If there’s one thing that’s clear from the outset, it’s that Thomas McManaway, Director of Platinum Plant & Haulage, isn’t one to muck around; his story walks the line between raw instinct and strategy.
A self-confessed petrol head and part-time speed demon, he’s certainly not the type to shy away from life’s adventures – on or off the racetrack.
Thomas had just left school when an out-of-the-blue phone call knocked him onto his future path. He was doing what he did most Saturday mornings – driving the tractor around his parents’ deer and beef farm near the small town of Matarawa, in New Zealand’s Wairarapa region – when fate came calling in the form of his brother.
“He called up saying ‘do you want to come and work in Australia?’” recalls Thomas. “I said, ‘Yep, when do you want me to start?’. I booked my flights that night, flew out Sunday and started Monday.”
The brothers, whose family had been in and around the earthmoving business for generations, worked for another company for about a year before Thomas decided to start up his own earthmoving operation in 2013.
“I had the opportunity to drive a lovely Mack Trident Tipper and then an opportunity to purchase it along with a little low-loader trailer to move my brother’s machine around, so we were self-sufficient and did our own thing for quite a while.”
A family affair, right from the get-go, it was his step-dad, Shane, who came up with the name Platinum Plant & Haulage. Shane said if we are going to have a Platinum like business providing outstanding customer service using state of the art equipment then this needed to be reflected in the company’s name.
It’s a promise that the business has more than lived up to.
“We strive to make sure that we stay at that Platinum status,” Thomas explains. “We stay with quality over quantity; we’re not the biggest earthmoving company out there, but people definitely know who we are – because of the quality of the gear, the operators and, of course, the service.”
The business is supported by Thomas’ partner Hannah, and Jacquie in the office whose key focus is to provide outstanding levels of customer service, and support operators and subcontractors.
Not one to do anything by halves, Thomas made sure that Platinum’s clients would have access to an impressive fleet – especially for such a new company. “We started with an ASV RT-90 Posi-Track, a 5 tonner, a 7.5 tonner, the twin 13s, the twin 20s and the twin 30s all at once,” Thomas explains. This wasn’t, however, a case of putting the cart before the horse. “The operators were there, the work was there – we just needed the key gear and the rest was history, really.” Along with running Platinum Plant & Haulage Thomas also drives the Volvo FH16 600 series with a dolly and a quad axle low loader. “Having our own float operation certainly gives us flexibility and ensures we can shift machines efficiently.”
Offering such a broad set of machines (and “just about everything you can think of” in terms of attachments) has meant that Platinum has been involved in a similarly wide range of jobs. “We’ve been a part of almost every type of project we could possibly be on,” says Thomas. “Everything from highway upgrades to housing estates, through to… just everything, really.” Thomas reckons that the thrill of a new project is something that he never gets sick of. “I still get the chills when we start something new,” he shares.
You can’t really talk about Platinum Plant & Haulage without talking about Kobelco. The love affair between the two businesses goes all the way back, kicking off when Thomas met Kane Bennett, General Manager of his local Brisbane Kobelco dealer, BrisVegas Machinery, at an airport. “They offered me a trip to see the Kobelco factory in Japan – before we even looked at buying one,” Thomas recalls. “They took me around to see everything. It was a fantastic experience – to see how the diggers are built and how well they’re constructed. It was a real eye opener.”
It’s a relationship that’s grown to be as much personal as it is professional. “You know, when you meet someone and you just really click with them – you’re like, ‘yeah sweet!’”, Thomas laughs. “The guys at BrisVegas Machinery just help us out wherever possible. It’s just a really great team to be a part of. And they’re a family owned business, too, just like us.”
In terms of growth, Platinum has maintained an organic approach. At this stage, they haven’t seen he need to advertise, rather they get their name out there through word of mouth. “We just go out and see the guys,” Thomas admits. “We have a good yarn, have a good chat. It’s just our name; we’re known as the Platinum status operators. Our team is outstanding, our gear is immaculate – everything’s the latest and the greatest. They all talk about it – we get repeat customers.”
Machinery choice is a big part of that top-notch offering, providing clients with that all-important reliability and defence against downtime. “BrisVegas services all our gear and keeps the stuff in tip-top shape. The boys also maintain it every morning – with full pre-starts. We know the gear is new – there’s just no issues,” says Thomas. “We don’t carry a mechanic, I just ring them up and if it needs to be serviced on site they come – whatever time – and they get it done. They generally come after hours so the sites aren’t down during long-term jobs.”
That backup support from the dealer is something that Thomas feels is essential to delivering on his Platinum promise. “You need to make sure you’ve got quality people following and supporting you.
When you’ve got a team like this that are willing to jump through just about any hoop – it doesn’t just make us happy, it helps us keep our customers happy. It’s just the best thing you can possibly have.”
Now with 13 operators on the books, Platinum operates twelve Kobelco machines in total. The latest addition is a brand new SK350, which Thomas affectionately refers to as the ‘big girl’ of the fleet. “It’s just a whole new step up. We had the 30s but we just wanted to step out a bit bigger, so we’ll go the 350 now,” he explains.
Thomas’ passion for great machinery is self-evident – particularly in the range of attachments he has chosen for his gear. “We run a range of KenBuilt and also ShawX attachments,” says Thomas. “The Rock breakers are all MSB with auto greasers.”
Every excavator has a Doherty hitch.
Platinum also makes good use of the Auger Torque range of attachments. “It’s just really good, quality gear. We have never had any issues with them. You just plug your gear in and it just works.”
All the machines – everything from the 13 tonners up – also run Trimble Earthworks, which Thomas rates very highly. “It’s so good physically seeing that image in front of you – because it’s on the iPad now. Seeing that 3D design is so much easier and ensures precision excavation.”
Thomas likes the Trimble system for its ease of use, as well as the many benefits it provides him and his clients. “Basically, the surveyor creates the design of what he wants and gives it to us on a USB flash drive. Then we plug it in and the 3D image is projected right in front of you. That gives you a really good idea of what the map has to look like,” he explains. This, Thomas says, not only makes the whole process quicker but also more precise. “When you’re in a 30-tonner and cutting down to 10mm of tolerances, that’s kind of a big thing!”
When he’s not at the helm of his earthmoving business, you’ll find Thomas roaring around the racetrack. “I’m quite passionate about my racing – I’m out drifting and racing when I get the time,” Thomas says. His car is clearly his pride and joy. “It’s a Nissan Silvia S15 with a stroked 383 V8 engine and a Garret turbo hanging off the side of it,” he laughs. At the time of press, he was about to top out at 1000 horsepower.
How does he go out in the field? “Ah, well, when I last went out, I ran third on the podium,” Thomas shares. “It’s a bit of a hobby and a fun play most of the time, but every so often you get to play in the big leagues.” Thomas reckons he’s just always been into vehicles, engines and cars. “Yeah, I’ve always been a bit of a petrol head – I used to race motocross… I love a bit of an adrenaline rush.”
Thomas admits that it was a little daunting at first in the business, but he put his head down and just got on with it.
What advice would Thomas have for someone hoping to start up their own earthmoving business? “You need to be passionate about earthmoving and back yourself,” Thomas says. “Make sure you’re always giving back to the customer; treat them how you’d want to be treated. Just keep putting in the hard yards – you’ll do some big days, but you’ll reap the rewards.”
Thomas also feels he owes much to the ongoing support of his family. Platinum has a strong governance structure and advisory board to help him navigate his way through what can be quite a complex business enterprise.
“Looking towards the future, we want to continue to run a well smart, well respective business, employing the best people we can.”
Playing his part in making a larger project come to life is something that really speaks to Thomas. The sheen hasn’t worn off. “It’s still actually really cool to drive along the road some days and go ’we helped build this road’. Or I’ll drive past a building that we dug a basement out for and think ‘that turned out quite nice!’”.
When asked what he believes is the key to Platinum’s success, Thomas is keen to drive one particular point home: “Your business is only as good as your people - and we have an outstanding team.”