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Published on: Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The transport industry is a tough one. The hours are long, customer demands are high, and as with all logistics-based industries, just one chink in the chain can cause huge problems.

Managing director of Allied Express, Michelle McDowell went into the industry straight from university. She worked across all divisions of what was then a Sydney-based courier, and ended up transforming it into the country’s largest independently owned transport and logistics provider.

McDowell joins Peter Switzer on his Sky News Business Channel program, SWITZER.

Allied Express is a privately owned Australian family business in the express transport market, started by McDowell’s father 31 years ago with six vehicles.

“Since that stage, we’ve looked for opportunities in the marketplace and really grown our business and tried to find where people need an innovative transport and really capitalise on those opportunities,” she says.

McDowell worked in many parts of the business, starting out in marketing, then operations and finance, and through to managing director a few years later.

The company uses a subcontractor model as “we think that attracts the right sort of driving fleet”.

McDowell says the people they employ want to run their own business and are driven to give the best possible customer service.

Downturn indicator

McDowell says they could track the Global Financial Crisis from the first day it hit the headlines.

“From about November last year, you could see the confidence in businesses fall, you could see the freight that was moving through the depots really dramatically fall.”

She says the transport industry is a good indicator of what’s happening in the economy.

The company deals with “one man bands to global multinationals” and deals with every part of Australia in every different industry.

“We’ve got a grandstand seat to what was going on in Australia and see how different businesses were rising to that challenge,” she says.

Over the period, some businesses have closed shop as spending has contracted.

“I think businesses that understood very early that there was a problem, and knuckled down and really looked after their business and had their eyes wide open and reacted accordingly, had a good sail through,” she says.

“Likewise, businesses that really capitalised on opportunities – people that were brave and went to the marketplace and said, ‘OK, this is the circumstance; this is what’s happening, but let’s get brave, let’s go out there any look for opportunities’ – those businesses survived. But businesses that put their head in the sand and weren’t looking at the indicators were perhaps the ones that weren’t so successful.”

Lessons learned

This time of year is normally the Christmas rush where business increases by 10 to 15 per cent, if not more.

McDowell says while a lot of businesses expect they’re out of trouble, Allied Express are being more conservative in their approach – it’s not until the end of next year that there will be strong improvement. She says over the last four or five weeks there has been an increase in volume.

“For us, it’s about you concentrating on your business … [continuing to do] all of those good things that you’ve done, those lessons that you’ve learnt this year,” she says.

McDowell says the transport industry is highly competitive and Allied are seen on the same level as some of their major rivals, “huge multinationals with deep pockets”.

“For us the challenge is to remain innovative, to remain at the forefront of the market by being flexible, by listening to customers and really trying to get the edge by giving people exactly what they’re looking for, rather than something off the shelf,” she says.

“We really try and compete by being very customised and very focused on what we’re doing.” 

Work on your business, not in it. To learn how, book a complimentary business assessment today with a Switzer Business Coach.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


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