By CASEY NEILL
A trucking giant and fellow Saint started John Rowe on a 50-year career in road transport.
The 77-year-old owns Dandenong South’s Victorian Freight Specialists and was a finalist for the Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Trucking Industry honour at the National Trucking Industry Awards.
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) announced the winners at its national conference, Trucking Australia, on the Gold Coast on Saturday 25 June.
Mr Rowe missed out, but ATA chief executive Christopher Melham said the finalists were among the most dedicated and professional individuals and businesses in the industry.
A grin spread across Mr Rowe’s face when he was asked how he ended up in trucking.
“That was a long time before you were born,” he said.
“Back in 1956 I went to St Kilda to play reserves and I met Lindsay Fox, who was captain of the thirds.
“We were teammates right through five years at St Kilda.
“Then I went overseas, came back and Lindsay asked me if I’d like to come and work for him because, in his words, he aimed to create the largest privately owned transport company in Australia.
“He was a charismatic character and for some reason I said ‘Lindsay, I’m married with a young kid, I’ve got a decent job, but I will’.
“I worked for Lindsay for eight years.
“I got a grounding in transport then, which I didn’t know anything about.
“I’ve been in transport ever since.”
Mr Rowe left the Fox empire for TNT and was there for 25 years. He was headhunted to a document courier, where he was made redundant at age 57.
“It was pretty scary,” he said.
His time in footy again came in handy, connecting him with the Sydney Swans’ first coach Rick Quade.
He owned a national transport company in Sydney and brought Mr Rowe on board as a consultant.
After a year, in 1998, he offered to sell him the Victorian arm.
With former TNT colleague Roland Neef, “we took over this ailing business that was running about $3 million a year in 2000 square metres of depot in Clayton”.
“Now we’ve got a business that’s turning over $40 million,” Mr Rowe said.
“We’ve got 18,000 square metres here and 10,000 square meters in Altona – they’re our two transport depots.
“We would be the largest regional general carrier going into Victorian country.
“We’ve become a one-stop-shop for all the big companies.”
A company wanting to send pallets into country Victoria would previously have dropped stock off at several different carriers in locations across the state.
Victorian Freight Specialists will pick up the pallets, sort them and send them out.
“We move 50 B-doubles and about 20 single trailers, five nights a week,” he said.
“I’ve got a network of 28 country agents who we go to every night and they distribute for us.”
Mr Rowe said his nomination recognised his network.
“For so many years, big Melbourne companies have used up the country people,” he said.
“I made a commitment 20 years ago when I bought this company that I would look after them.
“Without the country people doing what they do, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Family has also contributed to Victorian Freight Specialists’ success.
Mr Rowe’s son Jonathan has stepped into his shoes as CEO and his nephews Clayton and Cameron Forbes are the finance and information technology directors respectively.
“They’re all young people and they all have a share of the business now, so they have an extra incentive to do the right thing,” he said.
Mr Neef has retired but Mr Rowe still visits the office regularly to act as a mentor.
“You can’t replace that knowledge, that operational knowledge,” he said.
“While they still ask me for help and want to know this and want to know that, I’m still happy to come in.
“It’s not a chore for me because I gave birth to it, it’s my baby.”