New owners for the well-respected family name – Words by Ed Higginson, and images by Robbie Rose.
McColl’s Transport was started in 1952 by Stuart McColl and his wife June, with a single vehicle transporting milk around Geelong, Victoria. Under their guidance, and with the arrival of son-in-law David Stevens, the business grew across Victoria until it was sold in late 2005 to ABN AMRO who formed Pure Logistics along with Scotts Refrigerated.
As with many trucking companies changing from family owners into corporate ownership, the road was bumpy, and Pure soon went into receivership. With the Bank of Scotland now finding itself the owner of a trucking business, the bank looked to KordaMentha for guidance in keeping McColl’s alive rather than going to a fire sale.
It was a wise move, and, by placing Simon Thornton into the business as the CEO on behalf of the bank, McColl’s came back to life until it could be sold six years later to US private equity firm KKR.
Simon must have grown fond of the business and realised its true potential, because, after a few years away, he has now returned to buy McColl’s along with several other investors, known as the Friesian Club.
Simon explained: “Between 2005-2018, McColl’s has gone through a turbulent time with owners looking to buy and sell, like beef farmers. We want to take the view of a dairy farmer. It’s why the holding company is called Friesian, because we are looking for the long-term future to be as productive as possible. We want to make it an awesome company over the next 20-25 years”.
With Friesian representing such a varied group of investors that work across many industries, an obvious question would have to be, why transport?
“McColl’s is a good company. It’s in a good transport sector with a good niche. We also know the people and assets, which gives you much more confidence to invest in it,” Simon added.
McColl’s is one of the country’s largest independent liquid carriers of dairy, food and industrial chemicals, with over 220 prime movers and 600 tankers positioned across 14 depots around Australia.
To show the business and its customers they are committed to the future, within the first three months of ownership, Simon and the board approved fleet upgrades and addition of 49 prime movers and 24 new tankers.
“The industry has changed a lot, and to be competitive you need to have PBS combinations to carry more volume. We have invested in 10 new pocket road train combinations coming in for Vic, SA, NSW and WA.
“The challenge with the dairy industry is that it’s becoming increasingly variable, with farmers changing processors more frequently than in the past. Fleets need to be able to move quickly to cater for this. We are constantly out getting PBS permits for areas we aren’t currently servicing, but may be servicing tomorrow,” Simon added.
McColl’s has continued its long history of buying from local manufacturers, with six new Byford road-train tankers and three new Tieman 26-metre road train tankers for farm milk collection. They also feature steerable axles for improved manoeuvrability and easier access onto farms.
“The only frustration is that the NSW and VIC PBS rules are different, so you can’t swap equipment over the border to cater for changing milk volumes. All the Riverina farmers north of the Murray river must bring their milk south into Victoria for processing, so it really penalises the NSW farmers,” explained Simon.
As well as the 26-metre road train tankers, McColl’s is also purchasing Byford and Tieman single tankers for its fleet. These tankers will be paired with some new cabovers to help with the access onto farms. This includes 26 Volvo FM540s, a FH540, and 3 new Scania R560s.
The Bulk Food Division, which moves 30 different food grade liquids for customers to 162 different sites across the country, will get 14 new trucks joining the fleet and comprising 9 new Kenworth T409s, 1 Kenworth T610, 2 Scania R730s, 2 Volvo FH540 Globetrotters and 1 Tieman compartmented tanker.
The Bulk Chemical Division, which has its own independent fleet of tankers, has invested in 2 new “Evolution” tankers made using carbon-fibre composite materials, with a polyethylene thermoplastic interior. Also joining this division are 2 new Tieman dangerous goods stainless tankers to work as pocket road trains in WA, 2 Byford stainless DG leads to work as B-doubles, and 2 Marshall Lethlean stainless lead tankers.
McColl’s has long been known for the maintenance and presentation of its fleet. This leads to a good secondhand market for the prime movers, which are predominately from Kenworth and Volvo, now repainted in the original company livery of white with a striking blue cab stripe.
Simon explained: “Our drivers like the Scania with its retarder for hilly areas, and we have tried a couple of Mercedes and MAN, but for regional work we have chosen Volvo and Kenworth because of their support network”.
With such a strong focus on Chain of Responsibility, McColl’s has invested substantially in technology, using Mix Telematics to monitor its fleet and drivers.
A new App, called SafeChain, makes it easier for everyone to understand CoR requirements, enabling people to train themselves on CoR through their mobile devices, testing them as they go using game mechanics. It gives everyone from the customer, to drivers, schedulers and the CEO, access to CoR in a user-friendly format. It also helps McColl’s monitor staff activity to ensure that obligations are clearly understood as the regulations continue to change.
A big challenge in the current work environment will be retaining drivers, as there are a lot of infrastructure projects this year in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
“We are investing in quality trucks, engaging with drivers, plus we have brought on a new Health & Wellbeing person to focus on drivers’ physical and mental health. It’s not just the drivers though, we also look to help the schedulers, mechanics, and office staff,” said Simon.
“Our focus this year is to square off the platform under our divisions to make the business stronger and ready for growth, particularly business systems”.
When asked what the next five years may hold, Simon commented that in his view the dairy industry is going to change, and the new company has to put in place the right programmes to prosper in the new environment.
It certainly sounds like McColl’s is in great shape to take on the challenge, so they will continue their position as the leading independent liquid carrier of dairy, food and chemicals.
The photography of the fleet accompanying this feature is by Robbie Rose, well known to readers of PowerTorque for his expertise in capturing unique images of the transport industry.
Robbie also happens to be one of McColl’s drivers, hence his involvement in capturing the images of the most distinctive Kenworth in the McColl’s fleet, shown taking some new Tieman chemical tankers across the Nullarbor to begin life in WA.
The K200 with the 2.8-metre sleeper cab and a king-single bed was purchased with all the extras to mark the 200th Kenworth to enter the fleet. As a B-double rated K200 cabover, it is fitted with a Cummins ISXe5 engine rated to 550 hp and a manual Eaton transmission. As a Class 3 Dangerous Goods truck, it also features the Kenworth Electronic Brake Safety System (EBSS) and is set up for a GCM of 97 tonnes.
A collection of Robbie’s work appeared in the photographic tribute album “Precious Metal”, a PowerTorque production.