Most people dream of being in a career that excites them every single day. For Craige Whitton, it has become his reality. The CEO of Australia-based supply-chain provider Northline says he “bounces out of bed each morning” and looks forward to the opportunities and challenges that might arise. “I love what we are trying to achieve at Northline and how we are always striving to be better,” he shares. “For me, it’s about being able to provide the leadership the team needs and about showing a strong commitment to improvement. I’m guiding Northline on its journey to become more productive and efficient every day, and I’m motivated to provide the best possible outcomes for our customers.
Ultimately, I want to see the business working together as one unit to achieve this. You can’t afford to sit still in this line of work; I want us to continuously improve.”
Becoming more sophisticated through technology, property, people, systems and processes
Craige has been with Northline for more than a decade — 8 years as CEO and four as CFO. An accountant by training, he says he has seen the company respond to significant industry changes by becoming more professional, more technologically based and more customer focused. “Twelve years ago when I first joined, I was still expecting to see guys in blue singlets and thongs,” he laughs. “Since then, it has become so much more sophisticated than I ever could have imagined. This has been possible through technology, property, people, systems and processes. Northline is far more sophisticated than most people on the outside would understand.”
Implementing the latest technologies has been a critical part of this, particularly when it comes to being able to provide the best possible service to customers. Craige says that clients want the whole package, including being able to track their goods and being informed of any delays immediately. Northline is able to trace any piece of freight within its network at any point in time, and then communicate its progress with its customers. “It’s all about being able to provide transparency,” he notes. “From my perspective, it comes down to how we use that to provide a better overall operation. Technology allows us to run our business more effectively and therefore allows our customers to run their businesses more effectively. In this day and age, everybody wants instant access to information, so I think the most important thing is being proactive. So often it is not a matter of when everything goes well; rather it is a matter of how you respond when something doesn’t. That’s when you have to get proactive and explain that there’s an issue, or something is late, or that there has been a road closure or a derailed train that is going to cause delays or issues. Then it’s about getting on the front foot and communicating what has been affected with your people. It’s about being transparent regarding exactly what the issues are.”
“Technology allows us to run our business more effectively and therefore allows our customers to run their businesses more effectively.” – Craige Whitton
Having robust relationships with its suppliers is an important element in Northline’s mandate in delivering a high-quality service to its customers. Whether it’s rail, road or sea providers, insurance companies, property developers and landlords, or IT manufacturers, each provides a crucial link in the chain for Northline. “We have numerous significant suppliers and we work with them in a partnership arrangement,” Craige says. “We work together for the benefit of our business and theirs, and those relationships are based on communication, transparency and working closely together.”
Investment leading to improvement
Northline’s approach to operations is clearly serving it well. Since early 2014, it has made several large property investments, opening new purpose-built facilities in Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and Townsville. Its next project will be a depot in Adelaide, set to open in May 2017, and it has recently expanded its network by taking on a facility in Mackay.
“There’s been a lot of investment and improvement going on. In the future, we will make more investments in technology, and there will be a lot more investments made into our people as well. We are focused on making sure they have all the right tools to deliver the best outcomes for our customers. Our customers are at the centre of everything we do. We have an internal tagline, which is ‘connectivity’, and that means connecting our customers with their customers. We see that as our job.
We are problem-solvers and we are helping our customers to be more efficient and effective in their own areas of business.”