A Totally Remarkable group of people - TR Group 25 Years

Monday, November 27, 2017

TR Group’s 25th anniversary story is one of success, passion, and vision. It is also – at least initially – of two men, and the team behind them, who shared the vision, the passion, and, ultimately, the success.

Success is often subjective. However, in TR Group’s case it is substantive. The company has the largest truck and trailer fleet in New Zealand, comprising around 6,500 trucks supplied to or managed for clients. It employs 153 people, and has opened 12 branches and created enduring relationships with key customers and suppliers.

The story of the home tells the story of the family

Move-in day Auckland yard 1995.

The new Auckland office 1995, the Keith Hay.

Auckland office extension 2006.

Today, the story continues.

So, the question is asked – how could a company have achieved that within 25 years?

To find the answer, New Zealand Trucking interviewed TR Group’s managing director Andrew Carpenter and general manager strategic development Neil Bretherton at their Penrose head office.

It’s a good question, says Neil. “Probably one we ask ourselves a lot.”

Maybe our starting point for an answer is how it started. It was Andrew who formed the company in 1992 when he and his father, the legendary Ron Carpenter, purchased a small trailer hire business from CHEP. The fleet comprised 65 used trailers – none under eight years old.

1992 CHEP fleet and office.

Staff meeting late 1993.

Neil joined the company the following year at the invitation of Andrew. The two had been school friends, but their career paths were at that point going in entirely different directions. Both had just left university, but Andrew was steeped in transport while Neil studied psychology and history and may have gone on to become a teacher.

The two divergent directions came together when Andrew visited Neil in Christchurch. Neil recalls the occasion:

“Andrew caught a ride from Nelson in an Irvine’s Mack and over the course of a weekend he kept talking about the trailer rental business he had in Auckland. And when we drove around Christchurch we saw a plot of land, and I suggested he should open up a South Island branch there. I guess that was the start of my interest in the business and Andrew thought that I might be part of it.”

Neil joined the company on a part-time basis, moving to Auckland at Andrew’s request, intending to help out around the yard over the busy summer months. Summer passed and Neil stayed, moving on to the technical side of the business, then buying and selling.

In 1998, TR Group purchased a truck rental business and Neil was put in charge of that. It was at that point Andrew’s embryonic vision for his company began to grow and be augmented by some fairly forthright operational strategies and philosophies that remain the company’s guiding principles today.

Andrew Carpenter. The size of today's company he and Neil did not 
foresee, nor was it the key goal; it was a culture they were striving
for, and Andrew believes they've done what they set out to do.

The first is that TR Group would be on a perpetual learning curve. There was always something to be learnt from what competitors were doing – right and wrong – and by adopting the right.

Second was, as Neil puts it, “good product sells itself ”. By listening to what customers wanted and keeping a close eye on market trends and technological developments, TR Group positioned itself as a quality product provider. The company would have a competitive cost structure but it would not compromise on quality.

Third was to employ only good people, with the skills, the vision, and – above all – the right ‘fit’ to take the company forward.

The three-pronged strategy was a spectacular success. A rapidly growing customer base was soon permanently renting or leasing the latest trucks and trailers from TR Group rather than owning them, which in turn rapidly led to TR Group expanding their fleet to meet market demand.

The company adds value to their core product range by helping operators get the most from their TR vehicles. In 2015, TR Group purchased Master Drive Services to do just that.

Driver and technical training for the company’s customer base is a large and costly part of TR Group’s service delivery. But, as Neil, puts it, it is in the company’s DNA and its point of difference.

It is true that truck and trailer renting and leasing existed before TR Group, but never, to that point, to the heights of professionalism and sustainability that TR Group takes it. And maintains it.

The third operational strategy, a cornerstone of Andrew’s vision, is people. Both he and Neil place a lot of store (and not insignificant investment) on a team culture that drives the company forward.

It begins with a rigorous recruitment process. TR Group has no trouble attracting applicants, but, as Neil explains, it’s not the quantity, it is the quality...and the synergy.

“Each successful applicant goes through three job interviews. The first is more informal and social. It’s there to decide whether we like them – that they can fit in; we are a family here and like any family we don’t just let anyone walk through our door. Important, too, is that it gives them an opportunity to meet us – to make sure they feel comfortable in our environment.

“That is important because we like to feel we are offering them a lifetime career – and we are, some of our staff have been with us for almost the lifetime of the company.

“The second interview is fairly conventional and if people make it through this, we have the third interview when the rest of the team they’ll be working with meet them over dinner. If they make it through that, then and only then do we sit down and work through the details of them joining us.”

Once through the door and part of the family, the recruit is immediately struck by clear evidence that the family culture is real. Very real.

TR Group is renowned for recognising community causes and getting behind them with a show of support. Here three of the fleet attend Kids in Cars Pukekohe 2015.

The Penrose office and TR Group’s branches are immaculate, scrupulously tidy, and palpably professional. They are also highly functional and welcoming. Neil played a large part in their design.

Most notably, however, is that the company’s core values and principles are clearly and openly stated and reiterated right throughout the offices, workshops and maintenance areas. Everywhere.

Those values, mostly around the drive for professionalism and pride, are not meaningless nor are they platitudinous. They are very real functional – and achievable – principles.

Nor are they random. They were created 17 years ago over six months when the team sat and worked out what they wanted their company to be and where they wanted to take it. And in that we have possibly our answer to that original question: how could these two guys, barely in their 20s when they first started, have created the largest truck and trailer company in just 25 years?

The answer is they didn’t. What they created was a company, a culture and a team that did it.

That formative session 17 years ago set a clear direction for the company, and the values they set then would remain consistent on the journey. Andrew and Neil instinctively knew the type of person they wanted working with them on that journey and deliberately set out to build the work environment that would attract them.

It would also attract customers to them.

Neil attributes part of that to their relative youth when he and Andrew started. He says they had to earn the immediate trust of much older and often cynical transport operators. The only way they could do that, he says, was knowing and believing in their product, and being open and honest.

He says it was, and remains, a matter of building relationships. “That goes for our staff, our customers and our suppliers. Everybody.

“I think that is part of our attraction for customers and suppliers. When they are dealing with TR they are dealing with people who, like them, have a passion for the industry. People who care. I think that’s why we have grown in the way we have, as rapidly as we have.”

That six-month period, 17 years ago, was clearly a watershed for TR Group. But the growth of the company is still grounded very much on the vision Andrew had from day one 25 years ago.

As a then-21-year-old, he knew where he wanted his company to be. But except for some basic principles and values intrinsic to his family, he admits to not knowing how to reach that place.

The hooking up with his old schoolmate, Neil, was obviously a pivotal point for them both, and for the company. Their complementary skills and shared values built the foundation for TR Group and its growth. The team they formed since then has become the real success story, full of quite remarkable people.

TR Group places a lot of importance on milestones. There is a large timeline mural in the Penrose foyer listing them. Celebrating them. The most recent obviously is reaching 25 years in business (see below). There is also a celebratory dinner planned, and no doubt moments for reflection.

We end with one. A final question, one for Andrew. Looking back to 25 years ago, is TR Group today where you thought it would be?

“No. Not in terms of size. I didn’t care about that. And I guess when Neil came on board he didn’t care too much about that, either.

“What we did care about was the type of company we wanted it to be. What it stood for.

“So, yes, in that regard TR Group today is exactly what we wanted it to be.”

TR Group timeline

1992: The beginning – the purchase of the CHEP trailer fleet.
1993: The first new trailers, the new Auckland property, the first significant lease deal
1994: They reach 200 trailers
1995: TR Group arrives in the mainland. Auckland moves to new Penrose site.
1997: Palmerston North branch opens, Christchurch moves onto its own site. People management skills begin to take shape.
1998: Purchase of the Truck Rentals fleet, including a Wellington branch.
1999: A new Auckland building, the first truck lease.
2000: Napier and Mount Maunganui branches open.
2003: Fleet expansion – 2000 vehicles.
2004: Hamilton branch opens.
2005: People care and development role introduced. New truck wash facility opens in Palmerston North.
2006: Dunedin branch opens, used vehicle sales division established, Auckland office building expanded.
2007: Purchase of Orix Truck Rentals.
2008: New Plymouth branch added. Driver training service added.
2009: Weathering the global financial recession.
2010: Moved to the new Christchurch site. IT developed as a core competency, new website launched.
2011: Rental takes off.
2013: Rental goes stratospheric, lease follows suit and TR Group continues to develop product offering.
2014: Fleet size passes 3,200 vehicles.
2015: Driver training is added to the TR Group family.
2016: Growth continues; TR Group has 12 branches throughout New Zealand, staff numbers reach 140, the fleet size passes 5,500.
2017: Happy birthday TR!

The numbers...

Age: 25 years
Branches: 12
Staff: 153
Fleet size: 6500 vehicles
Lease proportion: 70%
Rental proportion: 30%
Vehicles for sale: On average 150
Vehicles being built: Currently 500