Chronicle of a Dynasty

In an age obsessed with automation, Cahill Transport has shown transformative change need not come at the expense of the customer.
Manu Poulose.

Transport businesses that came to prominence decades ago have been no more insulated against the challenges of progress even when their protocols for safety and productivity are well established and proven.

The rate of change visited upon the industry in recent years, as businesses strive for even greater efficiencies in the streamlining of their operations, are ongoing and manifold.

Innovations pursuant to achieving higher payloads on bigger vehicles are only part of the story.

Technology and its exerting influence across all strata of operations makes moving with the times, for all its disruption, a matter of necessity.

Cahill Transport understands this. The 72-year-old logistics and trucking business based in Victoria, has, as part of its customer offering, recently embraced cutting edge technologies as it continues to evolve a chronicle that begins at the turn of the century with John Cahill and his horse and cart in Nyngan and its lineage through Joe Cahill Jnr and his Ford semi in the early 1950s to his grandsons, Dan and Mick, today.

Adaptation to an ever-changing environment links each of the three epochs of the Cahill Transport dynasty even as it enters the next phase which might be better described as its latest process of renewal.

Exceptional customer service might be a cornerstone of the legendary family business, but reinvention is a hallmark. Head of the Customer Commercial team Manu Poulose acknowledges there is inherent complexity in rolling out new, integrated systems while making sure that it doesn’t come at the expense of the personal touch its loyal customers have come to expect.

“The challenge, during this new phase, is to embrace change while holding on to the timeless family values that have guided us for decades,” he says. “To strike a balance between cutting-edge advancements in technology and our core values.”

Manu Poulose.

Physical systems now considered antiquated are gradually being replaced by the latest software, as part of a major project which will offer its customers an integrated solution for the digital age.

Automated tracking, for instance, provides real-time updates for customers offering enhanced visibility and accuracy regarding the whereabouts, transit times and condition of their freight.

In addition to delivering an intelligent logistics environment for customers it alleviates their anxiety. The steps to digitisation, however, have been cautious. In an age obsessed with rapid automation companies can risk neglecting the needs of customers who require, as the Cahill Transport legacy attests, the utmost care and attention.

“At Cahill Transport, we place a premium on developing strong relationships with our customers,” says Manu.

“Our business model is to collaborate and grow with our existing customers. We recognise the importance of personalised attention in fostering organic growth, which is why we assign dedicated account managers to each client. These managers act as a single point of contact for our customers, ensuring that their needs and expectations are consistently met.”

High value is also placed on actively engaging with its customer base and listening to their feedback according to Manu.

“We promote open communication, actively seek constructive criticism, and are constantly looking for ways to improve our services in order to better meet their needs,” he says. “By doing so, we hope to establish a relationship that goes beyond simply providing products or services.”

Asset monitoring across all classes of vehicles will soon be complemented by temperature tracking. Important for a major new division of the business that was launched.

Better known as a carrier of palletised freight, Cahill Transport more recently moved into refrigerated transport, an undertaking primarily driven by existing customers the company has been willing and ready to find additional solutions for. The foray into the temperature-controlled sector is based predominantly around current requirements within the market says Manu.

“With the expertise we now have in the business, we felt it was the perfect time to make that call,” he says. “Mick and Dan will always comment on any ideas that come through and if it’s mutually beneficial for the customer and us, we want to build on that partnership with them.”

In fact, it was a major supermarket chain that prompted the move having sought to gauge Cahill Transport’s interest. Testament to the carrier’s good standing, the customer made it known that if an opportunity ever arose for Cahill Transport to involve itself in the sector it was eager to partner.

Joseph, Mick and Dan Cahill.
Joseph, Mick and Dan Cahill.

“We didn’t go out to market. The growth has been due to our existing customers,” says Manu, who joined the company four years ago.

“When I started here, a clear direction I was given was to have a strong focus on customers and then grow with them.”

In meeting said criteria, a business can no longer afford to be a typical carrier. Economic policies that ditched austerity to address large budget deficits began to bite in the aftermath of COVID.

Navigating the tricky landscape gave rise to higher urgency among those few astute businesses that worked with their customers when it came to recovering skyrocketing costs. Cahill Transport was one of them.

“Some of them actually came straight to us and asked if we were happy to change our fuel levy model to get better results,” says Manu.

“We have customers who are loyal and want to grow with us, and it’s not a transactional thing. It’s not all about the quick dollars for us. We want organic growth and that’s where we’ve seen some of our biggest improvements. We need to make sure our customers are happy for the long-term.”

Based on this firmer grasp of customer longevity, the improvements Cahill Transport chases internally, especially considering the current, inflationary economic climate, are something the customer can appreciate having had passed on.

Indeed, there are many metrics within the business to measure success across the key markers of finance, operations, and safety.

One measure, according to Manu, that his team is most proud of, unsurprisingly, is customer retention.

“Losing a customer is a rarity and we now have a number of large customers that have been with Cahill for over 20 years, which we value greatly,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to grow with an existing customer then to go and find a new customer. The business invested in account manager positions, and we see the value in offering customers a single point of contact to ensure their needs and expectations are consistently met.”

Side mirror view from a Kenworth K220.
Cahill Transport’s new Kenworth K220.

Cahill Transport’s fleet is critical to its success. The importance of investing in high-quality vehicles outfitted with the most up-to-date safety features to protect both the driver and the cargo is deeply embedded within the business.

To support the operation, the organisation has reduced the average age of its fleet by more than 70 per cent in recent years, using advanced driver safety monitoring and telematics to support safer outcomes for its teams.

“The average age of our linehaul fleet now sits at three years and as such we don’t have many breakdowns,” says Manu. “Our trucks arrive and depart on time.”

The fleet of trucks, distinct in an iconic claret red, are renowned for best in show presentation. Already this year, Cahill Transport has already taken delivery of more than 50 new prime movers.

Kenworth, DAF and Volvo are the brands of choice. The fleet specifications are being standardised across various combinations with the aim to increase flexibility and maintain compliance. As a strong PACCAR customer, having taken delivery of the first Australian-produced DAF truck, Cahill Transport marked a milestone in 2021 with a Kenworth K200, its 100th purchased from the brand.

It came in a special commemorative livery, as too did a new Kenworth W900SAR Legend III Limited Edition unveiled earlier this year. Purchasing premium brands is a major factor in reliability which is enhanced by the facilities and maintenance teams.

Future technicians are sourced through apprenticeships. At present, the Melbourne workshop at Laverton North, is being replaced by a new state of the art facility that is under construction on an empty block close to the adjoining Cahill head office. It will include five service lanes.

Even though emerging technologies are still in the testing phase, the organisation, according to Shane Lovell, Cahill Transport General Manager, is excited about the prospect of providing future solutions in retail direct and last mile delivery.

“Cahill’s customers are increasingly seeking tech-based solutions to increase operational efficiency, both in the warehouse and on the road,” he says. “Customer EDI, improved Guardian Seeing Eye technology and a message-based employee communication platform are just some of the recent adopted measures.”

Beverage transport has also witnessed healthy activity. A long-standing alcohol customer who has undergone recent growth has led to expanded distribution centres in every state to handle the warehousing, linehaul, local distribution and even raw materials coming into the country in containers.

Six new UD rigid trucks have been introduced for the increased volume of local beverage distribution in the Northern Territory where the Cahill warehouse just increased its footprint to accommodate the increase in stock.

Significantly, the business, according to Shane, has recently invested in a national overhaul of its Warehouse Management System to keep up with the demands of this growing arm of the business.

“Our name can be a little misleading, as we are now holding freight in 85,000m2 of warehousing across the country,” he says. “Storage levels have been growing significantly over the past 24 months.”

Manu takes a look inside the K220 cab.

Just as the business has significantly increased its warehouse footprint nationally as part of the aforementioned 85,000m2 in warehousing capabilities across all capital city locations to support this strategic direction, both the growth and new truck additions require constant recruitment and retention of capable drivers.

Drivers participate in a ‘Driver of the Month’ program which is based on driving metrics, with vouchers awarded monthly to both linehaul and local deliveries. The program, in addition, to creating some friendly competition, has resulted in an overall lift in driver performance and abetted cost reductions in fuel use and tyre expenses.

Recruitment also encompasses a referral program with subsequent benefits awarded for the nomination of a new driver by a current driver, with an additional bonus if the new driver is retained for a specified minimum period.

Previously recruitment was an area of responsibility for state managers, but Cahill’s now has a national recruitment team that builds on the culture of being an employer of choice supported by comprehensive training processes for the people joining the team, which now exceeds 320 people.

“Employee retention has been a big thing for us and 50 new prime movers this year is an attraction for good drivers,” says Manu. “We’re always looking outside the box to recruit people. Some people may go elsewhere but come back after six months because the grass isn’t greener. After 72 years we are still a family-owned business which differentiates us from bigger companies, and we want to look after our people.”

That point of difference is vital. Fostering organic growth, of course, rests not just on offering personalised attention though it helps. The business, as it makes clear, goes beyond simply providing products or services.

Family dynasties, after all, are not built in a day. In August, the company turned 72. The long haul continues without a destination in sight. With Mick Cahill’s four sons all now working in the business and a talented management team in place, the journey, it would appear is only gathering speed.

Send this to a friend