Tasman Logistics Services: Bigger and better

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


Motivated by growth, Tasman Logistics CEO Ivan Vanis talks about the desire to affect strategic change via a combination of technological advances and innovative staff management

Tasman Logistics Services: Bigger and better
CEO Ivan Vanis (left) and CFO Michael Oakley

 

Introducing new dynamics to the workplace, Ivan Vanis is one of the few millennial CEOs within the transport and logistics industry who is hungry for more.

Generation Y is famous for asking the question "why?", but Vanis is a doer, disrupting the typically conventional areas of the industry and building a career on people and purpose.

Five years ago, the last time we spoke to Vanis, he was the company’s business development manager. Now, the 33-year-old was appointed to the CEO role earlier in the year by director Craig Morris, who’s played an integral part in building a solid team.

"Craig has been a mentor and friend from the moment I joined Tasman and is someone I owe a lot to," says Vanis.

He accidentally fell into the industry; driving forklifts whilst studying civil engineering. He had originally planned on working for his father’s civil engineering business, but had to look for new job when the family business took a different turn.

His first job was driving forklifts for one of his father’s former clients, before working his way up to the depot manager role at another company, and eventually joining Tasman nine years ago.

Since then, Vanis has taken Tasman from strength to strength; doubling the company’s turnover, growing a high performing team, diversifying business and rebranding the company’s image.

During its 16-year history, Tasman has offered rail, road, shipping, Trans-Bass forwarding, warehousing and wharf cartage services, but Vanis has taken business to another level; tapping into the construction industry and picking up a major contract for a construction project in the South-East, transporting complex building materials.

"I wanted to fill any quiet patch throughout the year with something else. An opportunity arose to assist a friend with some transport services for Concrete Panels," he says.

"We did a few loads for them and found a way to do it better, safer and more efficiently, before being awarded the M-City in Monash project – there are eight towers going up and we are providing 25 prime movers and over 60 trailers for the term of the project.

"What got me on to that was the government infrastructure spending; I was watching the budget on TV and saw an opportunity.

"There’s steel, concrete, all sorts of interesting freight and I wanted to get involved."

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CHANGES

Originally located in Brooklyn, Tasman has recently moved into its second home at Derrimut – a 35,000 square metre site with a 13,000 square metre food grade warehouse and container park.

"We were sold on this facility because it’s similar to our Brooklyn site, with the added bonus of a high-span warehouse and a balcony for summer BBQs!" says Vanis.

"Our Brooklyn site is primarily for quarantine and customs activities now, where we handle both import and export packing and unpacking with value-ads, such as quarantine inspections, fumigation and underbond related services."

He’s also been busy recruiting a high calibre of staff, growing the team from 15 employees five years ago to 50 full time staff and over 100 drivers – all subcontractors.

"We stuck with the sub-contractor model and it’s worked because there are plenty of good quality owner drivers out there who treat their trucks with respect and turn up to work every day. Most of our subbies have been with us for over five years and are the frontline of our business. When delivering to customers, we aim to acquire the best contractors," Vanis says.

The company is still achieving good organic growth and is also in the market for strategic acquisitions. 

"We are looking for continue our diversification strategy in being able to offer more logistics-related services to our customers. We are also investigating the e-commerce space and potential opportunities and synergies with our current operations."

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THE NEXT BIG FREIGHT COMPANY

Hungry for success and growth, Vanis wants to take the company to a higher level – create another Toll-type business that offers end-to-end solutions for its clients.

"I dare say we will have some acquisitions come up in the next 12 to 18 months if things go to plan, however it has to fit, and once we find the right fit, we will progress from there. It’s all about de-risking these things.

"I use Toll as an example as Paul Little is somewhat an idol of mine and a pioneer of our industry. My dream is to build a billion dollar business that is known for its service and quality of people. If you have a freight-related problem, call the guys at Tasman and they will sort it out.

"Toll was a big monster that was built on several acquisitions, but acquisitions can fall over if the people within the businesses aren’t all on the same page. People are still a major key in this caper and I believe we have the best in the business working for us, from our recent senior recruits in Ben Overman (head of business development) and Brendan Hales (transport manager), through to our warehouse floor staff. We owe a lot of our success to the high calibre of people working for us.

"We aim to be everything to everyone from a logistics perspective. People say that it can’t be done, but I’m on a mission to prove them wrong and simply be great at what we do."

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CEO IN THE MAKING

Generally more adept at operating under extreme uncertainties, Vanis leads in different ways. He uses any spare time to study other companies’ financial reports, watch documentaries about inspirational people and rub shoulders with competitors and people who have done great things in business.

"People read books, but most of my readings are PDF files, financial reports – one or two every night," Vanis says.

"It might be nothing to do with transport and logistics, but just a normal ASX business that I have an interest in and want to understand. I think from doing that over the last couple of years my financial knowledge has gone through the roof," he adds.

"Last night I was watching a documentary about Nikola Tesla; just things like that, there is something to learn from every entrepreneur, every successful person, and every inventor.

"Their way of thinking is a different way of thinking. The difference between my generation and the older generation is that we’ve got technologies that they didn’t have so we can learn faster.

"When we want information, the first thing we do is Google it."


Watch our interview with Tasman Logistics in 2013, here


What he’s learnt from other companies who’ve gone belly up is to understand costs.

"I understand our structure of business and what we need to break even and what we need to do in order to make a dollar," he adds.

"You need to treat it as your own business; my plan is to do what Craig did with me and give my staff a piece of the pie, so they work for themselves.

"I think that’s the biggest motivational factor you can offer someone.

"A lot of business owners still don’t understand their cost structures; they borrow and buy equipment without a contract. It doesn’t make sense to spend money when there’s no guarantee that it will come back."

FIRST CLASS SERVICE

Tasman Logistics prides itself on its first class service.

"We aren’t a cheap and nasty service, but rather one that prides itself on its quality," Vanis says.

"We don’t haggle on rates over a couple of bucks here and there, we maintain our margins or simply walk away; it’s like flying Qantas and going economy versus first class – if you want first class you pay for the experience and that’s where we are different.

"You pay the premium, but you get the premium service with all the value adds, to the point where we’ve got our own people sitting in our customer’s office like an implant and that’s worked really well for a couple of our major customers."

There are Tasman employees working for customers based at their office, answering any transport and logistics questions and being there to assist where required.

Vanis introduced this measure earlier this year, which has already improved efficiencies and reduced phone calls.

"The difference is you’ve got a transport person in an office where the customer’s strength isn’t transport, hence having an implant allows the customer to focus on other tasks while allowing our team to manage transport-related issues," he says.

"He’s got live data, maps of where our fleet is and what’s going on with our business and they all sit together.

"I think I was reading about someone in the US who did it – your people in your customer’s office; it works because of the front line effect and the efficiencies it offers for the customers.

"Our customers’ problems have reduced because our guys are able to pick issues before they become major problems. Our job is to know what the customer needs before they do."

A lot of international forwarding companies understand shipping, but they lack the knowledge of Australian road rules and transport activities. This is where Tasman comes in, he adds.

"It’s rewarding to see while walking through our facilities the amount of people we have working for us each day. We are a long way from starting with two guys with two mobile phones working out of a small portable office."

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NEW TECHNOLOGY

Tasman is investing heavily into a new custom-made technology that is set to revolutionise the way its fleets are managed.

It’s hiring its own developers, engineers and data scientists in order to develop a system from the inside out, allowing testing and bugs to be fixed at a much faster pace.

"It’s based on getting as much information out of our business – travel times, loads, weight and every piece of information that is necessary for our customers to achieve their goals," Vanis says.

"It’s a mixture of all sorts of things. I’ve been looking at it for some time, however everything has a cost to it and some of these technology initiatives aren’t cheap. We’ve grown significantly over the years and thankfully we’ve been profitable. I’ve always said I want to put money aside to come up with something new by leveraging both existing and upcoming technologies.

"Right now it’s a stressful job for fleet controllers, they’re pulling their hair out and they’re making and receiving hundreds of calls a day," he says.

"Instead of having a computer with a couple of screens, they’ll have interactive wall screens with live data to enhance their decision making processes.

"We could do it on a normal screen, but we want to do it like this because they’re then active, they’re moving around and doing things."

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COMPLIANCE

Tasman has hired a new compliance manager to stay on top of the heavy vehicle national law changes.

"As we got bigger, the compliance task got bigger," Vanis says.

"We hired Peter Balding as our new compliance manager and gave him the task for the first six months to go through every single thing we do.

"He’s gone through the business with a fine tooth comb and we’ve worked with WorkSafe to ensure that our policies and procedures are well above average," he adds.

"We’ve also worked closely with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to help us with how to store and handle dangerous materials. This has results in additional training of our staff to ensure they understand the rules and how to handle this type of product safely. Peter has also played a major part in our successful safety status for our construction projects."

RATES

Fed up with the cost of congestion and limited earning capacity for sub-contractors within the trucking industry, Vanis brought in set rates for his drivers two years ago. Having previously paid them hourly rates, they are now paid a trip rate for every job.

The results are impressive, he explains.

"We made it attractive so that the drivers were paid well for the work they actually did rather than the hours they worked," Vanis says.

"It doesn’t mean that they need to drive faster, but move in and out of the cabin a little quicker so they don’t spend time at the wharf talking to their other truck mates.

"We created these rates in conjunction with our driver representative committee to ensure that they were happy with the terms.

"We’ve been running this for almost three years now and have shown that those willing to drive a truck can earn a good living.

"Because of the timeliness of the drivers not wasting their time I believe there’s a 20 per cent efficiency increase as well as an increased on time rating amongst our customers."

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