The popular image of a heavy-haulage operator is someone who entered the industry early and drove a truck for years before rising through the ranks to manage the company.
Warwick Bell doesn’t fit that image. He entered the industry late and has never driven a truck (nor held a licence to do so). But, along with business partner Dave Carr, he is arguably the most successful heavy-haulage operator in the country.
The two are co-directors of Manukau-based Tranzcarr Heavy Haulage and associate company Machinery Movers, which between them employ some 55 staff and operate a fleet of more than 200 pieces of plant, trucks and trailers, and a fork-hoist fleet of more than 25 units.
“I’ve always joked that we have a big blue demarcation line down the yard whereby I don’t cross the line with equipment and operational procedures and my strengths are in the running of the companies and chasing the work,” Warwick says.
“The truth is, the success of our business is that we all spend a lot of time discussing all aspects of the companies and what work we chase and how we set out to complete it. We now deal in major projects with big budgets and the control of these is vital to our continued success.”
In 2001 Tranzcarr scored a stunning success by winning the United States-based Specialised Carriers & Rigging Association’s global haulage job of the year, beating competition from the US (two entries), Argentina and Germany.
Warwick travelled to Florida to present Tranzcarr’s entry, which was its relocation of BHP’s entire ironsands processing plant at Taharoa in the Waikato. BHP had intended digging canals and floating the three large pieces five kilometres to the new site, but Tranzcarr successfully counter-proposed hauling the 450-, 600- and 1000-tonne sections by road.
The project meant doubling Tranzcarr’s fleet of Cometto trailers with the purchase of another 20-axle lines from a company in the US, and hiring another 14-axle lines of Nicolas trailers from Australia. BHP also required Tranzcarr to construct the road for the haul and the two landing areas for the plant sections to be extracted and relocated, as well as strengthening a bridge over a sacred stream.
A world-class heavy-haulage success is a long way removed from Warwick’s original career, which eventually could have seen him occupy an important role in New Zealand’s legal system.
Born and raised in Gisborne, the fifth of seven children, he left Gisborne Boys’ High School with university entrance and sixth-form certificate, and in 1975 started work in the Justice Department at Gisborne Magistrates’ Court.
Four years later he was promoted to Auckland Magistrates’ Court and worked in various roles at Otahuhu, North Shore and Henderson, as well as on the 1981 Springbok-tour trials in Auckland High Court. But despite being appointed registrar for the first district-court jury trial in New Zealand in the Auckland High Court, his restless mind, plus friends telling him he could achieve more merit-based promotion possibilities elsewhere, led him to look for invigorating work in the private sector.
When the son of Mogal Freight’s national sales manager joined the Mairangi Bay Surf Club where Warwick was captain, that connection gave him an opening in 1983 to be employed by Mogal at its Southdown terminal as a sales rep, despite being in his mid-20s and having no transport-industry experience. His clients included James Hardie, NZ Forest Products, Fletcher Wood Panels AHI, UEB Industries, and (after two years’ hard work by him) a major slice of the Coca Cola account in Auckland.
In 1988 Warwick returned from an extended overseas holiday to find that Mogal Freight had been sold to Mainfreight and his employment had been overlooked in the upheaval. Mainfreight’s Bruce Plested offered him a role in the despatch operation with the likelihood of eventually moving into operation management, but Warwick regarded this as a backward step and instead accepted Mogal Heavy Haul manager Richard Hyde’s offer, after a 10-minute interview, to join him as a support person.
In 1990 Mogal was bought by the Owens Group, which divided the operation into a Hyde-led Owens Project Services, for mostly offshore work, and Owens Heavy Haul for work within New Zealand, with Warwick as manager and branches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Although Owens (formerly Carlton) Cranes created the ability to offer more turnkey proposals to the infrastructure sector with “lift and shift” operations, Warwick says that at that time heavy haulage in this country was at a crossroads, with Dale’s Freightways gone and no platform trailers around. Fortunately, Mogal had forged a relationship with Megalift from Australia and Warwick managed the operation using trailers and staff from Australia and a keen group of former Dale’s staff employed by Machinery Movers in Auckland.
Through working on projects together, he developed a strong relationship with Machinery Movers and in 1996 (after two months of pondering) he accepted owner Dave Carr’s invitation to join him. He was also able to fulfil his wish to buy into the business and became the company’s managing director.
Owens initially regarded his departure with scepticism but before long the two companies were working together on major projects at Otahuhu and Stratford power stations. In 2000 NZL Transport wanted to sell its heavy-haulage operation, complete with Cometto platform trailers, and approached Machinery Movers. This led to the forming of Tranzcarr Heavy Haulage, with Warwick and Dave taking on the respective business and operational leadership roles they still occupy today. The following year Tranzcarr bought Owens Heavy Haulage.
Warwick says it was decided from day one to keep Tranzcarr and the successful and established Machinery Movers entirely separate, with each company having its own offices in the Manukau yard. However, there was much overlapping of resources, such was the direction both companies were heading in the industry.
“This was a very tough time, trying to develop the Tranzcarr brand. We were the first non-corporate entity to own platform trailers in New Zealand and didn’t have an extended bank account and struggled at times to survive.”
The support operations of the two companies were amalgamated and an expansion programme was begun. In 2004 Tranzcarr won the tendered transport contract for the Te Apiti wind farm in the Manawatu and this saw the start of a number of similar projects the company has worked on in the 10 years since.
New Zealand-made specialised trailers able to carry wind-farm blade sections up to 49 metres long were added to Tranzcarr’s expanding fleet of transport trailers. At this time the company also won the transport contract for the Genesis Energy e3p power station at Huntly. Large teams from Tranzcarr and Machinery Movers were needed to make the project possible.
“To haul the heaviest loads, among them a 377-tonne gas turbine, required some major route modifications including having to cross over the southern motorway twice on the journey from Auckland’s port,” Warwick says.
“Each haul took five nights and required temporary bridging to be erected over 14 structures along the route. We also needed to look at new-generation trailers to carry such a heavy load and went scouting the suppliers before a decision was made to go with Goldhofer UT trailers out of Germany.”
Despite his challenging role as an industry leader, Warwick Bell has made time to give outstanding service to his fellow heavy-hauliers, which last year culminated in his receiving the Heavy Haulage Association’s Gus Breen Memorial Award.
He was elected to the HHA executive in 1997 (his first year away from Owens) and 18 years later is still on the board – “although my time is coming to an end”. He led the review which changed the executive into a board and in 2001 was elected the first chairman, a role he held for five years.
He has also represented the HHA on the Axle Weights and Loadings Advisory Group that includes representatives from the road-transport and crane industries, Police and local authorities, and is convened by the Transport Agency.
Why the long and exceptional service? “I’ve always held the view that this [heavy haulage] is my business and if I can assist with the industry then it would have a bearing on that business.”
Warwick, 56, is married to Nicky, whom he regards as very supportive and who has worked in freight forwarding and project management; he has three adult sons from his first marriage; and he has had a 40-year love affair with surf lifesaving, which began in Gisborne.
He is a life member of both the Mairangi Bay Surf Lifesaving Club and the Northern Region Lifeguard Services, has received an award for distinguished service to NZ Surf Lifesaving, was chairman of the organising committee for the 1998 world championships in Auckland, and only recently stepped down from a director role on the national board and as a trustee on the Marine Rescue Centre Trust at Mechanics Bay, Auckland.
Warwick says his success in the heavy-haulage industry has come from having very skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated people around him who enjoy challenges. And he makes no apologies for stating in the recent Mighty Moves history of heavy haulage in New Zealand that “anything can be moved if you throw money at it”.
“That may sound very crass but in our business it’s so true. Much of my time these days is spent doing feasibility studies for all sorts of companies. The first question they ask is, can this be done? And like a good painter with a blank canvas, I start…”
Taking the initiative
When Warwick Bell joined Mogal Heavy Haul more than 25 years ago as a support person for manager Richard Hyde, he found himself working for someone whose management style was very much hands-on and can-do.
Together they travelled throughout New Zealand and Australia as Mogal (later Owens) expanded, until the day came when they arrived on the wharf at Sydney to oversee the shipping of two transformers made by ABB and destined for Cromwell sub-station.
“When we turned up ship’s side, all the wharfies had gone to smoko,” Warwick recalls.
“The port supervisor asked if we were the riggers and quick as anything Richard replied ‘yes’ and I was despatched up the ladder onto the top of the transformers to attach the ship’s lifting gear so they could be craned onto the ship.
“Both transformers were rigged and lifted inside 20 minutes and we’d left the wharf area before the wharfies returned from smoko.”