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Bank's backing not forgotten

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 12:06 29/11/2012
Sheryl Ellison
Cathie Bell

Talk time: Strait Shipping managing director Sheryl Ellison talks to Marlborough Chamber of Commerce members at the business speakers’ series lunch in Blenheim yesterday. They are, from left, Anthony Barnes, Wayne Wiffen and Michael Cambridge.

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The backing of a Blenheim bank manager 20 years ago enabled Strait Shipping to be set up, managing director Sheryl Ellison said yesterday.

It has grown to carry 40 per cent of the Cook Strait freight market.

Ms Ellison told the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce business lunch yesterday that her father's bank manager at the time would not support him to buy a ship and set up a freight business in competition with the then-NZ Rail.

Ms Ellison's father Jim Barker had grown his family-owned business Otorohanga Transport Ltd from its focus on serving rural customers near their home in Otorohanga into a North Island-wide transporter moving dairy herds south, she said.

"It became really difficult to get them across the strait. Only one way around it - get his own ship."

Strait Shipping had its inaugural sailing in May 1992.

Back then, it cost $140 a beast to get the cattle across the strait; this had reduced to $40 a beast, Ms Ellison said.

The ship needed a year-round market and developed other freight services, increasing to two ships, and then in 2002 started carrying passengers.

The competition encouraged service and encouraged growth.

The passenger price across the strait was cheaper now than in 2002 by about $50 a person, Ms Ellison said. "That's less than a cow and you require much more work from us."

She stressed the focus of the Strait Shipping and Otorohanga Transport businesses was on customers, providing what they wanted in a long-term partnership together.

That was demonstrated by the company's bankers, she said.

"The Blenheim BNZ shared our vision, shared the risk 20 years ago. They understand our business because they've grown along with us."

The bank Otorohanga Transport had been with didn't. Her father had a couple of conversations with the Blenheim BNZ, and it decided it would support setting up a new freight service across Cook Strait. It was a partnership the company remembered, she said.

"Since then, I've had numerous commercial bankers in my office tell me that we should have our accounts in Wellington or, God forbid, Auckland. They don't see any reason why we should have accounts in Blenheim, but we do."

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- The Marlborough Express

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