You've got to look for opportunities to grow: Phil Russell

By: Steve Skinner

Russell, who is one of this year's ATA Kenworth Legends, shares a few trades secrets

You've got to look for opportunities to grow: Phil Russell
Phil Russell


The Kenworth Legends Lunch is usually rated the highlight of the Australian Trucking Association’s annual conference, and this year’s characters didn’t disappoint.

Yesterday we profiled Peter Wickham from Wickham Freight Lines in Warwick; today it’s the turn of Phil Russell, from Russell Transport in Brisbane.

Phil Russell began working for his father Roy – who started out with a single truck carting motor spirit in 1925 – as an apprentice in the workshop.

Phil took over the business in 1970 at the ripe of old age of 24, and stepped back last year, with son Ken and daughter Julie running the diversified operation, its constant over the years being heavy haulage.

Russell now enjoys travelling around Australia in a motor home.

He had a false start in road touring over a decade ago when told he didn’t have a balanced life.

"So I went out and bought a motor home," Russell recalls.

"It cost a lot of money – I thought ‘throw a lot of money at a problem and it will go away’. It didn’t go away.

"I asked the doctor who reckoned I was going to hit the wall if I kept going: ‘Can you tell me what it’s like just before you hit the wall’, so I could take it on a bit longer."

Three modes of freight: A Russell Transport Kenworth pulling a locomotive at Brisbane port.

Trade Secrets

Phil Russell nominated having family involved in the business as his best personal achievement.

Ken Russell also started as an apprentice in the workshop and later went to university while working part-time; and Julie has degrees in psychology and business management.

"I was happy to leave school at Year 10 … but the new generation, they’ve really got to go to university," Russell reckons.

Russell bought his first Kenworth in 1972, a K125 which cost $31,000. Today the company has nearly 50 Kenworths.

A young Phil Russell with a petrol V8 Ford in 1964.

Early on Phil figured you’ve got to spend money to save money.

"And to do that, yeah sure we probably had to pay 31 grand for a Kenworth when we could have bought a truck for $18,000, a different model, but whole of life is what I’ve always aimed at, and consequently it’s probably cost us more.

"Maybe we haven’t put as much money in the bank, but the fleet has done well.

"There are still plenty of trailers that we bought back in the 70s and 80s that are still out there working every day.

"Okay they might have new axles but it’s a great investment when you can write it off over 30 years."

Russell says the Kenworth product "has always been able to perform for us, and if there has been an issue it’s been amicably resolved".

Conference lunchtime entertainment: Chris Melham (ATA), Phil Russell (centre) and Peter Wickham on stage.

Russell was generous with other pearls of wisdom on business strategy, including this: "If you’re not growing you’re going to be going the other way.

"Marking time is only a very short-term strategy; you’ve got to keep looking for opportunities to grow your business."

Russell reckons there is more access to decision-makers in the bureaucracy these days.

"To actually see the heavy vehicle regulator here fielding questions is like a breath of fresh air, considering where it was 40 years ago."

Check out the full feature in the next issue of Owner Driver


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