I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that it is already one year since I introduced myself to members as the incoming CEO at the 2022 AGM at Mt Smart, home of the One NZ Warriors.
I’d like to start this evening by sharing my observations on NRC and the industry as I’ve got to know both over the year. I feel like my introduction to this great industry has been the best possible one I could have asked for, with a little bit of everything thrown into the mix over the year.
I’ve had an incredibly welcoming and supportive team and Board, who’ve introduced me to so many members. Getting out and seeing the trucking operations of our members has been a particularly enjoyable part of the job, quickly learning that no two operators are the same. Meeting with them has been a great education on the key issues members care about – the state our roads, potholes, the driver shortage, as well as a variety of robust views on the performance of government and various ministers, always strident, often delivered in colourful adjectives, and always passionate.
I’ve also been building relationships with our NRC partners who deliver so many great discounted services, and with government agencies and Ministers – we’ve had flooding and cyclones thrown into the mix.
So, what are my key take-aways from all this?
NRC’s best asset is our team. Watching this year James, Paula, Woody, Shakthi, Steve and Ian in action – what stands out is how passionate they are about this industry. Because they’re from this industry and have it in their bones. I’ve been incredibly proud watching how the team stood up during the flooding and Cyclones, at the drop of a hat moving into overdrive, working the phones with operators and agencies, sending out comms, giving up their weekends and evenings to help our members through.
I just want to tell you a brief story that I think exemplifies how our team helps the transport operators keeping this industry running on the front line. One day I noticed James in an extended meeting in his office, and in the carpark a bloke was sitting, waiting in the car. After they left, I asked James what the go was. One of our owner driver members had come in, after months of worrying, thinking that they were losing money on a contract they were running. The husband was too shy to come in to ask for help, he sat in the car, while the wife came in and went through the books with James to find out how bad the loss was. James sat her down, made her feel at home and calmly worked through the numbers. She left an hour later, with an incredible sense of relief – not only were they not making a loss, they were actually in the black to the tune of six figures.
That was a great lesson for me in how critical NRC services are for our members – the value is often quietly behind the scenes. And how passionate our team are about looking after our members and helping them to share burdens, which are too often shouldered by themselves in silence.
NRC has strong, deep relationships with the key industry government agencies. A great platform to build off. As I’ve met with officials from across the spectrum of our government relationships, I’ve continually heard how valued NRC is, and how they want to work with us on initiatives that improve the operating environment for industry.
This has delivered results. For the first time ever, after working directly with the Minister of Immigration, we now have a specific immigration pathway for overseas drivers which allows them to gain citizenship. This is something that NRC has pushed for decades.
Over the year NRC has provided direct expert advice to government on Road User Charges, the Freight and Supply Chain review and numerous consultations on behalf of the industry. In large part due to the quality of that expertise NRC has also been asked to be an inaugural member of the Road Freight Safety Partnership. This is a government – industry working group, tasked with developing joint agency-sector initiatives that will deliver road safety outcomes specific to the commercial road freight sector. NRC joins Waka Kotahi, WorkSafe, the Ministry of Transport along with NZ Trucking Assn, Transporting New Zealand and NZI on this important forum.
As well as our team and strong advocacy, NRC has a solid platform of service offerings for our members, delivering tangible value and savings. We are partnered with leading fuel, insurance, financial services, telecommunications, tyre, and IT service providers. The discounts enjoyed by NRC members put them at the same purchasing power level as large corporates and enterprises, even if they are a one truck operator.
But what I’ve also learned is that we need to do a much better job at telling road transport operators all of the great work we do on their behalf.
Which brings me to strategy
The Board knows this and have asked me to undertake a transformation of NRC to set the organization up for success into the next decade. A strategy has been put in place, and the Advisory Group, chaired by Simon Bridges with Mike Horne, CEO of Fullers, Jo Wills, Ian Newey and Pamela Bonney, was set up to support me in executing the strategy.
Our strategy is simple:
Over the last year NRC has invested strongly in PR, government relations and marketing. You will already have seen the result of our PR strategy, we’ve grown the NRC presence in media, both traditional and social.
Our government relations strategy is centred on improving operating conditions for the industry by partnering with government, which means positioning ourselves as trusted industry expertise by providing expertise insights and data and helping them solve the big challenges faced by industry such as the roading network, driver shortage and freight and supply chain shortages.
We’ve also brought in house marketing expertise, with James Perrin and Abbie Mackay joining the team to continue growing awareness of NRC and the great services we provide. You will have already seen our successful promotions with Z energy, and with our One New Zealand launch this evening (more on that later). We’ve kicked off some great new commercial partnerships providing services and benefits to NRC members, with Carters Tyres, who offer competitive discounts to NRC account holders, and Spartan Finance who provide specialised transport finance brokering services as NRC commercial partners.
Working with our industry partners to strengthen in the voice of the road transport industry is a key part of our strategy. This year I was proud to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the New Zealand Trucking Association to work together on industry initiatives and government advocacy. This was a natural move, as organisations it is clear we share a common understanding of the key issues affecting the sector, and what’s in the best interests of industry to fix them.
We joined forces on the HarmFree initiative, successfully wining funding from ACC to develop a transport programme to reduce harm in the workplace through best practice work guidelines, and driving better engagement across all staff through co-developing good work design that is health and safety centred. We are also working together on developing TruckSafe as an accreditation scheme for road transport operators.
Being aligned in what we are calling for as an industry is important. NRC also works together with Transporting New Zealand on a number of industry bodies such as the Log Transport Safety Council, the Livestock Sector Group and the Inter-modal Transport Safety Group, the Road to Success initiative, and also work to align our consultation submissions on important matters.
I’d just like to finish by touching on what the Chairman said regarding any move to look at more formal arrangements such as one industry organization.
To explore such arrangements at this time would be a disservice to our members and the wider industry. Merging industry associations is no trivial matter. It would need a minimum of 12-18 months of protracted discussions and negotiations. To embark on that journey at this time would be a major distraction not just for NRC, but for the industry.
As you have heard, NRC is clear on our strategy, and we are executing it. Right now, this industry is facing the most critical set of challenges it has in the last 100 years. A collapsing road network, an acute driver shortage, and emissions reduction targets all at the same time require absolute focus from us. Were we to swivel inwards and focus on our own industry structure for a year and a half, it would give the policy makers and officials a free pass to put through their own ideas on “what’s best for industry” without our input, uncontested.
I firmly believe it would be a major mistake to let this happen. That is why our position is to constructively co-operate across the industry associations, working in good faith to align what we call for from government wherever possible. If we do this well, over time we may find our organisations better positioned to take more formal steps towards industry consolidation. In the meantime, we remain firmly focused looking outwards, calling for the critical changes that we know are urgently needed for our industry.