An Adventuring Spirit

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-By D. Barratt

How does one make the transition from a motor mechanic to managing director of a multimillion dollar corporation? How does one begin a relationship with Variety, The Children’s Charity as an annual basher and go on to chair one of its most successful fundraising activities? Well, for Ron Barton, it was a combination of hard work, ingenuity, and resourcefulness – qualities that he has put to great use as Managing Director of Yellow Corporation, guiding the company through the tough economic times that have hit much of the world recently. Thanks in part to his guidance, and in part to the excellent name recognition that Yellow has built over the last several decades, The Yellow Corporation has been able to continue to offer high quality service and maintain employees while many other companies have not.

The Yellow Corporation has been offering its services, in one way or another, for just short of ninety years. Since its founding in 1924 as Yellow Cabs, when the company’s sole focus was passenger transportation services, The Yellow Corporation has grown to incorporate many other new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected services.

Mr. Barton “joined Yellow Cabs in 1983 as a motor mechanic. At that stage the company owned fifty taxis and a half share in a call centre called United Yellow Cabs.” Ron is an interesting and energetic man with an entrepreneurial spirit and a caring for people that directs his decision making with Yellow. Rising from the ranks of motor mechanic to managing director, he has infused the company with a vigor which has allowed it to continue offering the level of service it’s known for, all the while expanding into new and lucrative territories.

“We diversified into couriers, industrial chemicals, pressure cleaners and electronic taxi meters,” explained Ron, discussing the company’s first steps into the broader industry at large. Yellow was able to move into tangential industries, security for example: “We started the security business as an off-shoot of Yellow. We had about 600 vehicles, and a lot of eyes and ears running around.” It was a logical next step, as Yellow had the personnel needed to respond to developing situations identified by electronic sensors and to pass the news on to the authorities to deal with the matter. The formula was so successful that Consolidated Security now employs more than 100 guards.

But Yellow does not just offer taxi service and security work; it has a number of other operations, including Aussiefast Transport Solutions, a large scale interstate haulage service provider; Yellow Couriers, “a local direct couriers service with 130 vehicles that’s been operating since the early ’80s. It’s renowned for its service levels and its price competitiveness;” and Yellow Mini Busses, which offers 12 to 24 passenger vehicles for school runs, holidays, wine tours and just about anything else one may need from a mini bus.

Though Ron does not feel the need to craft an official list of guiding principles, he does identify some of Yellow’s hallmarks that have helped the company retain a team of loyal employees and satisfied customers. “There’s a lot of competition in the industries we’re in, so the only way we can retain the business we have is by providing the demanded service level that people want, and we do our best to do that. For their business they need to know that whatever it is they need to move will be where it is supposed to be, when it is supposed to be there, and we do our best to provide that service.” But the key to the company’s success has always been the free and easy communication between all levels of employees. Ron isn’t much for flowery language and “feel-good” value statements; his focus has always been the issue at hand and how the company can work to resolve it. “We’re all about communication. We work to correct issues that arise, and prevent them happening at all.” The question he asks himself is, “what is the job, and how are we going to get it done properly?”

It is customer service, creating a positive experience for the customer, that Yellow seeks to accomplish in all it does. Ron understands that often it is the name that a company builds for itself that can spell the difference between success and failure. “That is our main drive, the quality of service we provide and the name we make for ourselves.”

And Yellow has created quite the name for itself, due to its high quality level of service and determination to “make the sale” – working to reduce as much cost as possible whilst maintaining high standards. Ron identifies the company’s staff as its major strength. “Without the right people you really have nothing,” he muses. Selecting the best employees to meet customer demands, providing appropriate career guidance and training, and working to create a strong corporate culture are all important characteristics of Yellow’s approach to business. “We’ve been very good at retaining long-serving key staff. Many have been with us for over 30 years,” he says in regards to Yellow Corporation’s history of creating career opportunities for its employees.

If employees are one pillar of the business, the other is service. “The service you provide, and the name you have built are often the difference between making the sale and not.” Especially during the tough financial situation that much of the world has dealt with, making the sale is of utmost importance. “We have been able to reduce cost as much as possible, while maintaining our high service standards – this is what has seen us through,” considers Ron, attributing Yellow’s success to its ability to adapt to meet the changing needs of the industry. “Over the last couple of years the industry has had a really hard knock with the global financial crisis and many of our competitors have gone under. We’ve had a tough time through this journey, but we are now coming out of that. It’s been about the ability to ride the storm, which we have been able to do.” He is hopeful about what the future holds and expects the economy to strengthen, creating renewed growth and a greater need for Australian products and services. “People are feeling better, and I believe we are starting to find our way out as a country, as an industry, and as a company.”

Though Ron devotes much of his time and energy in his position as Managing Director of Yellow in South Australia, he still has time to lend a hand to a cause which is very dear to him. Through his work with Variety, The Children’s Charity, Ron has been able not only to go adventuring, but also to enrich the lives of many of Australia’s young people. Yellow Corporation is committed to supporting young people who live with limited mobility, physical disability, or other illness by providing assistive technology and programmes meant to allow the children to simply be children. “They have four major events: the Variety Bash, the Variety Four Wheel Drive Challenge, the V2 Motorcycle Run, and the annual Variety Adventure TV Documentary, which I chair.”

But before Ron took his place as chair of Variety Adventure TV he came for the fun and adventure of it all. “I started as a basher. I went on the first one in Queensland and later in Adelaide. It started off as a bit of fun really, but somewhere during the course of that first Bash, I got to see many of the needy children and their families, and that is when your heart really sinks, and you realise what it’s really all about – supporting these kids.”

It was his experience meeting the children and their families, and coming to understand the challenges that they face as young people working to overcome illness, that he became interested in getting more deeply involved. “That’s where it really hit home for me, once I started meeting the children and the families, and I realised how lucky I’ve been. I realised how much need there is out there that the government can’t meet, and that is where organisations like Variety, The Children’s Charity really help out.”

Ron is philosophical about Yellow Corporation’s involvement with groups like Variety and the other community projects the company is involved with. “In business, we really do have to have a philanthropic nature, and I think Australians really do that very, very well. There are so many good hearted people in Australia, and I really admire them for that.” Ron credits his age and experience, and the wisdom these things bring, with his greater understanding and acceptance of the corporate role within the larger society. “Companies,” he says, “should give back as much as they can to help those that are less fortunate.”

Ron’s compassion for his fellow Australians and his realistic and human approach to management have been of great benefit to The Yellow Corporation as the firm navigates the unsure waters of today’s corporate environment. The resourcefulness of its approach, and its adventurous spirit has created success not only Yellow itself, but for Australia’s market generally, providing income to over 200 employees directly, and over 2500 by association.

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, 5:10 AM AEDT