The motivational people will always tell you that every problem presents an opportunity. Australia is enduring its umpteenth flood this summer – and these lads typify the “opportunity” spirit.


Whenever it floods at my local football fields the kids take the opportunity to go sliding on their boogie boards, scaring the hell out of the water birds. But I digress.

About 140 years ago I was a National Marketing Manager at TNT. In Sydney the city is bisected from east to west by the Parramatta River. The river feeds the harbour from the west at Parramatta – one of the original settlements of Sydney. Running roughly parallel with the river on the south side is a major road – Parramatta Road. Similarly on the north side runs another major road – Victoria Road. Both run to Parammatta.

Now like all major capital cities, Sydney has appalling traffic problems. Both Parramatta and Victoria Roads are clogged arteries most of the day.

In the 1980’s TNT was looking at ways to reduce the time it took for their couriers to take parcels from the city along the Parramatta River corridor. We came up with an ingenious idea (not me, the collective ‘we’). We bought a speed boat, branded it TNT, because it’s so essential to keep your customer relationships within your brand guidelines.

We then organised our couriers to drop their parcels to a wharf in the city – Darling Harbour if I recall. The parcels were then rushed by speedboat to the Parramatta end of the river and offloaded into waiting courier vans and motorcycles. Ads were created with the headline “20 minutes faster delivery from the city to Parramatta – guaranteed”. And off we went.

Business was good. Our competitors couldn’t work out how we did it, until the word got out. But that became the problem, the word got out.

All couriers had to be part of the trade union – I believe it was called the transport workers union at the time. This initiative was obviously a threat to jobs. How dare the company find a better way to deliver parcels for their customers, reduce traffic on the roads and create new jobs.

So the transport union got together with a maritime union and forced us to shut the business down. They put the company in a position where they had to include a pilot and medical officer on the boat. Dubious claims were made about environmental damage to the shoreline by the wake of the boat. In other words they made it too costly to operate the boat to deliver the parcels more competitively than by road.

The trusty speed boat was sold and we all went back to the old ways of doing things – couriers sitting in and creating, congestion on the road. It’s interesting that for the last decade we have seen the demise of the bicycle courier thanks to email. But as online shopping grows and the demand for fulfillment grows with it, the courier business will also grow. Stuff has to be delivered to the customer if the customer isn’t picking it up from the shop themselves.

This is an opportunity – how to use our waterways for delivery of parcels in the growing world of online shopping. I for one would like to see us make better use of our waterways to get cars and trucks off our roads. Am sure there is an environmental way we could do it.

The challenge is to convince the bureaucracy and the unions that it’s worth doing – not an easy task. We need innovative thinkers in a world of limited resources. Sometimes the old way of doing stuff doesn’t cut it anymore.

It’s now raining cats n dogs again – where’s my boogie board!