Principles and Progress Part 1

In October 2023, Tests29 MinutesBy Gavin Myers and Dave McCoidNovember 15, 2023

Ian and Shelley Newey are welcoming to a fault, extrovert and happy. They love what they do – individually and as a couple – a union of skill, talent and shared outlook. They know the world is changing and look for opportunities, not obstacles. Theirs is a resilience fuelled by sharp young energy, partially grounded in eternal management truths handed down by a previous generation.

How appropriate also that, when we arrive, we find one of their newest additions to the fleet is an unintentional metaphor for everything they represent – well-grounded adaptation.

“The next thing, Keith’s ringing me. ‘Shelley’s here saying you’ve broken up with her. What the hell are you doing? You don’t ever let the good ones go, mate!’ Fourteen hours later, we were all back on again!” Ian Newey recounts the tale, a stake-in-the-ground moment for he and his soulmate, Shelley. As he recounts the events of those 24 hours many years ago, his voice rises to the crystal-clear-and-excited crescendo that’s a trademark of a yarn with this family-, truck-and business-passionate fellow.

If you could compress the whole Newey Transport story into a single moment, that was probably it. The confident, caring, yet laser-focused Shelley, who loves nothing more than happy people living their best lives, knew full well the potential in a life with this lanky bloke who also happens to make her heart race. And Ian, an energy and enthusiasm overdose; thanks to his father, mate and mentor, Keith, he has an insatiable work ethic and opportunity-focused mind.

Shelley and Ian Newey, trucking in modern times.

For his part, Keith is like a prompt in the wings of a Broadway show, just doing enough to keep everyone on track and help them shine without the spotlight ever reaching him. Yes, folks, there’s a shade of Trevor Hawkins in Keith Newey, that’s for real.

“Yeah, so, Shells had finished university and was working in HR at Tyco in Auckland. I had the Foden by then, and we were trying to do the remote thing. She’d seen this young guy with his own truck and thought, ‘Wow, young with his own business. This guy’s loaded!’” Laughter erupts around the room. “Na, na, I was going hard – it was different then. Shit, we went hard, man. I was either working or asleep, and it all got too difficult, so I called it off.

“Trouble was that Shells, dad and mum got on like a house on fire. So, she went straight around there, all in a mess, saying, ‘Ian’s broken up.’ You know what happened next? The phone call…”

Let’s not load up the poor guy with too much here… This is a woman of immense character, a passionate people person, an HR specialist. Shelley knew partnerships were a two-way thing, so she compromised and upped sticks, moving away from the bright lights and big post-grad opportunities, back home to the north (she’s a Kamo lass) to be closer to ‘Mr Work and Sleep’. Initially, she went to work for Alan Lang at Intertruck Distributors in Whangarei. But in a classic case of ‘all you’ll ever need is under your feet’, she ended up in a senior HR role at New Zealand Refining at Marsden Point. That’s not the end of that story, either. Anyway, moving on…

Dad Keith, mum Carolyn, and Keith’s R-model – bought back and fully restored by MTD and given to Keith in 2013 as a retirement gift.

Back up the truck

Let’s just back up a fraction and find out how we got to that point and beyond.

Ian is the son of Keith and Carolyn Newey and part of a hugely respected Northland family that’s been in and around transport for three generations at least. Ian’s grandfather ran buses – Mack buses, believe it or not – and Keith is probably best known in trucking for the Golden Bay Cement contract he held between 1989 and 2009. Ian picks up the thread….

“When Golden Bay Cement went down the contractor model, it purchased 10 R-model Macks of identical spec and then advertised the contracts to tow leased company trailers. Keith took Mack No.10, a 350hp Econodyne and 12-speed. The truck loaded out of Golden Bay’s Portland facility just south of Whangarei to North Island silos, the farthest being Otaki. At its peak, the family fleet comprised four immaculate Bulldogs.

“I grew up in the cab of a Mack cement tanker, travelling all over the country. The dream was always to drive a Golden Bay cement tanker like Dad.” Although he eventually got there, his was the classic case of the boy’s dream being only a part of the man’s story.

“I actually went into the forest from school and my journey led me to work for Ken Holmes, harvesting and machine operating mainly in the Riverhead and Woodhill Forests. I had my HT licence, dad had told me to get that sorted before the rules changed. It was the days when you just showed up, answered some questions, went for a drive – and done! Thank goodness I did that.

“Around the turn of the century, maybe a bit before, I went to work for Craig Stokes, driving a log truck. Holmes and Stokes had shared an office at the old Riverhead Forest HQ, and so that’s how that happened.” Then, he chuckles: “I’ll never forget Craig saying, ‘Why don’t you go drive for your old man, wreck his gear, then come and drive for me when you’re sorted?’ The trouble was Dad had long-serving guys; someone had to die to get a seat.

“I absolutely loved the job at Stokes. I was there for 18 months and went everywhere – Northland forests, Central, Mangatu in Gisborne. It was challenging, challenging stuff, with no two days the same.

“Then the ultimate happened – the cement job. Keith bought a new Mack Trident, and he set it up as a double-shift unit with driver Dave Kerr. He asked me if I wanted the second seat. At last, the dream job.

“Now, how do you say this without it sounding wrong and disrespectful? After six months, I’d had enough. Don’t get me wrong – fantastic truck, great job – but after the constant personal test of the remote logging, it just couldn’t hold my interest. Once you’ve done all five silos five times… you know? It was just a case of ‘press repeat’. I needed constant challenge.”

It just so happened that Asset Forestry subsidiary Flex Distribution was setting up owner-driver contracts out of the Pouto Forest at the bottom of the northern arm of the Kaipara. Keith pointed Ian in that direction and, in 2002, Newey Transport was born. “We kicked off with an ex-Graeme Sheldrake 500hp Cummins-powered Foden bought through Ashley Hall. It ran for three months before the motor blew up. Fun times.”

Ian’s first new Bulldog came in the form of a 470hp 8×4 Mack Qantum in 2005, a truck still in the company today with 2,100,000km on the clock. Ian drove the truck himself for the first 600,000km before putting a driver on and taking the wheel of a new Hino 700 Series in 2011. That truck that ran to 1,100,000km and is also still in the yard, although now a donor truck. “A great machine, but she’d had enough. She was tired.” Anyway, back to the story…

In 2006, a year after the Qantum arrived, Ian and Shelley set up Marsden Transport Solutions with Glen and Suzie Curran. Keith joined the fold in 2009, following the decision of Golden Bay parent Fletchers to bring the cement tankers back into the company fold. Keith retained two Mack Tridents; one was sent to MTD in Palmerston North for stretching and a logging B-train was found for the other. “It’s how you retire trucks,” says Ian, with a laugh. “Send them logging.”

Over the course of the next three years, Ian and Shelley added their first new Granite, and Keith an additional Qantum.

The next big move came in 2011. Ian and Shelley sold their shares in MTS to Glen and Suzie, and took their three trucks as IK and SM Newey Transport to the Northland arm of AZTEC Forestry Transport Developments, where Ian worked under Steve Segetin as northern operations manager and Shelley as health and safety manager. When Keith retired in 2013, Ian and Shelley doubled the size of their fleet overnight to six.

“The AZTEC era was a great one and we certainly enjoyed it. In the six years we were involved, a hell of a lot of wood came online, and the fleet grew from 23 trucks when we arrived to 50 by the time we left, of which we contributed 10 by the end.

“It was a hell of a busy few years. But all journeys come to an end, and it was time for us to move on. The timing was also right. There was new wood coming on stream, plus significant restructuring in the forest ownership up here. It all meant we were able to leave and set up without standing on toes. We were also in a really good space in terms of equity. If we had to park up six of our 10 for a while, then we could.”

Home sweet home

Keith owns a plot of land on Kepa Road in Ruakaka, and when Ian and Shelly moved house in 2011, they retained their previous home of nine years two doors up on the corner of Kepa and Sime. Today, it serves as the company office. This is a real family affair where nothing’s forgotten or left behind… famous old trucks, the family home… it’s gold!

“The little house is becoming a shrine,” says Ian. “I am a bit too sentimental at times. That’s how some stuff gets to stay. I can’t part with it.”

Ian will say ‘we were lucky’ when he talks about winning new contracts early on, but we’re not entirely sure. Luck is often the result of effort and attitude, and to that end, it was probably inevitable something would come the couple’s way.

“We secured some good contracts and recently just had a renewal of one of our key customers. That normally sparks a capex round and that’s why there’s new gear filtering in. Yep, we’re Mack people through and through. Obviously, there’s history with the brand, but Carl [Capstick – MTD Sales] and Murray Sowerby [former MTD general manager] have just been amazing over the years, sourcing and trading trucks when we’ve needed and spec’ing new trucks. There are also huge benefits in sticking with a product you know so well. You know what noises are just ‘noises’, which ones don’t matter, and which ones do. There’s not much we don’t know about a Mack truck.”

Today, the Newey fleet stands at 35, of which 17 are owned by Ian and Shelley, and the others by owner-drivers or subcontractors. Trucks are based from Te Hana in the south to Kaitaia in the north and fleet operations extend from as far south as Hunua and Clevedon, south of Auckland, to Parengarenga, 30 minutes south of Cape Reinga, encompassing the full width of Te Tai Tokerau. “When we’re running at capacity, we can move approximately 80 loads a day. It can get pretty busy.”

Although the Newey trucks are painted and branded in fleet livery designed and applied by virtuoso Darryn Caulfield, it’s not a stipulation for those contracted to the business, and it’s here we find the beginnings of the broader forward-facing story.

“They have to retain something that’s them. They have to be allowed to demonstrate the pride they have in what they’ve accomplished. They all have Newey LTSC numbers and are all on our GPS, and there’s a lot expected of them regarding rules and compliance. Getting to the point where they can put on a new truck, or even a second-hand truck, is a big thing for a lot of people, and you must allow them to individualise and be proud of that achievement.

“We’ve helped a number of people get a start in trucking, providing vendor finance into a second-hand truck to get them up and running – people who just have to own a truck to fulfil a dream. It gives us and them an immense amount of pride.

“The Granite you’ll be doing the story on, it’s a manual. We’re largely AMT now, and the older guys wouldn’t have a bar of a stick anymore. But young guys do. There are still young fellas who don’t have to learn to drive a manual, but want to. They want to be able to say they can, and so we can provide that option still. It’s cool, you know? From there, they can progress, and progress and progress.”

Their way

No one gets hurt. Everyone speaks honestly. We succeed together. Embracing our differences. You are important.

It’s on the wall leading into the main office, the 21-year commemorative shirt, the back of the business cards – it’s all over the business. Compared with so many other places, the difference here is the intent to apply those values – they’re not window-dressing. And there’s a reason why that’s so.

“She lights up the room whenever she comes in,” says Ian of Shelley. “She just loves people, and where this business is today has her fingerprints all over it. Being an HR specialist, that’s her thing – it’s her buzz. She’s fanatical that it’s all done bang-on. People know where they’re at, and that makes them feel valued and part of something. We’re a family business and do our best to make our people feel part of it all. Me, I left school at 16. I just wanted to get stuck into working in the bush, on trucks!”

All of that is, of course, entirely true, although Ian sells himself short a little. He’ll also tell you – as you’ve read – that he grew up in the passenger seat of a cement tanker, that he and Keith are as much great mates as they are father and son. Keith has been and continues to be a great mentor – a humble, unassuming bloke (…unassuming when he’s not squealing the tyres on his restored Holden HQ V8 outside the office – LOL).

Ian will tell you it was his father who told him there’s never any need whatsoever to bellow and yell at staff to get them to do what you want, and at the end of the day, people who are respected and treated with dignity will do almost anything for you.

As eternal as that management mantra is, Shelley would be the first to agree it aligns perfectly with 2023 best practice – ‘contemporary’ works when founded on eternal principles of respect and dignity never forgotten. These two are a matched pair indeed.

Legendary Mack salesman Carl Capstick has sold trucks to both Newey generations through his career. “They’re two peas from the same pod. Dealing with Ian is just as enjoyable as it was Keith. Simply great people.”

Just then, the hallway is alive, and Shelley walks in with daughter Jess. Ian’s description was bang-on. Shelley is the liveliest of live wires and takes no time to join the conversation.

“I’m just a people person, always have been. I have to do something that involves people – it’s where I get my energy.

“We’re super proud of our business. You can’t wave the big stick. People can’t be at work worried, sick, or worst of all, angry. You certainly don’t ever want someone driving a truck angry. It’s got to be open, and they can’t be afraid to ask for what they need. If they have to go to the doctor, or there’s stuff going on they need to tend to, they have to be able to do that.

“We don’t have a huge turnover of drivers, and that tells us we must be doing something right.”

Ian grabs the momentary pause. “It’s one reason I like logs. It’s largely a Monday-to- Friday thing, so the crew get a weekend. They get to see the kids play sport on a Saturday. They’re not delivering groceries to a supermarket on Christmas Eve or a Sunday afternoon. That’s tough on people and families. Log cartage is hard, but it’s got that silver lining.

“We have great customers that support us – they get it… long-term relationships. The wider industry is in a terrible slump at the moment, but Rayonier Matariki looks at its businesses through a long-term lens, and as such, has shown real commitment to its contractors through this time. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Paying it back

On the days we were in camp, something special was taking place. Shelley had recently ended an eight-week HR contract at Channel, the name for the fuel-storage facility at the old New Zealand Refining site. In the wake of that, she had been offered a position as head of HR on-site, her dream job, and she’d accepted.

“She’s given her heart and soul to our family dream,” says Ian. “Now it’s time for her to chase her big dream.” It’s resulted in manoeuvrings throughout the office. Health and safety manager Paula Ewers had accepted the offer to move up to general manager, Nadia McDonald will move into an HR/H&S role and recruiting for Nadia’s administration function was about to commence.

“I’m not going far,” says Shelley, “just up the road. But opportunities to advance in a business this size don’t come around a lot, so it’s perfect.”

The other key member of the crew not normally on-site is dispatch manager Russell Masters. He’s ‘that guy’ whose life is having the tiger by the tail, managing stocks in the bush and truck supply.

“Russell is the pivot all right,” says Ian. “He works from wherever he wants to – home, or the office. It’s a mission-critical job and one that requires trust and flexibility. His peak times are later in the afternoons when stocks are coming in, and in the morning when the first round is complete or glitches need attention – breakdowns, weather, sickness, all the usual.”

Pass through Northland and chances are you’ll see a few of these around..

The yard and workshop are owned by Keith and Carolyn and leased back by Ian and Shelley. There are two mechanics who also leap behind the wheel when required. Also in there on work experience is Ian and Shelley’s son, 15-year-old Blake, and there’s Luke (12), who hasn’t got involved as yet. “The boys haven’t shown interest yet. Jess [10] said she’ll take it on. Someone’s going to step up, right?”

The Newey philosophy to embrace extends well beyond the boundary fence. When they decided to install a new truck wash 10 years back, they put it outside the gate by the Allied fuel pump. That way, the local industry could make use of it.

“It’s no use having truck washes being installed but locked away in yards all over the place. It’s a waste of resource. Why not make it something everyone can use? There’s a tag and timer, and we believe the charge is reasonable. They’re bloody expensive things to do nowadays, and it is about optimising the outlay in a way everyone benefits.”

In addition to all that, Ian’s hugely active in industry representation, currently serving as deputy chair on the board of the NRC and IK & SM Newey Transport is also a member of the Log Transport Safety Council.

Then there’s the annual sponsorship of the Takahiwai Rugby League Club, another way of involving themselves and contributing to their community.

Flush ends, not random

Leaving with the wrong message from this and last month’s cover feature would be tragic. It’s a tough old world at this moment in history, and you won’t find folk humbler than the Neweys. They’re certainly not interested in ‘look at us’. This is just a story about a truck-mad boy who met a people-mad girl and together created something cool. It is not a manual on ‘how to’, like the Glen Stuart story, it is merely an insight into ‘how we chose to do this’.

They are two businesses finding their way in modern 2023 road transport with all its challenges, yet finding the opportunities to do things a little differently. Neither are changing the recipe – shit still has to be uplifted and carted somewhere else for money in return – but they’ve chosen to season their recipe a little differently, altering the flavour immeasurably.

In the Newey’s case, we find modern thinking and eternal business truths are one and the same and, at their core, petition a basic respect for your fellow man.

“You can’t drive a truck from home,” says Shelley. “We need the drivers to come to work, so it’s on us to create an environment where that’s not a burden, where they feel part of something.”