it’s be­come a lit­tle in­dul­gent.

Time marches on. Gone are the days when you could cop a feel of a hostie’s pert der­rière as she tot­ters past and be re­warded with a good-na­tured and some­times co­quet­tish gig­gle. No, try that in this day and age and you’ll be pinned to the seat by the icecold death stare of an an­gry she­bear. Some things change for the bet­ter, oth­ers do not.

But from on high, I al­ways de­light in see­ing the mul­ti­tude of trucks glid­ing down the high­ways. Mere dots, links in a vast trans­port chain that criss­crosses the land.

While I may lament the pass­ing of time in some ar­eas, oth­ers I take great de­light in.

Trans­port in this coun­try is rid­dled with in­ef­fi­cien­cies. And it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of cap­tains of in­dus­try such as I to work through this mud­dle and pro­vide the sort of cost­ef­fec­tive and stream­lined ser­vice that our econ­omy re­quires to grow and thrive.

The great un­washed are, of course, a vi­tal part of our labour force. How­ever, it’s no mean feat to con­vince these peo­ple that we know what is good for them in the long run. There seems to be a rather lem­ming-like qual­ity to many small op­er­a­tors in the trans­port in­dus­try.

The idea that you can just go and buy a truck and that so­ci­ety some­how owes you a liv­ing is a re­cur­ring one that I see of­ten.

The demise of the RSRT was an in­ter­est­ing case in point. Owner-driv­ers fight­ing for the right to go broke due to their own bad busi­ness de­ci­sions. It was quite fas­ci­nat­ing.

Clearly the sup­ply chain as a whole is bet­ter served by large com­pa­nies that have the ef­fi­cien­cies of scale to de­liver safe on-time ser­vice rather than a rag-tag army of one-truck op­er­a­tors up to their eye­balls in debt! I heard of one fel­low, for ex­am­ple, who spent an­other 50K on top of the pur­chase price of the truck on cus­tom paint and shiny things. How is that an in­tel­li­gent busi­ness de­ci­sion?

These peo­ple clearly think they are en­ti­tled to busi­ness suc­cess by virtue of the out­lay they’ve made. It’s a busi­ness not a life­style!

There will, of course, al­ways be a need for small op­er­a­tors in niche ar­eas; spe­cial­ist trans­port that re­quires equip­ment and skills not usu­ally found in large fleets.

But the fu­ture will be best served by large in­te­grated fleets that embrace technology and pur­sue ef­fi­ciency.

I like to think of it this way. If I owned a milk bar and a su­per­mar­ket opened next door, I would be faced with a num­ber of de­ci­sions to make. I could slowly go broke while com­plain­ing loudly that there is a su­per­mar­ket next door. Or I could change my busi­ness model and of­fer some­thing that the su­per­mar­ket does not. It’s rather sim­ple; it’s called free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism.

Un­for­tu­nately, many small op­er­a­tors don’t adopt this ap­proach. In­stead they com­plain loudly and go broke. All the time moan­ing about the big play­ers

“It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of cap­tains of in­dus­try such as I to work through this mud­dle and pro­vide the sort of cost-ef­fec­tive and stream­lined ser­vice that our econ­omy re­quires to grow and thrive.”

in trans­port. The funny thing is, once the dust has set­tled, they nearly al­ways end up driv­ing for one of the big com­pa­nies that they detest so much.

The fu­ture, how­ever, holds many ex­cit­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Au­to­ma­tion will make it so much eas­ier for trucks to be driven, and will also make it eas­ier to get labour skilled up quickly. And ev­ery part of the sup­ply chain will be quan­tifi­able.

Sort­ing out the hu­man fac­tor, though, will no doubt present more of a chal­lenge. How­ever, I’m sure there will be few loop­holes we can ex­ploit.

I quite of­ten of­fer my ser­vices to fa­cil­i­tate EBA ne­go­ti­a­tions, for ex­am­ple. I’ve been do­ing this long enough now to be able to iden­tify cer­tain per­son­al­ity types when it comes to work­force rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The most com­mon one is the self-im­por­tant blowhard who likes to bluff and blus­ter. I gen­er­ally find that this type is easy to baf­fle with num­bers and they usu­ally end up mak­ing a fool of them­selves. The other is the ea­ger-to-please type, which makes my job all too easy – they want the boss to think they’re a good per­son. It’s like shooting fish in a bar­rel.

But oc­ca­sion­ally I’ll come across a hard nut.When this hap­pens, I try and sched­ule ne­go­ti­a­tions from mid-morn­ing. As lunch time ap­proaches, I’ll have hot food brought into the kitch­enette so the smell can waft through the meet­ing room. This is the time to hag­gle over the most im­por­tant parts of the agree­ment as the poor sods squirm with hunger into the early af­ter­noon. Nine times out of 10 their grum­bling stom­achs will drive them to agree to most things even­tu­ally. They just have to be led to be­lieve they’ve had a win some­where. Ah, the thrill of the chase!

I could go on, how­ever my plane is now descend­ing and the she-bear is giv­ing me a death stare that in­di­cates I need to stow my lap­top.

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