Mainfreight's new depots usher in expansive phase
Mainfreight's new depot opening at Christchurch Airport was an opportunity for founder and chairman Bruce Plested to reflect on the company's growth from when he set up operations in Tuam St three decades ago.
Plested said he had anticipated the Tuam St depot would provide capacity for at least 10 years.
But it was almost redundant soon after it opened, such was the pace of business growth, he said.
Nowadays, Mainfreight earns nearly four times more from its freight operations in Australia, Europe and North America than in New Zealand.
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The new depot at Christchurch airport will be matched by five others overseas in Australia and Europe at near-completion or in planning stages.
The depot is part of Mainfreight's Air and Ocean logistics operations.
It includes many technical innovations including cooling capacity for fresh goods, and under-tarmac heating to prevent icing up in winter.
Plested said he was pleased to be back in Canterbury again where he visits from time to time.
"I just think how resilient Cantabs have been. There were some horror stories out of the earthquakes."
He had just driven from Invercargill via Gore to Christchurch, visiting Mainfreight branches along the way.
"Our guys do a physically demanding job driving through the night hanging onto steering wheels in the mist."
Those demands are one of the reasons Plested is keen to see the restored Picton to Christchurch railway line.
He said one of the first Auckland to Christchurch trains using the newly connected line would be loaded up on August 28 and taken south.
KiwiRail has run an allocation ballot for companies wanting to take part.
Mainfreight believes rail services as they existed pre-earthquake are unlikely to return.
KiwiRail has announced increased rail pricing for the re-established services, and this means companies like Mainfreigtht will continue to impose a surcharge on southern freight.
Logisitcs companies are waiting for KiwiRail to release its inter-island ferry services charges so they can set their own.
Mainfreight doesn't expect the Kaikoura route will be viable for heavy freight vehicles until later in 2018.
Coastal shipping links will remain a critical business strategy as a foil to further disruption or "unpalatable pricing."
When Mainfreight reported its most recent annual result in March, the figures showed that $1.7 billion of its total $2.3b turnover was earned from its overseas operations.
But when Plested talks, his focus is on more than turnover figures.
His recent address in the company's annual report drew attention because he departed from the usual fixations of captains of industry and focused on social issues, especially housing and eduction.
"Most people are concious of the importance of the same things like housing, infrastructure and education. The jails aren't full of educated people.
"I've been talking about these things for a few years and we should be talking about them."
Plested recently returned from a trip to Switzerland where he was impressed by the decentralised way the education system was structured, and the general feeling of equality there.
He found an emphasis on technical trades careers. Many of the farms in Switzerland were small and a farming subsidy of 1 per cent of GDP ensured many people live in the country rather than move to cities, resulting in some large businesses providing local employment.