Transtar sails into China
In less than four years, Australian freight company Transtar has opened six new offices across Asia. Sophie Loras looks at how the company has achieved successes in Asia, and China, in such a short time.
Annie Meyer was fresh out of school when she joined Melbourne-based logistics firm Transtar as a junior clerk in the late ‘80s. At that time, there were just five employees working for the company. Today, those founding employees make up the board of an international freight company with global capabilities – and particular expertise in Asia.
In 2008 Ms Meyer was tasked with setting up Transtar’s Asian headquarters in Hong Kong.
Leveraging off the Global Financial Crisis to take advantage of new shipping lines and better negotiating power, the company, under Ms Meyer’s guidance as Transtar Asia Director and CEO, has opened offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Ningbo and most recently, Singapore. Today, the business employs more than 150 staff across Australia, New Zealand, China and Asia, with plans to open a seventh office in Asia in Thailand in the near future.
In 2010 alone, the business’s total Asian sales grew almost 1000 percent, and as a result, Ms Meyer was last year nominated for the 2011 Telstra Business Women’s Awards. For two consecutive years, Transtar has been a finalist in the BRW ANZ Private Business Awards for ‘Most successful private business trading overseas’ and was last year the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Australia-China Business Awards in Hong Kong.
*Pictured: Annie Meyer (third front from left) with winners of the ACBA:2011.
Ms Meyer attributes the company’s core success to its strong customer service values, hands on approach in managing clients – all the way to senior management level – and the importance in finding and nurturing the right staff.
Establishing Transtar in Asia in 2008 was a challenge for Ms Meyer, especially being so far from family in Australia. The next challenge was creating a team from scratch.
“People are our biggest investment,” says Ms Meyer, who conducted all her own recruitment, hand picking employees as if they were family.
Determined not to make the mistakes she’d seen other foreigners make when starting out in China, she relied on her Chinese staff for all her cultural know-how.
“I have a great relationship with my staff – I need their guidance and their local intelligence,” she says.
“My staff have allowed me to understand the culture and why they do things and the history behind it.”
Staff from the Asian offices are regularly sent to Australia to understand the warehousing capabilities and meet the team in Australia.
Ms Meyer also takes a very hands on approach with her staff, mentoring and monitoring their progress.
“You lead by example. When something goes wrong, I look at where I went wrong – because the buck stops with me.”
Setting up a representative office and data centre in Shanghai was the first obstacle and a good introduction to doing business in the Mainland.
“It took longer than expected and there were a few hiccups but we stayed within the timeline – mostly due to our local staff,” says Ms Meyer.
“There are no shortcuts in China.”
Ms Meyer says one area where people go wrong in China, is arguing with procedure.
“If things didn’t make sense we didn’t argue with the authorities, we just did it.”
She also travelled a lot during that time, keeping her finger on the pulse at all times and acknowledging that every province in China is unique, “so you have to be open to listening to what they want.”
The Shanghai office was opened in 2008, followed not long after by Hong Kong (Transtar’s Asian headquarters) and then Shenzhen.
While Hong Kong remains the traditional gateway to Asia, Ms Meyer says Shanghai provides access to the huge cargo catchment of Central and Northern China. Being southern China’s major financial centre, Shenzhen is also the second busiest port in mainland China, ranking only after Shanghai.
Both the Shanghai and Shenzhen offices have achieved ‘A’ Class license accreditation and Transtar acquired its NVOCC license throughout China in May 2009.
Transtar has since opened further branch offices in Ningbo, Qingdao and most recently, Singapore in September 2011.
“One of the things we’ve had to do is come to terms with the simple fact that there is absolutely zero we can do about the economic macro, be it Australia, Asia or the World,” says Ms Meyer.
“Clearly we are cognisant of the current economic turbulence, but our ‘share’ if you like of global trade is so small, that opportunities remain limitless. With our activities focused on the Asia/Australia/New Zealand corridor, we’ve been insulated from most of the worst of the ructions.”
Ms Meyer says that despite a distinct slowdown in Australia and New Zealand, Transtar has continued on with business as usual.
“We tend to flourish in tough times as our customers and prospects face lower sales and profits, which tends to focus their minds on the sort of solutions and cost savings we’re able to implement,” she says.
The strategy of removing third parties from the business has meant Transtar is in control of all aspects of movement – from supplier to retailer and consumer.
“The challenge for us is to get to market and get that message to the prospects that best fit Transtar and our existing customers as our capabilities enhance.”
Ms Meyer’s advice to other businesses looking at entering China is simple.
“Go in with an open mind and an open heart and before you know it, Asia will fill it,” she says.
“You can do anything with the right heart and passion.” ■