Southpac Legends

 
Making noise in the Trailer industry

Making noise in the Trailer industry

Southpac Legends

 July 2021   

With his father Dave heavily involved in trailer building since the 1960’s and growing up immersed in and around the industry, it could be said that Transfleet’s Chief Executive Officer Matthew Gillies was destined to be in trailers - but it’s his dedication to his team, his industry influence and his big voice on the TTMF that makes him a Southpac Legend.

“I’m second generation, born into the industry so to speak. My father was involved in the 60s and 70s with Domett Fruehauf and helped set up the branch in Mt Maunganui, that’s where I was born.”

Gillies says that the family relocated back to Auckland and his father became a shareholder with Gary Domett in Domett/Fruehauf trailers Auckland Ltd. In the early 80s Gary decided to get out of branch operations so his father Dave bought the balance of the business and changed the name to Transfleet. 

“Dave wanted to pursue the tipping arena away from flat decks and really wanted to specialise in aluminium and at that point in time there was only really one other company doing it. So dad and mum [Margaret] saw the opportunity to be involved in the tipping industry and it all started from there.”

Matthew’s actual introduction to the industry and business began at an early age. 

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With his father Dave heavily involved in trailer building since the 1960’s and growing up immersed in and around the industry, it could be said that Transfleet’s Chief Executive Officer Matthew Gillies was destined to be in trailers - but it’s his dedication to his team, his industry influence and his big voice on the TTMF that makes him a Southpac Legend.

“I’m second generation, born into the industry so to speak. My father was involved in the 60s and 70s with Domett Fruehauf and helped set up the branch in Mt Maunganui, that’s where I was born.”

Gillies says that the family relocated back to Auckland and his father became a shareholder with Gary Domett in Domett/Fruehauf trailers Auckland Ltd. In the early 80s Gary decided to get out of branch operations so his father Dave bought the balance of the business and changed the name to Transfleet. 

“Dave wanted to pursue the tipping arena away from flat decks and really wanted to specialise in aluminium and at that point in time there was only really one other company doing it. So dad and mum [Margaret] saw the opportunity to be involved in the tipping industry and it all started from there.”

Matthew’s actual introduction to the industry and business began at an early age. 

“My official start date with Transfleet was the end of ‘93, so that’s 28-years ago. [But before then] I was roaming around the place as a young fella, knee high to a grasshopper in the Domett days. I started off sweeping the floor, I used to come in every holiday and they’d give me something to do, tidying up, filing, working with the guys downstairs, that sort of stuff.”

When Matthew left school he took up an Engineering degree, recalling ‘I could see that I was going to be involved in the business somehow’, And in 1993 he was.

“I became more involved on the floor and then migrated into the parts side of things to gain a real understanding of that area. And then in the late 90s I was flicked the car keys and told to go and sell.”

Gillies says that in sales it was a case of sink or swim. 

“I had no formal training but I knew I had a good product behind me. I knew I had support from the staff and I trusted that my father wasn’t leading me up the garden path.”

He still vividly remembers his first sale. 

“I was in my mid twenties. I walked into the meeting and there were three guys at one end of the boardroom table and me at the other end, I was going ‘hell what have I got myself in for?’, especially after driving all night to get there. But I held my own, and one of the guys dragged me aside afterwards and said ‘we just did that coz you’re a newbie and we wanted to make sure you knew we were serious and knew what we wanted’.”

Matthew is a trained engineer, with NZCE and diploma in Engineering and later on went on to do an MBA at Auckland Uni, his business acumen, experience and qualifications evidently taking him to the next level as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Transfleet, a role he has thrived in since 2008.

“Dave had witnessed generational things around the industry and he had enough EQ that when I became involved he pulled me to one side and said ‘when my time comes, I’ll always be there in the background (as he still is) but I want to leave you to it. The next generation has to stamp its mark and hopefully I can be there as a mentor and guide to you and the team. I want you to keep up what we started off with’.”  

Matthew is quick to point out that he is indeed upholding his father’s ‘engineering’ traditions.

“We haven’t deviated from that, we’re very much engineers and we have an engineered solution rather than doing the cheapest or the quickest. We take a moral high ground on how we approach things - best practice engineering. We’re pretty fortunate here as a business that we’ve got Michael Eccles a certified engineer on staff and Tim Salder has just joined myself as a manufacturing certifier.  

Gillies says that they have three facets to the business, the construction market, the rural bulk customers and the high cubed business which are items involving the transport of waste. 

“We’ve got around 35 refuse transfer rigs running around Auckland any given day. We’ve been pretty innovative in that area with the health and safety challenges with landfills. Landfills are pretty awesome sites for things to go wrong in. We’re also renowned as being one of the experts in walking floors which we established in New Zealand.”

But he then goes on to say that there have been some ‘re-alignment on the 21st century’s labour practices and rules.’

“When I started there were twenty four of us, but we’re a big machine now, fifty odd people so it’s not about me anymore, and it’s not about my family. There’s fifty families that rely on an income here so we’re all responsible for one and other and we’ve got a good team. I’m only the caretaker for the next person that wants to come along and carry on the brand, so we’re always protective over that.“

He says that what drives him is a combination of the family name association, the business, the products, the industry and the people.

“Obviously you’ve got a brand that you want to instil value in but as we grow, the family thing becomes less important. For instance, we’ve just had a pink ‘anti-bullying’ unit on Seven Sharp and that was neat to be part of.”

When not at Transfleet, Matthew is either working ‘on’ the trailer industry, spending time with the family or picking up an axe. 

He’s a committee member on the TTMF (Truck Trailer Manufacturing Federation), something that although takes up valuable personal time, he strongly believes in. He says that through those groups they are influencing what the future looks like for industry, operators and truck drivers alike.

“You’ve got to take your Transfleet hat off and put the industry hat on and think for those that are not in the federation. My father was a past president and he said that’s what you’ve got to do, for the betterment of the industry. If no-one does it the industry doesn’t go anywhere. You get a lot of criticism when things aren’t going right (often from those not involved), but there’s only a limited amount of time.”

And in terms of the rest of his work/life balance…

 “I’m a recent boaty, mainly to give the kids [three boys] an experience and I make noise on a guitar. They call it GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome), middle aged males tend to end up with GAS. I’ve got a mate with eleven guitars, I had four, now I’ve got three, one Gibson, I’ve built a Fender Strat and I’ve got a shredding guitar that harps back to the Pink Floyd and metal scene of my youth. It’s kinda helpful having a big workshop that you can come and get plenty of reverb. It’s not uncommon that we come and have a bit of sesh down here.”

Matthew has three young sons and they are showing interest in the business. He says that one wants to drive a forklift because it has flashing lights. He says he thinks they want to be involved, but as to whether they will is another question.

“I’m fortunate because I’m probably the last generation that could roam around ‘til his heart’s content, this day and age with health and safety, one trucking company has banned passengers in cabs and to me that’s where it all starts, getting people in cabs and saying this is a pretty fun job, look at your vista out of the window, look at the job’s you’re doing, no day is the same. Likewise here, you’re never working on the same vehicle twice.”

Matthew says that his biggest achievement is to “still be here, No one has the perpetual right to be in business”.  

“You hear all those stats about the second and third generation coming in and running the business onto the rocks. We’ve got a pretty stable staff here and that’s probably an acknowledgment of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and how it’s been run.” 

He ends by saying

“It’s a great industry to be involved in, just the camaraderie you get even with competitors, whilst you’re all cut and thrust at the deal end we can all sit around the table at the TTMF and chew the fat and share the same problems and try to come up with solutions, and that’s pretty admirable that our industry can do that.”  


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