Ditch the accountants, says 'Kenworth legend' Peter Wickham

By: Steve Skinner

The Kenworth Legends Lunch was the highlight of this year’s ATA conference, with Peter Wickham and Phil Russell taking centre stage

Ditch the accountants, says 'Kenworth legend' Peter Wickham
Plenty of laughs: Chris Melham (ATA), Phil Russell (centre) and Peter Wickham on stage.


Peter Wickham has a simple recommendation for budding trucking entrepreneurs.

"Don’t listen to accountants, solicitors or financial advisers," reckons the co-founder with his late brother Angus of big east coast operator Wickham Freight Lines.

"If you’ve got a gut feeling; if you can buy a truck and make a quid with it, just go and buy it. Don’t listen to anybody, because everyone will talk you out of it.

"You don’t need an accountant; you can get him at the end of the year just to count out what you’ve made," concluded the trucking veteran, to a huge round of laughter from the audience.

Mind you, Wickham also said that if you do your dough, at least you’ve only got yourself to blame.

It was just one of many witty pieces of advice and funny yarns enjoyed by delegates at the Kenworth Legends Lunch, part of the ATA’s Trucking Australia 2016 conference at the Gold Coast last month.

The entertainment was provided by this year’s Legends, Peter Wickham from Warwick in Queensland and Phil Russell from Russell Transport in Brisbane.

Both Wickham, 74, and Russell, nearly 70, have spent a lifetime in trucks, and their passion for the industry shines through.

The pair shared some earthy experience about both trucking and life in general, on stage with ATA CEO Chris Melham asking the questions.

A Wickham’s T604 double road train rolls out the gate in Warwick.

Wickham’s has about 120 Kenworths, and Peter Wickham says "probably the main thing that lifted the company" was getting a contract with the Queensland Big W distribution centre in Warwick, requiring the purchase of 30-odd trucks.

Wickham recalls the operating environment was easier in the early days, when you simply got in the truck, filled it up with fuel "and went and done the job and got paid for it. If you didn’t want to do it for the price you didn’t do it.

"Now you go to get a job, you’ve got to have a folder that thick … [holds thumb and forefinger 10cm apart].

"You might have pretty trucks running up and down the road and it all looks good but behind-the-scenes it’s pretty hard.

"I’m not saying the compliance is wrong; your safety stuff and all that is really good, but it all comes at a cost, somebody must pay."

Family affair

As for the key to maintaining company reputation: "I think the secret is to have family in the business," reckons Wickham, who has extensive family involvement and these days focuses on his horses.

Wickham Freight Lines now has 120 Kenworths after buying its first cab-over in the late 1970s.

"You can pay a bloke all the money you like, but he won’t do the job like you’ll do it, and he won’t put in the extra hours … you have to set a high standard yourself … because that filters down the line.

"It’s the example you set from the top, and only the owner of the business can set that example. I don’t know how these big companies run with managers everywhere … It’s family that knows what’s going on and it’s their money that is being spent."

Wickham says a genuine passion for the trucking industry and ability to "cop the knocks" is essential to success in transport: "For a businessman to say ‘I’m going to buy trucks and run trucks’ -- he won’t last long."

Wickham believes there are more opportunities for young people "than I have ever seen", saying they can rise from a novice to manager in five years.

That gets onto a song that wrote and sang himself at the end of the lunch. Its chorus highlights his positive attitude towards young people, and his humble origins carting logs and spuds grown on the family dairy farm.

"The young ones of this world today, they’re as good as they’ve ever been," the song goes. "But I don’t think they’ll ever see the changes that we’ve seen."

Read more on the 'Kenworth Legends' Peter Wickham and Phil Russell in the August 2016 issue of Owner//Driver.


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