In 1984, prompted by the challenges of a Queensland Rail union strike, a group of five individuals pooled their resources. Each invested US$2,700 to acquire a truck and start their own transport runs from Brisbane to Cairns.
This joint endeavor marked the inception of Followmont Transport, which has since evolved into becoming Queensland’s largest family-owned transportation business.
Four decades later, Followmont moves a wide range of cargo across a range of industries, well and truly securing its place as a premier company in Australia’s transportation landscape.
“We’re a passionate family business, 100 percent dedicated to service and hands-on relationships with our customers, our people and suppliers.”
“I’ve been in the business since the day I could legally leave school,” says Followmont Transport’s Managing Director and CEO Mark Tobin, whose father, Bernie Tobin, was one of the initial Co-Founders and shareholders of the company.
“I did a diesel apprenticeship, entered as a young kid, and worked my way through virtually every role in the business.”
After working across various operational and management roles at several Followmont branches, Tobin purchased shareholdings, becoming a company Director in 2006. He was appointed General Manager in 2007 and then CEO in 2011.
However, in 2016, after prolonged negotiations and accepting an offer from a major tier-one transport company for the total acquisition of the company, Tobin, then Managing Director, made a bold last-minute move.
He decided over a weekend to exercise a shareholder clause to match the offer and instead purchase Followmont outright with his brother, Ben Tobin, now the company’s General Manager of Linehaul.
“I walked in on Monday morning and said to the shareholders, ‘I’m going to match the offer and take the whole lot’,” Tobin recalls.
The brothers recast Followmont as a family business, using profits for a purpose, contributing to the community through caring, creative and authentic relationships.
“We’re a passionate family business, 100 percent dedicated to service and hands-on relationships with our customers, our people and suppliers. We live and die for that,” he says.
Under Tobin’s leadership, Followmont has consistently expanded by combining data-driven market strategies, leveraging business analytics, and executing strategic mergers and acquisitions.
“The reason why I’ve spent so much time and effort on business analytics is so our team has a real-time feel. We’re making decisions today that happened yesterday,” he says.
Followmont now employs over 1,000 staff, owns over 1,000 pieces of equipment and moves full-load freight along nearly 150,000 kilometers of regional Queensland and New South Wales roads each day.
“The business has always been about service, with our values being service, unity, passion, integrity, innovation and care,” Tobin explains.
Tobin also has a clear strategy on mergers and acquisitions.
“We like to do at least one acquisition every 18 months,” he says. “It really pushes my leadership team to the next level and ensures we strategically grow our network.”
Tobin’s goal for Followmont is not just to be a driver of freight to regional centers, but a driver of economic growth and development to these areas, too.
This prompted him to substantially increase the company’s property investment, which currently stands at nearly US$13.5 million annually.
“We’ve built one of the most amazing transport businesses in Australia driven by people and culture.”
Since purchasing the business, Tobin has established many new depots, including Toowoomba, Cairns and Mackay. He has also overseen a major expansion of the company’s Townsville site.
With these expansions, Followmont now owns and operates 24 depots across the regions it services, with construction on further sites earmarked for the future, a business strategy Tobin feels will strengthen the company for sustained long-term growth.
“We’ve built one of the most amazing transport businesses in Australia driven by people and culture,” he says.
“Every cent we make out of a truck, we put back into funding real estate for our long-term succession so I don’t pull funds out.”
With a long-term vision for the company, upon purchasing the business, Tobin took about US$40.5 million in real estate and turned it into a US$67.6 million portfolio.
“We don’t buy a site and renovate; we usually buy ground and build specifically for a 10-year growth,” he says.
“We’re still going to continue down that path of how we add value through employment and communities in the regional centers. We don’t want to focus only on major hubs in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. We want to put back into those regional areas.”
Coupled with his goal to invest in regional areas is Tobin’s ambition to invest in the culture and leadership development of Followmont’s employees.
“We don’t want to focus only on major hubs in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. We want to put back into those regional areas.”
While some might hesitate to divert high levels of resources into developing staff, Tobin is buoyed by a belief that it is only ever a net positive for the company to have its workers constantly growing in their abilities.
“We’ve got a thousand people, and we’re training on something every day of the week. A huge amount of effort and money goes into training and development of people,” Tobin explains.
“I am massive on leadership, culture and values; that’s what drives me. I spend at least 25 percent of my time on the values. Train your people, reward your people, give them visibility and give them the tools.”
Despite admitting that he’s an ‘old-school’ leader, Tobin is not interested in micromanaging. Rather, he believes in engendering a sense of empowerment and belonging among his team.
“You’re not going to get a thousand people to love you, but you’ve got to continue to work on communication so they have that family feel when they put the Followmont shirt on and there’s a sense of ownership of what they’re connected to.”
It’s this culture of ownership that Tobin believes enables his employees to not just operate well when things are running smoothly, but also to rise to the occasion and problem-solve when faced with unexpected challenges – like when delivery routes were severely disrupted due to widespread flooding in Queensland.
“You’ve got to continue to work on communication so they have that family feel when they put the Followmont shirt on.”
“This business just thrives on that energy of, ‘We’ve got to go outside the box to make it happen’, and you’ve got a thousand people that just want to do an amazing job to get the freight delivered no matter the challenge,” Tobin says.
“I love my business when it comes to that. So when you really have to turn that problem-solving tap on, they’re there and ready to go.”
Followmont has also recently made pioneering strides in its eco-friendly practices by acquiring two electric-powered trucks from Volvo, one of which is the first of its kind to operate in Australia.
“We’re all about sustainability,” says Tobin. “We are very serious about our carbon footprint and I’m working on a strategy now on how we get in front of that game.”
Both trucks, one of which is the FH Electric model, the largest in Volvo’s electric vehicle lineup, are scheduled to be operational within the Followmont fleet in the first quarter of this year.
Beyond transporting goods, Tobin sees Followmont as a vehicle to permeate the culture derived from its leadership team throughout the company and into the community. This vision is underpinned by a commitment to generosity and positive business practices.
“We are very serious about our carbon footprint and I’m working on a strategy now on how we get in front of that game.”
Partnering with various charities, such as organizations supporting children’s cancers and prostate cancer, Tobin is constantly seeking opportunities for Followmont to have a beneficial impact on society at large.
“We have given an enormous amount of funds and profit back to people that make a difference around better health for the future. And we’ve used our brand to really enhance that family culture and give back to society and the wider community to better causes and to shape the future,” Tobin says. He notes that such a legacy and culture looks set to continue through his brother Ben Tobin, who is the future of the Followmont business.
“So that’s what gets us up every day, continuing the legacy for our people and giving back.”