When brothers Peter and Angus Wickham spent a pretty packet on a brand new Kenworth in 1978 to transport potatoes from their family farm, it marked the start of something big – and they didn’t even know it yet.
From potatoes, to refrigerated meat, farm produce and express freight, their transport operation grew and grew, until Wickham Freightlines was officially established in 1992.
Still family owned and operated – and now in its third generation – Wickham sits among some of Australia’s largest privately owned transport companies, with Peter’s sons-in-law Graham Keogh and Darren Eather at the helm, as company directors.
Keogh, 59, started with the business in 1980 at the age of 18 and went on to marry Peter’s daughter Donna in 1993. He began driving his first truck, a Kenworth K125, to transport potatoes to Coles Supermarket in Brisbane. At the time, the Wickham’s fleet had just five trucks.
By 1992, the fleet grew to 17 trucks and the business needed an operations manager, so Keogh stepped up.
His story is true of many in the transport industry, who have come in at a young age and built a rewarding career in an industry they’re proud to be part of.
At 14, Keogh began working at an abattoir, before moving into maintenance work for a transport company. But as soon as he could get his truck licence, he was off and running.
“My father was a truck driver, and so were my uncle and grandfather too. Trucks were a passion for me from the day I was born. From when I was about three, I’d get in the truck with Dad. This industry has allowed me and my whole family to grow a business,” Keogh reflected.
“It’s been a fantastic journey really. The transport industry is a great industry to be involved in and there’s so much opportunity. This is a fantastic business to be part of – there’s always something happening.
“As I say to the guys I work with, if you’re at a barbeque and someone asks you what you do, don’t just say ‘I’m a truckie’, say ‘I’m a professional truck driver’. I encourage these young blokes to be proud of who they are and what they do. Some of them are absolute craftsman, and it takes a long time to learn that craft. That extends to other parts of the business too, not just the drivers. It’s the mechanics, operations staff, administration staff, depot staff – it’s our whole team.”
With a team of great people around him, Keogh has built Wickham Freightlines to over 400 employees (approximately 180 are truck drivers), with 160 trucks and 400 trailers, across five depots – Warwick, Brisbane and Bundaberg in Queensland, along with Sydney and Melbourne.
At the Warwick site, the company’s affinity for Kenworth is immediately clear, as the entire building is modelled on a Kenworth.
With continued growth has come a need to keep expanding the fleet. Keogh counts the purchase of the 300th Kenworth, a new T659, as a great achievement. Based at Warwick, it does the Melbourne run, carrying refrigerated freight in a road train set-up.
As with the first Kenworth in 1978, and every other truck since, the new T659 was purchased from dealer Brown and Hurley, and was delivered in mid-August, with industry stalwart JJ Hurley handing over the keys.
“The people that work with us are part of the Wickham family, and the staff that work at Kenworth and Brown and Hurley are part of that too – and we take great pride in that,” said Keogh.
“We’re still a family business and it’s our family that are investing money into these trucks, so it’s a big achievement to be able to purchase our 300th Kenworth. When you sit in a board meeting, you need to be able to defend the fact that you’re buying Kenworths and not something cheaper. The way I see it, Kenworth builds the best truck in the world and the toughest truck on the planet. I couldn’t be happier with these trucks.”
In 2021, Wickham has ordered 30 new Kenworths – more than any other year. “We generally keep our trucks for 12-15 years. That’s the secret of a Kenworth, you can keep that truck working for that long because that’s how reliable and tough they are. And after that, there’s still plenty of people who want to buy them. There has been a bit of growth this year, but it’s also been a good time to renew the fleet, with the current low interest rates and tax incentives.”
As it looks to the future, Wickham Freightlines is making a very conscious effort to attract more young talent into the business (and the industry), through a range of targeted initiatives that promote the transport industry as being one filled with opportunity.
Among these is a new program being put on the table from next year. “We’ll be offering a number of fully paid university scholarships for interns coming into the business. It means young people can come and work for us, while we pay for their study. The courses could range from logistics, warehousing, or even a straight business course,” Keogh explained.
Those wanting to apply will need to send in a submission before the 2022 intake closes later this year, with a shortlist of candidates progressing through to the interview stage.
“Wickham Freightlines is quite a big employer. These people are going to be able to walk out of university with a great job and no study debt. We’re hoping to expose more young people to what this industry has to offer,” he added.
The HR team, led by Keogh’s daughter and human resources manager Thomasin Roberts, has also been visiting local schools to discuss careers in transport and logistics.
As Keogh explained, “We’re trying to expose these students to what the job really is. A lot of people don’t really know what it takes to run a transport business and don’t understand that there’s so much more behind the trucks they see on the road. So, the other part of what we’re doing is trying to get young people to realise they can come in and we can teach them on the job. We’re also trying to attract kids that don’t want to go to school and get them to join the industry, either in the wash bay or in the warehouse. You don’t need a degree to build a great career in transport.
“There’s this expectation out there that people need to go to university to be something. I want to encourage people to look at the transport industry as a career choice. There’s so much more to this industry that people don’t see,” he said.
“This industry has been great to me and I’ve enjoyed almost every day of it. For me, this has been a 40-year journey. It’s a big thing for us to be bringing our own children into the business, because everyone wants the best for their children – so you really need to be sure that you’re on the right track.”