Mission Possible

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-By Andrew Kade

In the untamed wilderness of deepest darkest Africa, hundreds of kilometres from anywhere that could rightly be called “civilised”, there is a region potentially rich in a valuable resource. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to establish and maintain a mineral exploration operation for hundreds of workers whilst they determine the feasibility of a long term mining operation. This will take months. There are no roads, clean running water or power. The workers will need food, shelter, power generation, vehicles, water and sewage treatment, telecommunications, security, medical facilities and a vast array of specialised equipment and support. Sound like a mission impossible? Well, for the team at Toll Remote Logistics, it’s a mission accomplished.

The down-to-earth and straight shooting CEO of Toll Global Resources Division, David Jackson summarised, “We do some pretty difficult stuff in pretty difficult places. Minerals don’t choose to be in easy to get to places.”

The pursuit of valuable natural resources has, throughout history, led mankind to permanently settle in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on our planet. Some of the oldest and most established cities in the world would never have logically been settled if it wasn’t for the presence of iron, coal or gold. The prospectors of the past were knowingly committing themselves to years of hardship, (if they survived), when they headed off into the wilderness. Today’s equivalents hitch a ride on a steel bird and arrive at a fully functional and modernised temporary village. Not to say that there is not still an element of danger, but the days of the one way wagon ride to oblivion are the stuff of legend thanks to operations like Toll Remote Logistics.

To achieve the long list of logistical feats required by its clients, Toll Remote Logistics works closely with local governments and residents. These partnerships are essential for both practical and ethical reasons. Local knowledge and support, as well as access to the specialist talent pool, is invaluable to the success of any operation, especially those conducted in regions where there is political or cultural instability. Toll Remote Logistics feels the moral weight of these undertakings acutely; according to David Jackson, “We want to hire labour locally and there is training required. Safety is a big component of all of this. There is also the environment. We have to make sure it is protected.”

Toll Remote Logistics does not restrict itself to servicing the resource sector alone. When civil unrest broke out in Timor Leste in 2006 the Australian Defence Force (ADF) engaged the firm to provide primary support for 1500 peacekeeping personnel. The crisis arose out of a factional split within the Timorese military that resulted in armed conflicts and a series of political fallouts that plunged the country into a state of chaos and fuelled further opportunistic lawlessness. This was a huge challenge with a very short turnaround that needed to be implemented under extreme conditions. A fully functional hospital with operating theatres was needed as well as fuel supply, aviation support, communication networks and safe food preparation were just a few of the key responsibilities requested by the ADF. The ADF and Toll bravely rushed into the fray and are still working there today in what can only be called a humanitarian success story.

Toll Remote Logistics is rightly proud of its significant involvement in Timor Leste. There is no doubt that the quick response provided by the ADF, Toll and its security partnerships helped to avert further humanitarian disaster. It is this pedigree that has allowed Toll Remote Logistics to recently be awarded a contract supporting peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These types of operations require the utmost levels of sensitivity – and in some cases, secrecy. The professionalism and integrity required to maintain this seal throughout an operation are qualities upon which the Toll team prides itself. One project that required such discretion was Nias Island air disaster. On April 1st 2005 a Royal Australian Navy “Sea King” helicopter crashed on the remote Indonesian island of Nias, killing nine of the 11 passengers. The incident drew enormous media attention due to the highly politicised nature of the tragedy. It was the opinion of many within the defence forces and its political fringes that the Sea King helicopter fleet should have been retired years ago and was a disaster waiting to happen.

To have any chance of receiving a fair review process the crash site needed to be managed carefully and with urgency. This is where Toll came in. The company was charged with traveling to the very remote island of Nias, setting up a base and carrying out a clean-up of the crash site as well as facilitating the urgent remediation of samples and data to Australia under the most secure of circumstances.

The operation went without a hitch and the Nias tragedy is now consigned to aviation history. The incident received its due process and as with all things that become a political chess piece, the players eventually moved on to contest new realms.

Toll Remote Logistics team members are not the only cowboys riding the wide open spaces of the remote logistics business, so I asked David what separated Toll from its competitors. David’s answer was succinct: “I think our capabilities are unique. We are good project managers and we can handle a process from start up to production, cradle to the grave.”

The breadth of the Toll family’s resources and expertise is impressive. A quick review of the company’s media and marketing materials certainly bolsters the image of “can do” capability through a high level of integration and synchronicity. Each stage of any logistical endeavour you could imagine appears to be covered. By land, by air or by sea, Toll can make it happen – from customs and quarantine, to fire fighting, rescue operations, environmental hazard management and aerial transport of heavy machinery. The mental imagery alone makes it hard not to draw parallels with the Thunderbirds. One thing that they definitely have in common is that they like keeping a low profile. According to David, Toll prefers to fly under the radar. “We don’t really like to talk ourselves up. I often think of us as quiet achievers. That’s pretty much how we approach things.”

Unlike our fictitious friends from International Rescue, Toll’s business is not solely reactive; the company is actually highly selective about what it does. That seems a fairly prudent approach when you think about how much is on the line in any one of the firm’s undertakings.

When David and I discussed what external forces were making an impression on Toll Remote Logistics it was the good health of the resource sector that dominated the discussion. According to David, the resources boom, both internationally and in Australia, has Toll focused on projects that will fit with its capabilities and initiatives. “The resources sector is pretty alive and well at the moment. So there are a lot of opportunities all around the world. We have to prioritise these opportunities and some countries are easier to work in than others. We get a lot of enquiries, which we then have to go through and access based on risk, risk to our people, financial risk and sovereign risk,” David explained.

So it stands to say that Toll’s attention would be firmly fixed on the state of the Australian resource sector and the opportunities that it presents, particularly new mineral explorations where the company’s specialised remote camp construction and management skills are at a premium.

Although the industry has a new and exciting vibe to it, Toll is not a rookie in it by any stretch of the imagination. The company currently has an extensive list of ongoing operations with a select group of Blue Chip clients who undoubtedly require an A-class level of service every day of the year.

Take Toll’s part in BHP Billiton’s Cannington project. Toll is responsible for the loading, haulage, stockpiling, train loading and facilities management of an operation that shifts 630,000 tonnes per annum of lead and zinc from its extraction point at the Cannington mines. The haulage is conducted using AAB quad road trains that are achieving up to 100 tonnes payload per unit, 24/7, 365 days per year. I know that David doesn’t like to blow the Toll horn too loudly, but this is a pretty serious ask that few companies would have the chops to handle.

The Australian market in particular is an exciting landscape for a remote logistics company. Australia has more remote areas than most countries have land at all. Whatever the future holds, it is a fairly safe bet to say that David and the Toll Remote Logistics team will be toiling quietly behinds the scenes, helping to keep the peace and keeping the wheels of industry turning.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:13 AM AEDT