From rail strike to leaders of transport

ON THE ROAD: Some of Followmont's MP10-powered day cab Super-Liners used on the high-utilisation shuttle linehaul network.
ON THE ROAD: Some of Followmont's MP10-powered day cab Super-Liners used on the high-utilisation shuttle linehaul network.

MARK Tobin is a man of great drive.

There is no doubting that as you sit across the desk from him.

His left hand moves with the deliberation of a judge's gavel as he makes notes on Followmont branded A4.

Tobin is a man of lists, of deeply considered thought, an ordered mind that manifests itself in the ordered management of the family transport company.

He works to craft the right words as our interview is recorded.

Mark Tobin is the CEO and Managing Director of Followmont Transport, a Queensland-based operation running 150 linehaul trucks and around 200 rigids on distribution.

Mark Tobin, CEO and Managing Director of Followmont Transport.
Mark Tobin, CEO and Managing Director of Followmont Transport.

The company fleet carries out around 60 freight movements every night, the fleet driving 70,000km in every 24-hour period.

The Followmont freight service is based on a shuttle network with drivers mostly working to standard hours rather than BFM or AFM.

"We saw the writing on the wall years ago that you need to create a lifestyle around the job to make sure you get the most out of your assets through your people,” Mark tells me.

The Followmont operation started in 1982 off the back of a rail strike when the founders scratched enough money together to buy one truck when they saw an opportunity based around the delivery of media such as newspapers and magazines.

Bernie Tobin, Mark's dad, was one of the founders and from those humble beginnings in the early 80s the company has grown to be a major transport force in Queensland and is currently looking over the fence to the south for expansion.

From the earliest days, Mark tells me the concept was to put profits back into the business and to grow the infrastructure and network through tailor-made sites.

"Today we still use that philosophy, we build our own transport terminals and manage for growth.”

The Followmont business philosophy may be simple but is one that eludes many businesses.

"It's really all about relationships, key relationships. Our customers, our people and our suppliers. We focus on customers and get access to decision-makers.”

Mark looks at me and reveals his philosophy: "it's personal not commercial”.

Brisbane HQ of Followmont Transport at Eagle Farm, Brisbane.
Brisbane HQ of Followmont Transport at Eagle Farm, Brisbane.

Shuttle system

THE backbone of a transport network that touches every Queensland town every night is the coastal run up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Townsville with regular depots distributing to the west and north.

All freight is considered express, mostly cartons and pallets. It can range from one small carton through to a full trailer load.

The trucks run to a schedule whether fully loaded or not. It is the service that Followmont sells, not just shifting freight.

A driver might leave Brisbane depot in an evening and drives through to Mackay which is a shuttle change over centre.

The driver goes to bed in decent accommodation and around 10 hours later returns to the Brisbane depot.

Mark said most of the shuttle runs can be done comfortably around 10 hours.

So the trucks roll Brisbane to Mackay and on up the coast. The services overnight as far north as Proserpine and second day delivery for the rest of Queensland.

The Super-Liner B-doubles under PB Standards carry 36 pallets.
The Super-Liner B-doubles under PB Standards carry 36 pallets.

High utilisation of trucks and trailers goes hand-in-hand with the shuttle system. The trucks never stop other than for scheduled maintenance.

The fleet predominantly is made up of Mack, Volvo and UD trucks with Followmont's philosophy of sticking to one provider.

"We look at the view that we would be rather spending two or three million a year with one supplier rather than have it spread over several manufacturers. That is where the Volvo Group works with our philosophy.”

High utilisation extends towards the equipment and under PBS the B-double trailer sets built by Vawdrey give 14 pallets on the A trailer, 22 pallets on the B trailer.

By working under performance-based standards and the utilisation of a day cab on the line haul trucks, an extra two pallets can be carried on the lead trailer.

"Those two pallets in a shuttle system work out to 12 pallets extra per week per unit so this goes a long way towards repaying the asset,” Mark said.

There is also an increase in cubic with the extended configuration from 148 to 165 cubic metres.

The line haul trucks are all day cab Mack Super-Liners with the 685hp MP10, although the ratings are configured by Mack to suit the various running conditions.


"We definitely have a struggle with the turnover of drivers, as everyone does,” Mark said.

He said you have to invest in young people and offer a decent lifestyle.

"You only get out what you put in with young people,” and he explains how all training is done in-house and very much around setting a high standard of performance.

He believes that the Followmont system is better than Cert III training, which he considers is all about box ticking.

"They say with training you learn 80% hands-on in the field. We are very much around using that model throughout the organisation.”

With more than 700 people employed in the organisation, the management of up-skilling throughout is a major part of the business.

On leaving I asked Mark where the Followmont name came from. Was there a Freddie Followmont among those founders back in the early 80s?

No, he tells me, it was just a shelf company that they grabbed back then when they needed to get the show on the road. And it's been on the road ever since.

Topics:  logistics transport

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