Southpac Legends

 
Best of Both Worlds - Greg Cochrane

Best of Both Worlds - Greg Cochrane

Southpac Legends

 March 2021   

Without leaving his own backyard Greg Cochrane has gone from the rock bottom of his family’s business to becoming Executive General Manager of NZ’s arm of ASX’s biggest publicly listed freight company. He now has both the support of the large corporate enterprise yet also retains the personal-touch ethos of the family business he grew up in. It’s the ‘best of both worlds’ 

Greg’s grandfather Eddie Cochrane started the family business Cochrane Transport in 1949, they milled their own logs and Eddie started the transport business to cart them. It then grew to include Cambridge and Tirau depots and have four shareholders, Eddie’s three sons (Barry, John and Bruce - Bruce being the middle son and Greg’s father) and the family trust.

Greg recalls, “When we moved to Tirau, I had just started Primary School. Cambridge was a huge farming sector and the company majored in fertilizer, livestock and metal. This was back when you had to buy a rail licence to cart against rail.”

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Without leaving his own backyard Greg Cochrane has gone from the rock bottom of his family’s business to becoming Executive General Manager of NZ’s arm of ASX’s biggest publicly listed freight company. He now has both the support of the large corporate enterprise yet also retains the personal-touch ethos of the family business he grew up in. It’s the ‘best of both worlds’ 

Greg’s grandfather Eddie Cochrane started the family business Cochrane Transport in 1949, they milled their own logs and Eddie started the transport business to cart them. It then grew to include Cambridge and Tirau depots and have four shareholders, Eddie’s three sons (Barry, John and Bruce - Bruce being the middle son and Greg’s father) and the family trust.

Greg recalls, “When we moved to Tirau, I had just started Primary School. Cambridge was a huge farming sector and the company majored in fertilizer, livestock and metal. This was back when you had to buy a rail licence to cart against rail.”

He says, “often, instead of going to school I used to ride around in trucks and that’s what got me motivated and interested in what was going on. There’s still a few guys out there today that I used to drive around with, Gary Leonard from Leonard’s Transport for one, he was one of our first owner drivers.”

‘Born into it’, Greg spent as much time as he could down in the workshop, saying that he used to go down and clean the benches and sweep the floors two or three times a week, and drive the trucks in the Hay paddocks. 

“I was kind of thinking at one stage I’d become a draughtsman which would have got me into the building trade but it doesn’t move fast enough. I don’t do repetitive stuff. The transport industry is so ‘live’ you never know what’s going to happen at any minute - the phones never stop.”

Greg got his HT licence at the age of 17 so he could take the trucks to the testing station in Putaruru and started a diesel mechanics course shortly after that, this was in 1982.  

“Mum said if you’re going to leave school and become part of the business, you need to make sure you’ve got a trade behind you. So I served an apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic.”

He started in the Cambridge branch under Colin Myers and finished off between the Cambridge and Tirau branch. He says that there was no special treatment for being the boss’s son either.

“I always remember the story before I’d got my licence, the boys down at the workshop used to give me bit of shit, ‘hey Greg go and hook my truck to the trailer down there and bring it up,’ I’d get all excited, back up to the trailer and race round to put the pin up and there was no ringfeder on the truck to hook up to. They’d all be pissing themselves laughing”

He says that it was cool camaraderie back then, “that’s why you stayed in the industry. You were always having a laugh and a joke with someone. These days you’d have to discipline them because it’s not PC.”

Greg reckons that despite the family ties, his pathway wasn’t decided, ‘it just naturally evolved.’ 

“The only tipping point (and one of my regrets) was all my mates were travelling overseas coz they’d left school, and the old man said ‘yes you can travel overseas if you want but when you come back you’ll have to start at the bottom again’ I said, well I’m at the bottom now so that’s ok. But I stayed on and kept working and didn’t travel.”

A lot happened next. In 1990, Alan Scott bought a substantial shareholding in Cochrane Transport which enabled Barry and John to exit the business. Greg got married and started to move into the head office in Cambridge and In 1991 Greg was made Cochranes Transport Operations Manager. In 1992, Alan Scott sold his shareholding back to Cochrane Transport making Greg’s Dad 100% owner and in 1996, Greg was made Group General Manager and a Director.”

He says “But the big change was when Cochrane Transport sold to K&S Freighters in 2003. Mum and Dad cashed out but I stayed on. I was given a two year contract, but I said to Leigh Winser [maybe not so coincidentally Alan Scott’s son in law] who bought us, if we don’t like each other then we’re never going to get on and I’ll get another job - Eighteen years later, I’m still here.”

Greg says that in between then, the Cochrane family got out of their Cambridge yard and bought the property that K&S now lease a portion of, the old Weddel Crown freezing works in Leamington. “So we’ve got 10 acres of land with 6,000 tonnes of cold storage space here, which K&S leases a portion of and land in Mt Maunganui.”  

According to Greg, business hasn’t been a walk in the park though, saying it was very tough around the time that K&S bought the business. 

“We were going well and then all of a sudden the Dairy Company had a change of heart and started dissolving the contract and the work. This meant that we weren’t producing good returns back to the Aussie shareholders, they thought we were asleep at the wheel. They’re good guys to work for but geez they can get aggressive if you’re not doing it right (in their eyes).”

Greg said that things were so rough that he wondered ‘what the hell he was doing this for’. 

“But at the end of the day you’re doing it for the 200+ staff. There’s probably 25-30 guys that have done 10-years plus with me and some that have done up to 43 years, so you put on a brave face, don’t let on what’s going on and keep working. And get it back the best way you can - grind it out.”

He says that his boss Leigh’s idea was to get into logging, however it didn’t go so well. “one thing about him, he rode us hard but freely admitted that he buggered that up. Either way, it didn’t solve the problem that needed fixing. We stayed in there for 5 years and got out, then the business started coming right. It’s good times at the moment.” 

Greg says that he’s now got a good team around him and they’re ‘making hay while the sun shines,’  

“K&S give me a big leash. It’s the best of both worlds, having all that family history and heritage and now being part of a publicly listed corporation. My wife Nicola says I’m pretty lucky, as I get to network with the Australian guys and some pretty top transport related people, shipping companies and big businesses and I enjoy it. If you’re a small transport operator life’s hard because you can’t share anything with anyone. You never share your fuel price, your tyre price or your girlfriend.” 

They do share their success with the staff and the community though. 

“With Cochranes transport we always put back into the community, Ag days and we put a lot of time back into the road transport association. We petitioned against road user charges down the main street of Hamilton. Now we support the surf life saving club and as we’ve got people travelling the roads all the time North and South Island, we look after the Rescue Helicopter and NZ Police Guild.”

Greg says it’s hard to get staff rewards right. “I try to treat the people the same. But you always see the people in the office so that’s ok but you never see the guys that are out there doing the job for us. The best drivers are the ones we never see, they never turn up for the BBQs, they’re plastered all over New Zealand. So we’ve done Xmas hampers for the last 5-6 years to reach everyone and it seems to be reasonably successful.”

He says that he always lends a hand if people put their hand up and ask for help. “I always make sure they’ve got the right gear and equipment, We create a culture where people want to work and right now, we’ve got a great team.”

Especially the drivers. “We’re a premium line haul business, work is pretty clean, our gear’s good, our fleet average is four and half years old. We used to buy Fodens back in the day because of the fibreglass cabs as fertiliser killed the old metal cabs,. We used to have ‘component built’ trucks, Cummins engines, Rockwell Diffs and gearboxes so it didn’t really matter if it came in a Kenworth, International or Argosy, then we got into some DAFs but our 150 fleet is now a bit of a mixture, the taste of the European stuff isn’t all that bad.

In the hard end of the country and 24hour stuff we put on the Kenworths, softer end the DAFs and Argosys. We’ve also got a fleet of small trucks so we can now look to sponsor young drivers into the industry. And that’s been quite successful.”

Greg says that he’s in a great space right now. “My mates say that I should leave and do something for myself but it’s taken me seven years to get things right here and I’m really happy with the way things are. It would be hard to pull out. 

I did regret not travelling back then but travel now later in life is brilliant, I’ve been to some great places and not had to stay in a backpackers.”  


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