The company has undergone a meteoric rise under your stewardship, has it all been plain sailing?

Far from it! I purchased Maritime at the start of September 2001 full of hope and optimism, one week later the dramatic events of 9/11 unfolded in front of our eyes and we were on the brink of chaos. If you remember no one knew what would unfold in those ensuing days and weeks – it was an unprecedented tragedy that left the world guessing.

There I was at 43 with two children still in school and my house used as collateral for the purchase. I had risked everything and at that moment the world felt a very lonely place. Through luck rather than judgement things worked out and we saw a boom in shipping volumes between China and the West. Retailers were importing in huge volumes and the ports were overwhelmed with containers. The market needed another operator with a dynamic management team to react to the pick up and we were there to capitalize. It turned into a fantastic start.

For the first seven years the volumes continued; year-on-year growth in fact. We called it the ‘China factor.’ It really was a great period for the business and we focused on operational excellence for our customers, not really seeing an end in sight to the growth. In fact no one did but then the recession struck.

With the demand from customers unrelenting we were so busy focusing on the operations over this period that we didn’t have the time to spend the reserves we were building. Eventually we decided to own our trucks and to buy land where we could, and have created a very strong company from there.

How did you handle the recession? 

No one forecasted the recession, but the shipping industry was one of the most significant casualties. They had continued to place orders for new vessels which were coming on stream just as volumes had fallen off the cliff edge which led to over-capacity in the market. Ships had to be laid up at significant costs each day and everyone suffered the consequences.

We thankfully rode the downturn more successfully than most. We entered the recession owning all our trucks and operating as a cash positive entity. We were in a great position to capitalise on a weak market and we used our funds to invest further into the company strengthening our property portfolio and assets. It wasn’t an easy trading period for anyone but our strategy left us better placed than most going into and coming out of the downturn.

Is this what enticed you to break
into distribution?

The recession was a stark reminder that our business model was heavily reliant on the shipping lines whose volumes have never returned to the days pre-2007. As a board we identified that the retail sector had not suffered to the same extent and that we needed to diversify into this area.

We branched out rather quickly; it’s complementary to what we’re currently doing and it’s fitting very nicely. We mentioned the monumental growth of Maritime during the ‘boom’ period when I took over the business, but the growth of distribution has far outstripped that.

We started with 100 second-hand trailers but we saw an opportunity and since then we’ve been pleasantly surprised. In the five years since, we’ve turned over more than £50 million and have projected growth of 30% for 2016. We’ve learnt a huge amount by taking full advantage of the opportunity and so far our services have been really well received by all of our customers.

What sets Maritime Transport apart?

Our staff are exceptionally passionate about the business. Those who contribute to our success, share in our success. Seeing the company do well really motivates them, and when they see that we reinvest virtually all of our profits back in to the business it really gives them a sense of purpose.

Is there much opportunity
for staff development? 

Promotion from within is something that we pride ourselves on at Maritime. We prefer to promote and hire internally than to reach out. We put a lot into our staff development and we’re always looking to help those who show aptitude to climb the ladder. The vast majority of our management team have worked their way up through the business and it is their example which gives our less experienced staff the passion to put their all into the business.

Can you describe what sort of
company culture you’re operating?

We have our own company culture; we treat each other how we’d like to be treated. We’ve invested in superior facilities and we’re setting the highest standards in the industry.

We compile a company newsletter that goes out every month to inform the staff of any changes and it’s also a chance to write up a little tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s something that people look forward receiving and it’s a chance for them to interact with us.

Are you aiming to expand at all? 

We don’t have any plans to move overseas as of yet, however it’s not something we won’t consider in the future. For now we’re going to stay UK-based.

We operate over 30 different sites made up of warehouses, railports, transport depots and offices. We’re currently looking at a few more to take on in the next year, so domestically yes, we are always looking at ways to grow.

Your brand is one of the strongest on the road, how do you go about keeping
it that way? 

We think image is hugely important, the best thing for our customers is to see our beautifully clean trucks driven by a smart driver. We therefore issue Maritime uniform to our drivers on day one and our trucks are washed at least once a week. Purchasing high-spec. trucks is also a policy of ours – if our drivers have trucks to be proud of they will naturally care for them more.

The environment is constantly on the agenda in the industry, what do you do
as a business to reduce your emissions? 

All of our fleet are LEZ Euro 5 or Euro 6 compliant making our fleet one of the cleanest in the industry. We spend a great deal of time and effort researching the most economical trucks and then train our drivers to ensure they drive in the most fuel efficient manner. Our entire fleet is fitted with telematics which analyse driving style focusing on safe, efficient driving. Our drivers are then paid an annual bonus based on their driving performance.

In addition we have ventured into rail through our two railports in Tilbury and the Midlands. Our Midlands terminal now services rail paths from the three major UK ports. Rail takes thousands of truck moves from the road annually reducing congestion on our transport network as well as saving CO2.

We also pride ourselves in our operational efficiencies with a key KPI for the business being the reduction of unladen and therefore unpaid road miles.

What’s the most important thing
you’re working on right now?

Network development – we are looking to invest significantly in expanding our network to ensure we can fully support our customers’ growth.

The future is about capability. You want to be able to say yes to a customer, take on a new contract, open up in a certain area and never stop investing.

What’s been your biggest challenge to date?

Running a company of this size, and one that is only going to get bigger presents its own challenges. The focus needs to be maintaining our standards whilst growing at the rate we are.

Are you involved with any
charitable causes? 

We support a number of national charities but also always support any initiatives our staff undertakes for a personal cause. We always intend to give them a great kick-start to their fundraising.

Over the last couple of years we have committed to the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, adorning our entire fleet with lorry poppies. We employ a significant number of ex-service personnel and have signed the Corporate Covenant – these causes are very worthwhile and extremely important to our staff.

What’s the 5-year plan for Maritime?

To continue on the trajectory that we’re on, showing customers our style of transport.  We’re aiming to keep this high-quality, 24/7 service going.

Advice to those who are looking to work their way up?

You have to be prepared to work incredibly hard, there’s no avoiding the long hours. This is a rewarding industry and you can’t go in to it halfhearted. People in this industry can tend to focus on all the things that are difficult and I think it’s important to promote the positives.

Lauren O’Driscoll, contributing writer