By Clare Weir firstname.lastname@example.org
FROM the humble beginnings of a milkman’s van to an award- winning operation with offices in Greece and Istanbul, Eglinton Fast Freight is a business firmly established on the road to success.
Set to move into a brand new purpose-built depot at Lisahally (the move was delayed after a medieval site was excavated last year), the family owned company are feeling on top of the world after picking up the Irish European Haulier of the Year award, beating 470 other contenders from across Ireland.
Managing Director Gerald Doherty is certainly proud of the achievement, especially as his own father Eugene set up the business in Tamnaherin in 1969.
Now Gerald spends up to 28 weeks away from Northern Ireland during a year, securing new contracts and establishing existing ones.
He is soon to embark on a trip to Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and his 55 drivers can spend around six weeks at a time travelling all over Europe and further afield to deliver their goods.
Eglinton Fast Freight, which currently employs 90 people locally, started when local milkman Eugene decided to spend his spare time delivering goods in his van.
One van became two and then three - and the rest is history! Gerald and his older brother joined the company in the eighties, making it a real family affair, but as he says, there was no ‘silver spoon’ treatment for the young Dohertys.
He told the Sentinel: “My brother and I worked our way up from the bottom like everyone else. We were both drivers for nearly ten years and had to work as hard as everyone else.”
That hard work is one of the main elements of the success of Eglinton Fast Freight and Gerald is full of praise for all his employees and acknowledges that they cope well with the pressures of such a stressful industry.
Driving a vehicle with the combined price of 100,000 for weeks at a time may seem like a nightmare for some, but Gerald can boast a dedicated team of drivers for whom no job is too small or large.
He said: “It takes a special breed of person to be a long haul driver - to live in a lorry for six weeks. I need staff to be 100 per cent dedicated and my guys are - if someone is away for two weeks and arrives in Thessalonika and then decides he wants to come home, I can’t bring him home.
“Luckily we have a small turnover of staff and we look after them as well as any other big company.”
He added: “The main problems are the travel and the insurance. The ideal age for a driver is between 21 and 45, but getting insurance for an under-25 is nearly impossible, despite 100 per cent no claims.”
He added that despite never having employed a female driver, he would welcome any prospective lady truckers.
He said: “I will employ any driver who is prepared to give the job their all.
“You never know, women lorry drivers are increasing in the US and Australia, and it might take off here in the future!”
On the flipside of the hard work involved in the business, Gerald says that there are very few jobs which would have taken him around the world five times.
He said: “Yes, it is hard work, but our drivers really do see the world and I must have been around the world about five times.
“Admittedly, that time has been spent in and out of hotels and meetings, but nevertheless it is an experience I wouldn’t have had in any other job.
“The drivers enjoy this too.”
Gerald added that working in the haulage industry proves that the world really is a small place.
He said: “I was in Istanbul after a big job and I was to meet a Mr Fleck. I got a taxi to a big office block not knowing what I was going into or who I was going to meet.
“The minute I walked in to see him I got a big handshake and was greeted with ‘It’s nice to see someone from home!’
“Mr Fleck was from Ballymena and it turned out we knew a lot of the same people. When I go back now I always have to take him a bottle of Black Bush!”
As well as contracts with big businesses like Desmonds, Ben Sherman and Arcadia, EFF take pride in the fact that they are a locally-based business.
Gerald explained: “Whether you are a customer worth 1000 a year or 5 million, we will treat you exactly the same. People here have been very supportive of us and we have very loyal customers at home and abroad.
“As well as that, we take pride in the fact that we started as a family business and have built up from those foundations - in business, it helps not to forget where you come from.
“In managing a business, because I have worked from the bottom up, I like to run a business using knowledge rather than authority and I think people appreciate that.”
Speaking about winning the Irish-European haulier of the year award, Gerald said: “The fact that we won this award is a credit to the staff and I cannot really take the honour for that.
“We are proud that we are a successful business, employing local people, flying the flag for the Derry area and the North West, which is often seen as a forgotten area on the wrong side of the Glenshane Pass.”