To be sustainable, economies the world over require well-functioning transport systems. Consumers demand access to products that are produced elsewhere and local manufacturing companies require both a steady inward flow of raw goods as well as a route to markets for their finished goods. In the case of Ireland, as an island economy, located on the periphery of Europe, the need for good transport links is even more critical.
In recent years, as companies here strive to achieve competitiveness with their international counterparts, their focus has rightly turned to driving greater efficiencies, achieving shorter lead in times, reducing stock retention levels while at the same time, maintaining the quality of both their products and their services.
With over 95pc of all goods moved in Ireland currently being transported on our roads, the role played by those involved in freight transport, logistics and supply chain management, become ever more important in determining our overall economic performance.
In order to learn more about how Irish haulage companies are rising to these challenges, I travelled to Swords Business Park in North Co. Dublin, to meet Michael Dixon, founder and Managing Director of Dixon International Transport. ,
Still only 39, Michael employs 170 staff and generates annual revenues of more than €22m. Recently too, his company was voted the Fleet Transport International Haulier of the Year.
"We specialise in providing temperature-controlled transport solutions for many of Ireland's leading food, beverages and pharmaceutical companies," explains Michael.
The company works throughout Ireland, the UK and Europe with the majority of work coming from Irish based US multinationals.
"Even when things were really bad, the country's exports held up," explains Michael. "And the UK continues to be a great trading partner for Ireland where trade remains fairly evenly balanced between what we import from, and export to, the UK," he adds.
Like many firms in the sector, much of the company's work is contracted, through large international freight forwarding companies. While not carrying cargo themselves, these freight forwarding companies act as intermediaries between the client and the various transportation carriers. Their job is to negotiate the best price at which clients' firms can get their products to market while achieving a balance between speed, cost and reliability.
As we tour the expansive facility and concreted yards in Swords, it's hard not to be impressed with the company's fleet of over 100 trucks. Lined up like soldiers on parade, each is branded in the company's distinctive blue and white colours and logo. Their size dwarfs even the tallest drivers who stand next to them. I am also immediately taken by just how much skill and experience it must require to be able to drive these vehicles safely along the motorways of Europe.
"We replace these about every four years. That way we minimise breakdowns and having trucks off the road. Our fleet also serve as our best ambassadors," explains Michael.
Throughout the yard too, are many of the company's 176 trailers. Most are temperature controlled and come fitted with the latest in tracking systems that allows Michael and his team track the trailers' location as well as monitor its internal temperature via the internet from anywhere in the world.
Originally from Tara, in Co Meath, Michael grew up surrounded by the transport business. His father had started a truck business in 1979 when Michael was only four years old.
"I always remember there being trucks around our house and the to-ing and fro-ing that goes with that," he recalls.
However, his father died at 36 when Michael was only 13. Three years earlier, he had been driving through Germany when the weather turned icy and the diesel in his truck froze. His father suffered severe frost bite in his neck at the time which later brought on cancer.
Devastated by his loss, his mother, Monica, continued to run the company for the next year before making the decision to close the business. But for the young Michael, the seeds had been sown as to what he wanted to do in the future.
"I always knew that it was going to be something in the transport business," explains Michael.
After finishing school, he served his time as an apprentice mechanic before taking up a job as a truck driver with his uncle's haulage company.
In 1998, ten years after the death of his father, Michael bought his first truck. One truck led to another and before long Michael was bringing in so much business that he was doubling his fleet year on year.
However, Michael is quick to insist that he could never have gotten to where he is today without the help of a strong and dedicated team.
"While our work largely centres on moving goods from A to B, our success has always been driven by the quality of our employees. In the end, it's really is all about people-management," insists Michael.
What significant actions or events does he believe have propelled the company to its current level of success? I ask.
"We constantly strive to achieve greater efficiencies and it has long since become a central theme that governs all our operational decisions," he explains.
Fuel is naturally a big cost in any transport business. Michael has learned from experience to be selective in terms of the make and model of trucks he purchases. Choosing the correct tyres also impacts on fuel consumption rates as does the speed at which the trucks are driven. In this regard, he has installed the latest telematics and mobile app technology which enables drivers and management to easily track fuel consumption by individual vehicles on a daily basis. This information, along with the fuel efficiency reward scheme introduced by the company, has dramatically helped influence driver behaviour.
"Moving to Dublin from Co Meath four years ago was an important step for the company," explains Michael. "It has definitely created greater brand awareness and helped raise our profile," he adds.
"We have also worked hard over the years to build trust with our customers. We understand that we are working with, and not for, our customers. Our motto is to never to say NO to our customers. Often in business, it is not so much what you do but how you do it that counts" explains Michael.
Like most companies, Michael experienced a dramatic fall in revenues in 2008 and 2009.
"2009 was horrific. However, responding to this crisis made us a much more efficient company," insists Michael. "In the transport sector, most companies get paid the same rates by customers to deliver their goods so your success has to come from how you manage your own internal business operations" he adds.
As a direct result of the measures the company introduced during the downturn, the business is now 20pc more efficient than it was back in 2009.
At only 39 years of age, Michael is full of ambition. While the transport sector continues to be a challenging business, he sees no shortage of opportunities.
He remains focused on a 20pc year-on-year growth strategy that will see him hit €27m by 2015. He also wants to continue to focus on growing the company's share of the pharma transport sector and is planning to build a new 40,000 sq. ft. state-of-the art, temperature controlled warehousing facility at Dublin airport. Not content to stop there, he even has plans to open a new depot in the UK in the near future.
"Whatever our customers need, that is what we will provide," he insists.
Michael Dixon started out as a driver. Today however, instead of driving trucks, he is driving a successful and forward looking business. Over the years, he has shown great courage and foresight in addressing the needs of an ever changing transport sector. He has done this in the face of increased competition, rising fuel costs and ever more stringent regulations. Instead of surrendering to these challenges, he has become even more innovative and has shown immense resolve in his determination to grow the business.
As he and his team of over 170 staff look for more and more opportunities to grow, they understand fully that, at the heart of such growth, will be their willingness to continue to serve the needs of their customers.
For more information about this company, check out their website: www.dixontransport.com
Take care of the important things:
It might seem obvious but many people in business overlook the simple things in pursuit of profit and expansion. You always have to look after your clients and staff no matter how big the business gets.
Surround yourself with the right people:
Business is all about people. Surround yourself with quality staff who are capable of, and committed to, bringing the company forward with you. Invest in getting the best from your team and that way, you will attract and retain the best staff.
Structure your business:
Structure in business is important. It becomes even more important as your business grows. Structure ensures that people on your team are in roles that play to their individual strengths and that there is an efficient flow of information within and between the various functions of the business.
Sunday Indo Business