7 Feb 2024

Origins of the Mainfreight trucking words of wisdom

From Afternoons, 1:35 pm on 7 February 2024
A slogan on the back of a Mainfreight truck

A slogan on the back of a Mainfreight truck Photo: Supplied

The next time you're driving behind a blue Mainfreight truck, don't miss out on the pearl of wisdom printed on its back end.

Every big and small truck features one of about 850 pieces of "positive messaging" chosen by the driver, says Mainfreight's managing director Don Braid.

"if you read some of the sayings, you get a good feeling of who we are and what we stand for," he tells Jesse Mulligan.

Don Braid - managing director of Mainfreight

Don Braid - managing director of Mainfreight Photo: NZME

Bruce Plested, who founded the logistics company in 1977, was the one who came up with the "marvellous idea" of putting slogans on the back of the trucks, Braid says.

It was an extension of Plestead's passion for child literacy - with writer Alan Duff and philanthropist Christine Fernyhough, he kickstarted the Duffy Books in Homes programme.

"Bruce has a great passion for trying to get education to those who can't have it or struggle to find it."

Mainfreight - which now operates in 27 countries - has slogans on the backs of their trucks all over the world, Braid says.

"I wouldn't think that it helps us win customers, but it's a point of difference. Someone making a decision to use Mainfreight gets who we are and what we stand for and this is just a little part of that."

The positive philosophy that the slogans promote also works to attract the right employees.

"Young graduates are pretty fussy about who they want to join and why and what do we stand for? And I think this signage thing will be one of many points that will determine whether they want to have a career with us or not. For us, it's part of the culture of Mainfreight and they either fit that culture or they don't."

Drivers are encouraged to change the message on their trucks frequently, Braid says, and some of them, along with other employees and sometimes customers "throw a saying" at management they would like added to the list.

"Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. Sometimes they can be not what we're looking to do. We're not trying to promote religion or trying to be too controversial around politics or anything.

"Some of them would love us to add something that's a bit more personal that has a meaning to them or their family. But unless it fits what we're trying to do, we try not to be too personal about it."

One of the drivers' favourite lines - "He who has the most toys wins" - has now been taken off the list, he says: "It doesn't sit with what we're trying to do."

Mottos on the back of Mainfreight trucks

Mottos on the back of Mainfreight trucks Photo: Supplied

Signage outside the Mainfreight facility near Auckland Airport is another place to look out for an uplifting saying, Braid says.

"Often we'll get feedback from Air New Zealand crew or whoever who have read the sign and it's changed their day. People will ring up and say 'I was having a pretty terrible day today. I read the sign. It's given me a jolt of positivity'.

"Yeah, we get to be a little controversial now and again. We might say something that sparks some amusement or some wisdom and the feedback is just fantastic."

When people talk about "working from home" during Covid-19, Braid has a "quiet smile" as he and his fellow Mainfreight employees there was no such thing.

"Our people had to be on the dock. We needed to supply the supermarkets and DIY facilities and food and beverages for people to survive. Our people were on the dock every day so they played a really important role. And I think we learned lots as well. And it helped us grow around the world and helped us attract more customers. As a consequence of all that we're a better and better business for it."

After running logistics in a number of other countries, Braid reckons Mainfreight have some "valuable opinions" about how New Zealand infrastructure could be improved and he's frustrated at the pace of decision-making.

"At Mainfreight, we don't live in a question mark, we make a decision, yes or no. And that hesitation that we've seen in the country about getting progress has frustrated us.

"I know we're talking about trucks here but we move a lot of freight on rail as well. And you know, some of that hesitation around whether we're gonna have a railway that operates over these next couple of years is concerning to us. We'd like people to make some quick decisions and the right decisions and get on with it."

Five years ago the company made a presentation to Auckland Transport about adopting some of the ideas they'd seen working well around the world. Braid says it didn't go down well.

"The arrogance in the room was stifling. They didn't want to have a bar of what we had learned.

"There's lots of little things common-sense things that we learn around the world that we've attempted to have listened to here in New Zealand. Quite often the bureaucracy puts the walls up and they don't want anyone else's ideas and that's frustrating."

Constance McDonald gathered the following list of Mainfreight truck mottos in her recent piece for Ensemble Magazine:

1. Your children need your presence more than your presents.

2. All children deserve to be loved.

3. Aim for the stars.

4. When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.

5. A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

6. Take time to watch the sunset.

7. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

8. Always keep your word.

9. The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

10. The best is yet to come.