Australia’s Oldest Family Owned Business Uses a Mobicon

Australia’s Oldest Family Owned Business Uses a Mobicon

It was a hot and muggy summer’s day in 1982, somewhere in the coastal Nambucca Heads region of Northern NSW, when thirteen-year old Michael Miller heaved up a hefty hessian bag of freshly cut bananas onto his shoulder. This was his first job and it happened to be in the family business – a banana plantation. When a giant carpet snake came slithering out of the bag and onto his shoulder, young Michael did what most of us would have done – he dropped the bag quicksmart and jumped back a few steps. When he went and told his father about the incident, “he kicked me up the arse for dropping bananas”, says Michael with a chuckle.

So began the working career of Sadleirs Logistics’ Queensland State Manager.

About five years later, Miller moved to Brisbane and, at age eighteen, got himself a job at Sadleirs Logistics as a truck driver. “I always liked the transport industry. My dad was always involved in trucks somewhat and my uncles had farms and earth moving equipment, so I was involved with heavy machinery really early,” he says.

However, his start with Sadleirs wasn’t promising. “My boss and I didn’t see eye-to-eye at the beginning,” says Michael. “He wanted to sack me on the second day! I said I wasn’t going anywhere and I guess he eventually saw something in me, because he kept me on and I grew up in the business.”

Eighteen years later, when that boss retired as the Sadleirs’ Queensland State Manager, Miller took over the role which he has now held for ten years.

“The transport business is quite rewarding for a young fella who is ambitious and wants to achieve something. Even today I have three young fellas working for me and I love educating them about the industry. I tell them it’s a clean, healthy industry with big rewards if you want to put the hard yards in. It can be a very complex industry, but you just need to keep learning, stay hungry, have a common sense approach and work hard,” he advises. “But it’s hard to find people with common sense these days.”

Sadleirs was established in 1895 as a customs agent and general transport carrier. It was then acquired in 1939 by Lionel Samson & Son Pty Ltd, one of the oldest family owned businesses having started in 1829. It is likely his father was Michael Samson, “a member of one of the old established and wealthy families of English Jewry”, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. After studying at Oxford University and being a member of the London Stock Exchange, Lionel bumped into the newly appointed governor of the Western Australian colony, James Stirling, around London and was persuaded that WA was an easier and more interesting place to get rich than the London Stock Exchange.

Samson and his brother William stepped off the Calista sailing ship on South Beach in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1829. Purchasing Fremantle town lots 27 and 28, he started a merchant liquor and general import-export business. In 1835 he secured the first liquor license in the state, which remains current today, and became the state’s first Postmaster General.

One hundred and eighty-seven years after Lionel Samson landed in Perth, the company is still headquartered in Perth and Lionel’s descendants still own 100 per cent of the business. Today it is mainly a transport operator through Sadleirs (which they bought in 1939) and also owns Plantagenet Wines, a winery which dates back in 1968, and two packaging businesses. Its revenue is approximately $200 million and it employs 500 people.

Michael Miller says he it has been great to be part of a company with such a long and proud history and that they have an internal culture where everyone feels like family. He says their motto is “if it’s doable, we’ll do it”.

He has also seen a lot of growth during his twenty-eight years with Sadleirs, as the logistics and transport parts of the business have expanded. One particular area that has grown in “leaps and bounds” is the number of shipping and domestic containers they have had to handle.

“When we built this place,” he says, referring to their Wacol site in Brisbane, “we only put down an eight-inch pavement. A reach stacker or container forklift to handle our containers wasn’t an option – for that, we’d have had to increase the pavement to 12 inches, which would have been a very expensive exercise. That’s why we bought a Mobicon Mini Straddle Carrier,” he explains. “The Mobicon has been a big part of our growth. We do up to sixty lifts per week and the Mobicon is very economical. It’s easy for newcomers to learn how to operate, very cheap to service compared to another unit with the same capacity, there are no big diesel bills and you don’t need big pavement. A big fork or reach stacker is very expensive to maintain, very expensive to fix if they break down and very dangerous to operate. There are so many blind spots. When you take all of that cost and safety risk into consideration, the Mobicon makes way more sense.”

The Mobicon also makes Brisbane’s hot summers easier to work in.

“It’s starting to get very hot. With the Mobicon, we can take the containers inside, out of the sun. It gives you that versatility that you don’t get with a big fork or reach stacker,” Miller says.

And to top it off, the ability of the latest Mobicon model, the ECO Top Lift Two High, allows companies to stack containers one on top of the other, allowing for better utilisation of the real estate.

Getting back to the lessons he imparts to the “young fellas” in the business, Miller has some final words of wisdom.

“I always tell them – you can either do it hard when you’re young or do it hard when you’re old. Work hard and treat it as it was your own business, treat people like you would want to be treated, and the transport industry can be quite rewarding.”

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