Transtar Asia is an Australian freight company that has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. Seizing on regional opportunities it has established a formidable presence in China. Its growth is due in no small part to its CEO, Annie Meyer.
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Transtar is only the second privately owned Australian forwarder to establish in China as a wholly foreign-owned entity – and it has managed to do that through the dogged determination and relentless enthusiasm of one woman.
Annie Meyer started at Transtar as a 19-year-old clerk and now heads up the Asian arm of the company. She is responsible for the drive into the region that today sees the company employ more than 90 people in a string of branch offices including the company’s IT data centre in Shanghai. It is a giant leap for the organisation she joined as just one of five employees 23 years ago.
“I really worked my way from the bottom up. When I started I would get in at six or seven in the morning and work until seven or eight at night, I was just so glad for the opportunity to prove myself,” she says.
Meyer had left Keilor Heights High School a year and a half earlier and taken 18 months out to care for her brother Darren, who had cystic fibrosis and was waiting for a heart and lung transplant that never came.
The experience left her with a burning desire to live life with passion. It’s this passion that fuelled her attitude to work even in the early days.
Meyer recalls her first sales meeting after returning from maternity leave. At the time, Meyer was Transtar’s first female branch manager. She was energised to be back at work and was keen to source new clients. She threw down the gauntlet at that meeting. “I told them I could have five new clients by next week’s sales meeting,” she says. “They said go ahead and get them.”
It was to be a pivotal moment in Meyer’s career. “I was straight on the phone to my shipping line contacts saying, you’ve got to help me here. There would have to be an awfully big slice of humble pie to eat if I didn’t get them.”
When Meyer walked into the sales meeting the following week she had the five new clients in the bag and a new role in finding new leads across Asia in her sights. Meyer is not a woman to do things by halves. “I am passionate about what I do because I love it,” she enthuses.
Husband Hank Meyer, the managing director of the Australian and New Zealand arm of Transtar, credits his wife with pushing the company into new markets.
“When she stormed into that sales meeting we were going through a pretty rough trot, her role was pivotal in pulling us through. With no sales and marketing training she went out and pulled in new accounts through the force of her personality.
“It is the same with establishing us in China,” he says.
Transtar opened their first office in China in Shanghai in 2008. They now have four other offices in China, including one in Hong Kong. They also have an office in Singapore and one in Bangkok.
Meyer relocated to Hong Kong three years ago and says the move to Asia was a natural fit for her personality. “I absolutely fell in love with Hong Kong. Every time you turn around there is an opportunity. People are hungry to do business and I really love that spirit,” she says.
Having a Transtar director based in the region provided the company with instant credibility. Local business partners were able to see that the company was truly immersed in China and committed to adding value to the country through its recruitment, training and development of local staff.
For Meyer the geographical shift ignited a cultural shift. Her knowledge of the Chinese people grew as did her understanding of their strong work ethic. “The Chinese want results, they work hard and expect the same from the people they deal with,” says Meyer whose standard day begins at 4.30 am and usually extends late into the evenings.
Meyer returns to Melbourne every six weeks for a board meeting and to spend time with her husband and son. “Sometimes they come to me or we meet in the middle in say Bali or Singapore. It might not be right for everyone but it works well for us,” she says.
Her son Jackson, now 16, has had the opportunity to be exposed to the business first hand. “He is working in our warehouse at the moment. I don’t think you should just hand things to kids, hard work never killed anybody,” says Meyer.
She practises what she preaches and when she first arrived in Hong Kong got out into the market to find out what ships had spare capacity in their cargo holds. “They’re the ones you can talk to about a deal,” she says.
In the past Transtar used third-party agents to manage its business in China, but now it has direct access to the decision makers who manage key carriers in the region. Transtar is looking to consolidate its presence in Asia by relocating its head office from Melbourne to Hong Kong in three years’ time. All the while the drive for Meyer is to provide solutions for customers.
“We aim to provide end-to-end solutions to customers, from the factory to the customer. Within 24 hours of landing 2,000 flat-screen televisions on the dock in Melbourne on Christmas Eve we had them in the shops and ready for the start of the Boxing Day sales,” she says proudly
Meyer’s list of case studies is sure to grow. With the opening of the key trade lanes of China and Hong Kong, the sky’s the limit for Transtar: “You are only limited by your imagination and your passion and in any company that comes from the top,” says Meyer.
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