Into transport for the long haul

Nic McEwan with daughter Polly (2). Versatility in the way his trucks can be configured has been key to gaining efficiencies, he says. Photo: Julia McEwan
Nic McEwan with daughter Polly (2). Versatility in the way his trucks can be configured has been key to gaining efficiencies, he says. Photo: Julia McEwan
Nic McEwan was destined for a career in contracting. He spent his childhood on the bank of Te Anau’s Upukerora River watching diggers and trucks; these days he’s a driven businessman with a sideline haulage company that has ‘‘grown into a bit of a monster’’, as Alice Scott reports.

Hall Bros general manager Nic McEwan grew up in Te Anau.

Father Ross was a builder and mother Jane runs a successful bed and breakfast business. Nic boarded at John McGlashan College in Dunedin and commenced a civil engineering degree at Otago Polytechnic.

But he never got around to finishing that degree.

''I started truck driving for Hall Bros when I was 18, to help pay for my living costs as a student, and it all just grew from there, I guess.''

Mr McEwan has been with Hall Bros ever since, and has worked his way up through the ranks to now be in charge of the overall operation, which employs 70-80 staff depending on workload.

Seven years ago an opportunity came up for Mr McEwan and his work colleague Jo Hobson to purchase seven trucks off Paul Clarke Machinery Hire.

''Paul was keen to get out of the haulage side of his business and Doug helped get us into it. It was a good chance to have a sideline business of my own, so I jumped at it.''

The McEwan Haulage headquarters has stayed in Canterbury. Nic has a general manager in charge of the logistics and administration.

''I just do the deals and keep the business coming in,'' he said.

In those seven years, the line of seven trucks has expanded to 17, thanks to a strategic move after the Christchurch earthquakes.

''I pretty much just focused on getting work on the outskirts of the city and looked after all the businesses that weren't to do with the earthquake work. It has paid off as now all that earthquake work has dried up and we have well-established relationships,'' he said.

Mr McEwan said the key to the haulage business has been versatility and efficiency; trucks and drivers are based all over the South Island.

''We try to make sure they are never going in any one direction empty. As we have expanded the fleet of trucks we have also made sure they can be reconfigured with a different carrying bin or trailer depending on the hauling requirement.''

The company has contracts to haul gravel, bitumen and emulsion for Road Science, sealing trucks for Downer, and has milk tankers contracting for Dynes Transport. It also hauls all of the Dunedin City Council's recycled glass to Christchurch, as well as contaminated material.

Mr McEwan has also recently purchased a wood retail company known as The Woodshed in Dunedin with Hall Bros colleagues Mike Clearwater and Craig and Doug Hall.

At age 35 Mr McEwan agrees the layers of pressure and commitment can build to ''crazy'' levels at times. But with a young family to get home to - and a newly built house on a hill above Blueskin Bay - he has made a rule with himself in an effort to maintain a work/life balance.

''Home by tea-time, is my motto. I get home and spend some time with them before bed. And then if stuff needs done I head back into work after they have gone to bed.''

Wife Julia, Mr McEwan admits, is very patient.

''She's awesome, she knew I was a bit of a workaholic when she met me, but I have actually managed get a handle on it now.

''It's a matter of surrounding yourself with good people who can do the job better than you. I used to be in charge of sorting out all the guys at the Hall Bros depot every day, but a couple of years ago I handed that job over to another guy who is actually way better at organising people than I ever was, I don't know why I didn't do it sooner!

''Turning the phone off for an hour every now and then and taking the kids to the pool doesn't hurt anyone, either. I always used to be on edge trying to be everywhere at once, but the day doesn't stop if you don't answer your phone straight away. It's good to keep a bit of perspective,'' he said.

-By Alice Scott

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