Warren Caves visits Goulburn operator Whitlee Transport – Images by Mark Bean
For Leanne Whittaker, the owner and director of Whitlee Transport, the art of running a successful business stems from focussing on your drivers as your best asset. Leanne takes that focus a little further than most operators, welcoming the families of the drivers into feeling they also play an important role in the company.
“Our drivers are a huge part of our business and take great pride in their work and the appearance of the trucks. When I employ a new driver, I like to get to know them and also their family, so I encourage their wives or partners and kids to come along as well. They don’t just come and work for me, they become part of the family,” said Leanne.
This close-knit appreciation of the drivers extends to the latest Coronados wearing personalised number plates relating to the driver’s names. Above the doors are nicknames for the trucks reflecting the personalities of the drivers or a humorous story with a money theme. They are “Money Train” for Robert, “No Change” for Kevin, “Loose Change” for Scott, and, the newest recruit, also called Scott, gets “Small Change”.
Whitlee Transport has, in conjunction with Freightliner Trucks, seen a remarkable rise in business growth since its inception in 2015. Today the company operates a total of six Freightliner truck and dog trailer combinations, servicing contracts with major companies specialising in bulk aggregate movements in and around the Southern Tablelands area of NSW, two hours south of Sydney.
Leanne explained how her business philosophy and planning produced her recipe for success, attributing her mother for the inspiration she instilled for running a business when Leanne was in primary school.
“Mum used to work for a trucking company doing the bookwork, so as a little girl in the school holidays and after school I would tag along with her and be given small filing tasks, or look after the morning tea orders for the staff. I loved it. My stepfather worked for the local showground as a curator, so, it was there, at his work, that I got the opportunity to drive tractors and other machinery.
Leanne openly displays a passion for what she is doing, which is evident in the way she talks about the business. This is very much “her baby”, and as a very hands-on employer she is interested in expanding her knowledge to encompass a whole of operation, intimate insight into the day-to-day running of the business, rather than relying on someone else to look after things.
Already competent at driving trucks, plans are currently underway for her to obtain a HR licence. As far as the mechanical side of things go, Leanne says, “If I don’t know, I want to know, I make it my business. If I ring a repairer I want to know what I’m organising and not just repeating what someone else said.
“My poor husband Craig cops an earbashing regularly, with me asking all manner of questions as to why did that happen? How does that work? How can we stop it from happening again?”
Whitlee Transport was formed in 2015. Prior to this Leanne, along with her husband Craig, had been running two other transport-related businesses locally, one of which operated a fleet of Freightliner trucks. The other was a small operation run by a family member, which was subsequently taken over by Leanne and Craig and eventually became the basis for today’s Whitlee Transport operation.
The company originally started with one Freightliner CST truck and tri-axle dog combination. When the need arose for a second truck to serve as a spare and to fulfil a commitment on a 24-hour-a-day contract operation, once again the choice was for a Freightliner, this time a FL 112, which remains working that contract today, together with the CST.
The choice of Freightliner partially stems from the need for a low tare weight truck for the other company operation and the good experience and reliability returned by the brand on that job. The winning of another contract saw the need to purchase further equipment, and the choice was clear, they were going to be Freightliners.
With her business expanding, the need for more equipment was once again a necessity, so two new Freightliners were purchased, this time selecting Coronado 114 models. These trucks are running DD15 engines rated at 560 horsepower and utilising 18-speed Eaton Roadranger manual gearboxes. The low cost of ownership, reliability and low tare weight really appeal to Leanne.
The truck sales were handled by Richard Huer of Stillwell Trucks in Sydney, and Leanne cannot speak highly enough of Richard and the service he provides to her company. “We have purchased all our trucks through Richard, he is great,” said Leanne.
“Our trucks are on 20,000 km service intervals with the work being handled by Marulan Truck and Bus and Mechanika Motors of Goulburn. Craig also looks after minor repairs and maintenance when practical,” she added.
Leanne, by her own admission, says, “I’m a colourful, unique girl and I don’t like to be like the rest”. This is where you begin to get an understanding of the unique colour scheme and quirky names that have been chosen for her trucks.
“I wanted to create some branding for our business, so I designed the logo and graphics and decided to use the same graphic design for each truck, but with a different colour. We enlisted Craig Maddren of Signage One, locally, to do the work.
“We now have our four newest trucks, being two tri-axle dog trailers and two quad-axle trailers, branded this way as well as my work ute. They really stand out in their orange, purple, red and yellow livery”. (The original two trucks on the 24-hour quarry work remain plain white).
While it’s not all fun and games, the trucks work between 10 and 12-hour days with the drivers taking the trucks home at night. Tablets are being installed in the trucks with Leanne saying that they are still learning their way around the software a bit, however, early signs are pointing to a more streamlined process for work allocation direct from plant operations – licence, service schedule and induction reminders can also be flagged. Remote access to completed tasks via the tablet can also increase productivity.
It’s Leanne’s concept to employ all local drivers, and Leanne’s husband Craig does relief driving when needed to cover a few shifts to allow rosters for the 24-hour quarry work ensure drivers have some time off night work.
The latest Coronado combination is PBS compliant with approvals currently being assessed, and the earlier Coronado and trailer are slated for some retrofit work with brake systems to allow for PBS approval.
The preferred trailer supplier is Tefco Trailers, which is itself locally based in Goulburn, together with a manufacturing centre in Brisbane.
Like Whitlee Transport, Tefco Trailers is a family-owned business. Founded in 1988, the company manufactures aluminium and steel-bodied equipment for rigid chassis tippers, dog trailers, B-double and road train applications.
“Tefco caters to the quarry, grain, bulk materials and recycling industries. Richard and Sue Brown of Tefco are family friends and look after us very well, we wouldn’t have anyone else supply our bodies”, said Leanne.
“We have just renewed the contract for the 24-hour sand quarry work we complete, and with more contracts pending we may again require the purchase of another combination to handle the increase in work.
“We have recently purchased a 100-acre property at nearby South Marulan, with plans for shedding, our own fuel supply storage and truck parking. So, we have quite a bit going on at the moment. Fortunately, there are still a few colours left in the rainbow for new truck signage, maybe a pink one next,” quipped Leanne, cheekily.
Leanne loves her Freightliners and poetry, and, following a weekend motorsport event in the company of Steve Martin, a Freightliner executive who commented he wrote lyrics for a band in his younger days, Leanne was encouraged to pen a poem about her trucks.
I love this truck,
It’s my pride and joy.
It’s big, it’s tough, it’s fun,
It’s my Freightliner toy.
When I’m out on the road,
I feel so alive.
It’s like being in a lounge chair,
Such a comfy drive.
And it’s a great feeling when everyone drives by and stares,
My Freightliner is a standout,
It’s kinda not fair.
That all those other brands just don’t match up to this truck,
My freightliner is the best,
And it’s not just by luck.
The service, the quality, the care,
Well it’s second to none.
Nothing is a problem,
My Freightliner gets the job done.