International Women's Day at NTI
International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. We’re proud of the amazing women we have within the NTI family – our people, our partners and, of course, our customers. This year, we’ve highlighted three inspiring women within the transport, logistics and equipment industries who are leading from the top.
Meet the Captain
Meet the Captain
It’s certainly fitting that an adventurous gap year to escape the classroom has been a catalyst for ‘Captain’ Courtney Hansen’s swashbuckling marine career so far.
A career that’s already accrued some impressive highlights, like being the first female skipper of one of Australia’s largest shipping companies - Sea Swift (no big deal), or Lloyds List’s Young Maritime Professional of the Year, or what she describes as the most-fulfilling job of her career, working in the Cook Islands rehabilitating a black pearl farm, courtesy of the New Zealand Government.
However, it’s Courtney’s recent shift into business ownership and away from the captain’s seat that has her the most excited. Along with her business partner, Ben Hales, she decided to make the move and escape the high seas - taking the reins of Cairns-based company North Marine (formerly Tim North Marine), a company for which Hansen previously worked.
They took over the business nearly two and a half years ago and despite the added stress of now being business owners, have flourished.
“We bought North Marine in October 2019 and have been steadily expanding with great success. So, things are going well … stressful, but, well!” she says.
The business services the North Queensland region and specialises in providing tailored marine support - including commercial diving solutions, tug and barge combinations, infrastructure support and equipment hire using its fleet of charter vessels.
Despite her time behind the wheel, Courtney’s keen to shed the skipper title while she embarks on this venture. “I strive to be really authentic, but it's just not the case anymore, I'm no longer a skipper. That's not my role anymore in the company, and whilst I love being out on the boats, it’s no longer my role.”
“I miss it every day, I really do, but this is just the next phase of life,” she adds.
But not even this self-confessed outdoorsy type could have predicted her success at sea. Initially, it was her gap year working on a charter fishing boat, sailing the areas between the Swain Reefs and the Torres Strait that gave Courtney her real taste of the sea. She then moved abroad as a dive instructor to places like the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands, before deciding it was time for a “real job”.
“When I returned home, I got my skipper’s tickets and then started driving the boats out of the marina in the tourism sector before deciding to move into the commercial sector,” Courtney says.
Courtney was then accepted into Sea Swift’s cadet program and eventually ascended to the rank of master. This pioneering moment for the industry saw Hansen become the first female master employed by Sea Swift, a role that eventually saw her skipper a 1,500-tonne barge through the Torres Strait and Arnhem Land.
Despite her trailblazing moment, she humbly credits her achievements to her work ethic and the support she received through her previous experiences.
“I had an amazing support network, every mentor I’ve had has always championed me and I’ve never felt like being a female has worked against me. I’ve always had an incredibly supportive network,” she says.
“However, I think what was more challenging is once you got to the top is the people who I then had to lead, perhaps then you get some issues with gender.”
To top off her bold career, Courtney tells a story from her earlier days which saw the barge she was piloting snag itself onto the nets of a trawler, tangling up in the props and leaving her stranded overnight between the remote Crab Island off the coast of Cape York.
Notorious weather and the island littered with “thousands” of crocodiles make Courtney sound like the Indiana Jones of the sea.
“I think that’s the trickiest situation I’ve ever been in. I hope this doesn’t increase my insurance premiums,” she jokingly adds.
Courtney currently sits as a committee member on the Cairns Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC) for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. She is a member of the Regional Jobs Committee – an invitation-only position offered by the State Government and hosted by the Cairns Chamber of Commerce.
So what’s next for the unstoppable Courtney Hansen? “Giving back to the community is extremely important to North Marine. We are especially committed to improving environmental outcomes and supporting the development of pathways to both women and young indigenous people into the marine industry.”
In addition to the many initiatives the business supports, North Marine recently opened a Commercial Dive Traineeship Program. It’s the first of its kind in the region and aims to further open employment opportunities.
And does she have any advice for her younger self?
“Don't be afraid to ask questions, people want to help more than you think and the worst that can happen is they say no,” she says.
“Understand your weaknesses as well as your strengths, there is power in being self-aware, but don't become consumed in over thinking situations.
“Communication is key to success.”
In for the long haul
In for the long haul
Lots of businesses talk-the-talk about the importance of staff to their success. Vicki Meyer, CEO of Deliniquin Freighters, walks-the-walk, day in, day out.
As a major agribusiness carrier based in the Riverina region of New South Wales, reliant mainly on subcontractors to provide the flexibility to expand and contract with peak seasons, recruitment and retention of staff, both full-time and contractors, is critical to its operations.
“Our model is unique in that we don’t have a large fleet of trucks,” she says. “We have a core fleet of subcontractors that allows us to take a lot on when the crops are huge, and reduce without massive impact to the business during drought conditions. It’s like the lungs of the business.”
An unbridled focus on the health and well-being of staff has been central to Vicki Meyer’s management approach since she started with the business in 2002.
Joining the Deniliquin-based business after 11 years with Pivot Fertilizers (now a part of ASX-listed Incitec Pivot), initially in a contract role, Vicki was appointed to the top job after the previous general manager was discovered to have defrauded the company of close to $700,000.
Her immediate concern, she recalls, was about protecting “everyone’s livelihoods” from the potentially catastrophic impact of the malfeasance.
“The first thing I did was to shore everything up, there was great teamwork [to get the business through the time],” she says.
Vicki immediately worked to stabilise the business with her eye on its future needs. She says Deliniquin Freighters is “not your usual transport operation, it is very much family-first”.
“We do everything we can for the families of the [full-time and subcontractor] drivers. We treat them with respect, we go into bat [with clients] for better time slots. We want them to be treated with respect,” she says.
Deniliquin Freighters also has strong focus on drivers’ health.
“We have structured holidays, we look after them with [above-average] wages, we employ an osteopath to treat them, and we look after their mental health. We provide whatever support we can; and we invest in them,” she says.
Safety is also at the heart of Vicki’s stewardship of the company, which counts Sunrice and Woolworths as key customers, serviced via a fleet of approximately 10 trucks alongside full-time subcontractors.
She points out that irrigated agriculture allows the business to make decisions well in advance so it can predict eight to 12 months out what it needs for planning, budgeting and then either downsizing or upsizing accordingly.
“We will not have our trucks in peak traffic where possible. We don’t have to be in a rush to get anywhere, and we don’t die for a deadline. Safety comes right from the top, and it starts right here in my office. It might take us five minutes longer, but we make it, and we make it safely,” she says.
This approach has enabled Deniliquin Freighters to retain staff – and recruit new starters – in an industry struggling with employee recruitment and retention. All up, the company has a core staff of around 25 across the transport operation as well as a sizeable mixed-farming enterprise (cattle and sheep, wheat, canola and rice).
“We just had two staff retire and we have people who want to come here and work here to replace them,” she says.
At the same time, Vicki also embraced the opportunity to engage with the local community.
She says Deniliquin Freighters has a “terrific team” of people, many who have worked in the business for up to 40 years.
“So, dealing locally and investing back into the community was one of my first priorities,” she adds, noting the business’s support for community initiatives, such as its involvement in a fortnightly Meals on Wheels run and sponsorship of events including the annual Deniliquin Ute Muster.
Vicki is also NSW Chairperson of Can Assist, a charity that has been servicing communities across NSW for 65 years.
“I believe that the future of Deniliquin Freighters lies in being a strong social advocate for the community,” she says.
Throughout her career Vicki says she has built her approach around ethics, kindness and cooperation. “That was underneath my signature on every email,” she says.
“It was for people reading it to think to themselves, ‘That’s the very foundation of good business.’ But you also have to work to make sure they’re not just words on a page. I’ve kept them there for many a day and I’ve been challenged a couple of times, but at the foundation, that’s what we’re here for. It’s all about community and doing what’s right.”
Despite the challenges operating in the notoriously tough transport and agricultural sectors, Vicki has no regrets.
“It always felt right [to work in the transport industry], I’ve always worked with good people. All businesses go through difficult times, just at different stages,” she says.
“[The transport industry] is full of strong, courageous people. I love it.”
Her advice to her younger self? “I have no regrets. It’s a great industry. My advice is to just go out and do it. Just stick with it.”
Scaling new heights
Scaling new heights
Border Crane Consultants’ Director Melissa Barry reckons she’s just hitting the best years of her career late into her third decade.
Armed with a Bachelor of Business Management (Marketing) from La Trobe University, she has spent the past decade-and-a-half in various marketing and administration roles in the local government, manufacturing, defence and transport sectors.
But it’s been in the past two years since joining husband Jason full-time in their family business when her career development has really taken off, she says.
Founded 11 years ago out of their home garage, Border Crane Consultants (BCC) has experienced rapid growth. Through a deliberate diversification strategy, the business has expanded to employ 45 full-time staff at a purpose-built facility at Baranduda, 10km south-east of the Victorian border town of Wodonga.
From an initial focus on vehicle loading cranes and telehandlers, the business now specialises in the sales, installation, repair and maintenance, and compliance assessment and certification for cranes, vehicle loading systems, access and high-risk plant and equipment.
“Diversification has been the key to our success – absolutely. Not just focusing on the one area. We’re pretty well a one-stop shop – from fabrication, to fitting, to compliance, to trade-ins and selling new and used equipment, we offer the complete package,” she says.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 Melissa says she largely worked external to the business after finishing up her role in administration with bus and coach operator Dyson Group of Companies in February 2020 after almost 10 years with the well-known family-owned outfit.
“I had my own career and my own responsibilities [prior to that], but I’ve always been heavily involved in the business,” she adds.
“Our business had grown a lot and had got to the stage where Jason had been asking me to come over for some time. With the new facility [at Baranduda] it was time to get involved full time.”
As an “all-rounder”, Melissa says her time at Dysons was especially beneficial, exposing her to many facets of running a business: government liaison, payroll, quoting, scheduling, quality control and customer service.
In her current role with BCC she looks after everything from administration right through to occupational health and safety and compliance with key regulatory systems such as Australian Standards, National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL), Industry Codes of Practice etc – “making sure all the safety systems are up to scratch and that employees are trained to comply with them”.
More recently, she says her role has extended to looking after the “financials” as well as estimating and quoting on jobs.
“A typical day for me could involve paying the payroll, reviewing safety documents, organising training for staff, dealing with border closures,” she says.
“My background in quality management has been very beneficial to the business, especially being able to research and interpret legislation, codes of practice etc, and then implement systems to ensure the quality procedures are sound.”
Managing staff is also an increasingly important part of her role, Melissa adds.
“Our staff really are key. A lot of our recruitment is around recruiting for growth. Everyone says they can’t get staff, but we’ve been pretty successful in recruiting and retaining staff,” she says.
Melissa attributes this to paying above-award rates, offering a diverse range of work in a modern facility, a strong focus on training and development, presenting employee benefit, welfare and assistance programs, and an inclusive social club with planned activities and benefits.
“I love training staff and a lot of our staff are undertaking training. We’ve got staff who are over 40 and just getting their first trade,” she says.
Personally, Melissa has also focused on her own professional development.
“In the past two years I have had more time to focus on the business and myself personally,” she says.
Melissa was winner of Transport Women Australia’s (TWAL) 2021 Driving the Difference Scholarship, sponsored by Daimler Truck and Bus; and also participated in the 2021 Teletrac Navman Driving Change Diversity Program.
Earlier this year she fulfilled a long-held goal to get her heavy rigid (HR) truck licence.
Reflecting on her career to date, Melissa’s advice to her younger self? “Take risks career wise. Educate yourself. Try to progress. Understand your passion and got for it! I’m only starting to get these opportunities now. So, give it a go!”