Julie Russell is a Director, and third generation leader in her family’s Brisbane-based trucking business Russell Transport Pty Ltd.
Her career includes working both within her family business as well as multi-national corporations in risk and compliance, strategy, human resources, industrial relations, and technology.
Julie contributes extensively to the trucking industry through her work on a range of boards and advisory committees, including as a Director of the Australian Trucking Association, the Queensland Trucking Association, and as Deputy Chair of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator Board.
Julie made history when she was the first woman appointed President of the Queensland Trucking Association in 2017. In her industry roles, Julie brings a much-valued, medium-sized family business perspective to road reform, policy proposals, training frameworks, workforce planning, industry standard initiatives as well as industry awareness programs.
Julie was awarded Queensland Trucking Association Woman of the Year in 2014 and National Trucking Industry Woman of the Year in 2015. She was a finalist in the Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year in 2001.
Early in my career I worked in the family business alongside my Grandmother while I did my business degree and I really loved seeing the application of what I was studying in the commercial environment. I would have been happy to spend the next 10 years learning from my Grandmother but in the second year she took ill and was no longer able to work. I stepped into her role and had to keep all the systems going, often reverse engineering to work out how she did what she did. I spent a lot of days and nights trying to replicate what my Grandmother did to her standards because I didn’t want her to feel stressed. I absolutely adopted the ‘sink or swim’ philosophy. I believe you must throw yourself in the deep end, investigate, and use your own brain to work out how things operate and don’t take things at face value - always ask ‘what is the purpose of this?’
Once I finished my degree, I decided I couldn’t only know how the family business operated and expect us to be successful in the future. I wanted ‘outside’ experience, and I looked to the insurance sector. I joined MLC’s graduate program where they provided a great learning environment and were very inclusive and committed to people’s growth and development. I was extremely open to learn, and I relished the opportunity to be known for who I was, not who my family was. It was about me testing the waters. I wanted to understand how I measured up because people won’t tell you that when you are working in your family business. I found humility as well. When I turned up late for a meeting once the person said: ‘my time is valuable, do not waste it, I won’t be here next time you are late.’ No one would have put me in my spot like that in the family business. It was a valuable experience.
When I moved to QBE I worked in risk and compliance, and it was great to see how an insurer assesses themselves and their risk exposures and controls in various departments.
When I first joined MLC I said to Dad – give me five years to go out and expand my experience. For four and a half years, he never said a word about my time-line and I thought he had completely forgotten about it. But literally six months before the five-year deadline, he rang me and said ‘let’s talk about getting you back into the business.’
In the family business I wasn’t restricted in what I was allowed to see or do because I was a family member first, and a female second. It was about family dynamics more than gender. So earlier in my career when people talked about the ‘glass ceiling’ I hadn’t noticed it. But now I am older and working on boards and committees across the industry, I can see the experience for many other people has been very different to mine. I feel blessed in my journey.
My advice to other women is never to be afraid to approach someone – we are all human, use your voice, be respectful and intent matters a lot! Don’t get involved in something because you think it will give you accolades, but because you are passionate about it. I got involved in the industry associations and committees because I responded to their open invitations to provide feedback on sector issues and initiatives, and I shared practical insights around what we were experiencing in the business. I didn’t do this it for personal gain, but because I am passionate about the industry.
If we are to attract people coming out of school or university to our industry for a career, we must do better in our language. Currently trucking is often not perceived as a professional career or industry because people have an idea of workers in blue singlets, dirt yards and swearing. I think on the whole, the industry is extremely professional in both carriage and character, but some of our language at times does not reflect that. We can do better.
When recruiting, people often say to me that they had never considered working in transport. I highlight the diversity of roles and how you can build your skills and at the same time hone-in on what really interests you. I say: ‘this is a really big pond with not a lot of fish in it so you will have lots of opportunities.’ The transport industry will keep you growing and that’s a good thing.
… an industry using advanced technology to streamline processes, freeing up businesses to focus on important areas we need to grow including strategies and initiatives for better mental health and workforce planning so people can build their careers aligned with their family lives.