In Short Story August 2021, August 20219 MinutesBy Dave McCoidSeptember 28, 2021

Whether it’s this job, age, and experience, or all three, you get a feel for stuff. Spend a bit of time in and around a company, and you soon determine if the troops are happy or dressing the window.

Waiting in the foyer to see Icon Logistics’ general manager container transport and dry fleet, Tony Gare, was an interesting insight into the company. Staff approaching his open door did so with ease. There was no hesitation or ‘air’ as they approached, and the tone of every exchange was easy and calm. Remember, this is a busy import/ export, warehousing, border clearance, and transport operation amid a pandemic- infused global supply chain behaving in a way no one can recall. The discussions appeared to be a mix of direction and confirmation; sought from someone with formidable experience in this industry subset and a lifetime of broader transport knowledge. It reinforced the lesson that the top office determines the calm or turmoil that exists beneath it, and we saw calm all the way to the steering wheels.

“Tony’s an awesome bloke,” says Grant Keen. “And you’ll likely hear that a lot over your time here.”

Any company will likely benefit immeasurably if the senior team is emotionally invested in the brand, and Tony is entwined in Icon’s DNA.

Icon is your typical opportunity, action, and acquisition tale, not uncommon in a young country like ours. The biography of both Icon and Tony start in the same place – another of Dunedin’s icons, you might say – Maxwell Brothers. Tony’s dad John Gare drove for the famous brand, and as was the case in those days, a young Tony cut his teeth riding in the cab and hanging around the yard whenever he could.

“It was trucks from the beginning, really,” he chuckles. “There was a short stint farming to bridge the gap until I could get my heavy traffic licence, then I was away, working at Maxwells.”

Expansion and acquisition saw Maxwells enter both the linehaul freight business as well as container handling and distribution via an inland operation on turf owned by Port Otago.

“I eventually got onto the linehaul work and remember thinking, yep, this is a bit of me.”

For a young, sharp, and ambitious bloke, it was a fantastic time, with constant opportunity.

The closure of Maxwell’s freight arm by parent Fulton Hogan in 1995 triggered upheaval, with the Port of Otago taking the container work in-house under the name South Freight. At the time, Tony was working in operations at Maxwell’s and he was soon seconded by his old boss, Wayne Muir, who had moved to the new entity.

South Freight’s transport arm was Harbour Transport, initially a one-man owner driver in the form of ex-Maxwell Brothers employee Keith McCann. Harbour Transport grew quickly in terms of truck numbers and equity stakes, culminating in 2002 with the formation of Harbour Transport (2002). Ownership of that entity comprised McCann, Peter Dynes, and another old Otago trucking name, Wilson’s Transport, from Milton. Tony was made operations manager.

Keith exited the business in 2003, followed soon after by a restructuring of South Freight’s transport operations which impacted the Harbour Transport (2002) business significantly.

“Peter Dynes and Les Wilson had to downsize, selling off a lot of older gear,” says Tony. “That rejig was also the genesis of Icon Logistics, which kicked off with three new Fusos in the two-tone blue and orange, operating from a tiny yard where the stadium [Forsyth Barr] is now.”

The Icon team rolled up its sleeves, got stuck in, and growth came quickly. With progressive expansion in the first half- decade, the company moved depots to a larger site on Timaru Street.

Tony was offered and took a share in the company in 2009, and then in 2011, the next significant manoeuvre in the equity stakes occurred.

The Port company decided road transport wasn’t its core thing, shedding the stand-alone business, but retaining an element of control over its risk via a 50% stake in Icon Logistics.

Then came “The Beast”, as Tony referred to it in one conversation: the Parry Street facility (previously the Dunedin Woolstores); the location Icon now resides in.

And finally, to where we are today, with one last significant event – June 2020 saw Dynes HWR take full ownership of Icon Logistics. That, in itself, is a measure of trust a key customer has in the quality of service a mission-critical supplier undertakes for them. As one Ports of Otago lady said when she came out to see what all the blokes with cameras were doing on the streets of Port Chalmers, “Oh, Icon! We love Icon.”

Tony Gare is part of Icon’s DNA and loves the industry that’s been his life.

“Once Peter took over, we shed some old gear pretty much immediately,” says Tony. “There were some UDs getting a bit past their use-by date. That’s what obviously led to the arrival of the 410s and the Euro-6 DAFs. It’s been great to see them arrive; they’ve given the place a boost.

“Peter’s bloody great. He leaves you alone to do your thing but is also a great mentor to bounce stuff off.”

Today it’s impossible to stand anywhere in Dunedin and not see a two-tone blue and orange Icon truck roll by within minutes. Although you’d think the fleet comprised a zillion trucks, there are, in fact, 26.

Theirs is a busy world. Although a relatively easy transport task for a driver once the twist-locks are engaged, the coordination and timing of boxes for loading and unloading, storage and shipping mean Icon operates day in, day out, like a Swiss watch. Flighty, erratic types, either in the shed, on the Combilift, or behind the company steering wheels are not what you’re after. And don’t forget the complexities that come with imports. It’s not just the goods but the unwanted passengers, the ones with many legs, wings, stingers, or slithery with no legs at all, attempting to gain entry; not to mention humanity’s ‘wayward’ set trying to conduct their various lines of ‘unbusiness’.

“As a transitional border facility, we see MPI and customs in here every day,” says Tony. “We have a great relationship with all of them and our team are well versed. We take zero risks; it’s that simple.” He walks over to the mezzanine window and looks out.

“We feed the beast [Parry Street warehouse] all through the night, so the de-vanners and packers can work largely uninterrupted during the day. It’s the system we’ve found works best. Being a one-way system through the shed, you can’t afford the skeles and swings to be stuck in a queue for the door, so we move boxes in and out of here through the night.

“I love it, always have. It’s who I am really. I love the challenge, problem- solving, making things work. I love working with a great team. I have the passion for a great industry with great people working in it.”