The foundations for Allied Seafreight were laid in Ireland when a young Bill O’Connor started truck driving to earn a living. Jacquelene Brotherton caught up with the transport operation’s current managing director Janice O’Connor for an episode of the Long-Haul Legends Podcast.

The story of Allied Seafreight Logistics started in Victoria in 1994 when Bill O’Connor, who had immigrated to Australia from Ireland in 1980, decided it was time to start something new.

Bill’s dream continues to this day. When he retired in 2020, his daughter Janice O’Connor took over the reins, guiding the business into its recently celebrated 29th birthday.

Janice says her dad, Bill, was a truck driver in Ireland and built up his managerial skills for a company called Eurohaul, which was also a family business run by the Brannigans in Dublin. He took those skills and started to work for different companies in Australia, always in transport, predominantly container and 3PL logistics. 

In 1994, Janice says her parents were in a position to start their own company, so they put their house up and decided there was a good opportunity to buy into an existing business which was part of a global company withdrawing from the international market. The opportunity allowed for management buyouts for the brave, so the O’Connor family bought 3PL and the container transport business and the remainder of the business was split up.

Janice started with the new company and studied to earn her degrees in business, sales and marketing. She joined at the beginning. At 25 she thought she wanted a change in career, this was the opportunity! 

She started with the company in sales and then learned the business from the sales and operations perspective and says that working for her father in the transport industry, in a time that was heavily male dominated, was both challenging and a baptism by fire.

Janice says she had to work twice as hard, not only because she was a woman, but because she was seen as the daughter as well, so the nepotism card was in place. Despite that, she says she loved the opportunity to learn from her Dad and his years of experience.

The Allied Seafreight yard. As with most transport industries, the pandemic had a huge impact but Janice O’Connor says businesses need to adapt to changing times

When asked if she still loves the industry, Janice was emphatic.

“Absolutely love it, my parents retired from the business just pre-COVID. Every day is a challenge. Particularly the last couple of years, the pressures that have been seen in the supply chain.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see it again, but it’s been phenomenal that the economy can change on the turn of a coin, and you must be prepared and react accordingly – be able to scale up and scale back just as quickly. The last three years have been a huge learning experience, so it’s been amazing. I love it; it never surprises me but it always surprises me.

“It’s a great industry. Australia is a distribution centre – just so dependent on transport and logistics.

“This is an industry that’s not going anywhere, and we need good people. It is a great career choice and it’s very challenging; but equally very rewarding and there’s so many different things and aspects of it that you can go to and learn,” Janice says.

“We are a growth industry, and (we are) going to need attract more people. It’s important that we not only encourage new people on board, but we need to invest in the ones we have.” 

Experience not necessary

Janice is adamant that you must be prepared to put the training into people and anyone who has a good customer service background or good data entry skills, can use those across any industry. She says it is basically having the faith in your own systems and being able to train and adapt those external skills into transport logistics. 

“If we can’t do that and we keep waiting for people to be experienced we’re not going to grow. 

“Attitude and the willingness to learn are paramount, and if we have that perspective then we can teach the rest. I think it’s all about the attitude and our acceptance of other’s prior experience.

“In the current labour crisis, it is unrealistic to wait for experienced people to become available. 

“No matter who you bring on board, trained or unskilled, you still must train them in your own processes and your culture, so there is always an element of training. 

“If you’ve got someone that’s prepared to work and work hard, to learn, then you can train them and that is going to reward you ten times over.”

Janice says getting your team invested in training new people is critical.

“If you encourage your team and say ‘look you really need to show your skills, you’re so good at what you do, if you embrace these young people, and show them what you know, you’re leaving your legacy’ – but then when they do that, you must show them how appreciated their skills are, that are being handed down.

“Everyone forgets what it was like when they started. Everyone forgets that at one time they were the newbie, or they were the unskilled person. I think that everyone needs to feel valued, and they must remember that someone took time to train them

“We are in an ageing industry, especially our owner-drivers. Unless we make it a more attractive and rewarding industry for younger people, men and women, to come into this space we will be looking for those autonomous vehicles a lot quicker than we think.”

Janice’s advice is to stay true to your core values and create a great culture – a process she says has been very important to Allied Seafreight. She says it is what sets them aside from competitors and why they have grown the business on that service standard.

Janice mentioned that after facing a couple of crises of conscience lately, the process has reinforced the importance of staying on that path. 

She says that even in the current climate there is still a lot of space for loyalty, despite what that might bring – but if you if you stick to those core values, growth and happiness will come from that. On the flipside, if you compromise your integrity and lose your reputation because of that, you’re never going to get it back.

Allied Seafreight believes in long term partnerships with their clients, built on service excellence and seamless integration. Sticking to its core values has helped the business to grow from strength to strength, backed by a dedicated staff who are proud of where they work. Such pride is a great reflection on both the company’s values, and the quality of the leader! 

This article originally appeared on Owner Driver.

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