Fleet Focus | Ayna & Angel

 
Ayna & Angel
 February 2020    Story John Coker & Wayne Munro Photos Gerald Shacklock

Ayna Amima was just 19 when her father convinced her to forget about her fledgling nursing career….

And to instead change tack completely – and join him in starting a trucking company.
Initially, she says, “I thought I wouldn’t say yes.” It was, after all, an industry she knew absolutely nothing about.

The closest she’d come to anything vaguely related to road transport was back in the Shamim’s former homeland, in Fiji – where her Dad, Mohammed, had run a taxi company. And the young Ayna sometimes “used to take calls from customers.”

Still, as she reasons now: “I guess he thought I had the personality to communicate with people.”

Regardless of her qualifications seeming to be a world away from helping run a truck company in Auckland, she reckons: “I only took one night to change my mind!” 

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Ayna Amima was just 19 when her father convinced her to forget about her fledgling nursing career….
And to instead change tack completely – and join him in starting a trucking company.
Initially, she says, “I thought I wouldn’t say yes.” It was, after all, an industry she knew absolutely nothing about.
The closest she’d come to anything vaguely related to road transport was back in the Shamim’s former homeland, in Fiji – where her Dad, Mohammed, had run a taxi company. And the young Ayna sometimes “used to take calls from customers.”
Still, as she reasons now: “I guess he thought I had the personality to communicate with people.”
Regardless of her qualifications seeming to be a world away from helping run a truck company in Auckland, she reckons: “I only took one night to change my mind!” 
And so began Angel Transport – an Auckland company that today, 14 years later, runs 34 trucks, with Ayna running the business on a day to day basis, as its general manager.
And in 2019 earning recognition for her role in the business, by winning the New Zealand Road Transport Forum’s first-ever Outstanding Contribution by a Woman in the Road Transport Industry Award.
Back in 2005, when Angel was launched, the family had only been in New Zealand a short time – having left Fiji early in 2001. 
Mohammed had been running a fleet of 20 taxis in Suva for over 10 years and had previously been involved in a family bus operation on the other side of the main island, in the Lautoka area. It had 11 buses on the road between 1980 and 1990.
But in the wake of the Fijian coup in 2000 he resolved to move the family to Auckland. Says Ayna: “I think he saw no future in operating a business there, especially after all the windows in our place were broken by rioters. He got disheartened.”
The taxi business was taken over by Mohammed’s brother and still operates today – but on moving here Mohammed bought a van and took on a contract with Fastway Couriers for a year – then decided to sell that business, bought a truck and became an owner/driver, contracted to TransAuck (since renamed Transfreight).
Another year on, he decided he really wanted to have his own business again – and came up with the plan to start a trucking company and sold his O/D business.
Ayna has a theory about the move: “I guess he found it hard not being the boss and taking orders from somebody else, as he’d always been his own boss in Fiji. He just wanted to start something for himself.”
Mohammed reckons: “I wanted to get away from a passenger operation, so I didn’t want to get into taxis in Auckland.
“I knew something about running fleets of vehicles, so I decided to get into the transport industry and a local trucking operation in Auckland.”
The company name wasn’t all about Ayna’s involvement in the business – it was actually a carryover from Mohammed’s Sweet Angel Taxis business back in Suva. Ayna explains: “We used to have a slogan: ‘Call the angels if you’re stuck.’ ”
Actually, they now use a similar line on the company website: “Angel Transport are your guardian angels.”
The aim with the new company was to carry general freight in the greater Auckland area – but on the basis of an hourly rate for a truck and driver. The business would rely on carrying overflow general freight from the large logistics companies – when they didn’t have the capacity to do it all themselves.
She explains the logic behind their business model: “With pallet rates and carton deliveries, we needed to have volume – and getting someone to switch from another company to a brand-new company with just three trucks was impossible.
“So let’s start up with a third-party business where we’re supplying trucks and drivers together, to deliver your freight.”
The company’s first lucky break was securing a deal with one of the country’s biggest freight operators….for all three of Angel’s brand-new Mitsubishi Canter curtainsiders and a Ford Transit van.
It was, she says, “almost too good to be true.” But it’s a business relationship that endures still.
From there, she says, “we started slowly – we didn’t want to be like some companies where they grow too big too fast, then struggle.
“So we kind of had one step at a time. We had a new truck in eight months….then we would have another new truck. We were always buying brand-new trucks…and we were very particular about our image as well.
“There was a lot of cold-call selling from my side: ‘Hi, we’re a third-party company – if you get stuck, these are our rates, give us a call.’ Hoping for the best – that they do get stuck one day and they give us that opportunity to go and provide our services.”
The big challenge early on, she says, was being able to always live up to her promise: “If someone called up and said ‘hey Ayna, I’m stuck’……that’s where my challenge came – to make sure that I stuck by my word….
“To make sure that it was done. So when they’re stuck they know that they can go to Angel to come and rescue them. And that is how we’ve just grown.”
It’s all originated from her initial dedication to getting the message out in the industry….and then from word of mouth recommendations. Two or three more major freight companies became key clients – and still are.
Of course, there have also been setbacks: “I’ve been turned around and told ‘no, you’re too expensive’ and this and that.”
“If there is negative feedback I take it as ‘hey Ayna, you know, pull up your socks. You can do better.’ ”
She also had the handicap of having “no knowledge of business – like, no knowledge whatsoever! Not even how to reply to an email, how to enter jobs in your (computer) system and then despatching your trucks… And then charging out for the jobs.” It was all “just step by step. We had to learn.”
It’s no big surprise then when she adds: “When I first started I used to cry a lot! A customer might say something – it might only be a small thing – and I would cry. I was so immature. 
“I would say ‘nah, I don’t want to do this Dad.’ I’d be in tears and he’d be like ‘oh no, you’ll be fine – this is how you tackle them.’ I was taking it too personally. 
“Now, if something happens, I say to myself: ‘This is our industry. You will have drivers let you down….you will have customers yelling at you because you couldn’t do something that they wanted you to do.’ ”
The business principles that her and her Dad have stuck to, she says, are “integrity and honesty” – and they have been key to Angel’s growth. For example, “when we started, we never tried to take over any of TransAuck’s customers – and we still have a good relationship with them today.”
Likewise, some customers who Angel has worked for – on behalf of its big freight and logistics clients – have ended up asking to deal with Angel direct….“and get a cheaper rate.
“I won’t do it. The relationship and our reputation with our clients is so important. I tell the third parties if they want our trucks, they should request that when they book work with our clients. But if we make one wrong move we will be out.”
Over the years “there have been a few competitors who’ve come in to tackle me” – but because of Angel’s loyalty to its clients and its level of service, “they haven’t so far been able to.”
Now, for instance, she reckons: “I can see some competitors coming up – so now our work has to be 120%, not just 100%.”
The business grew steadily (even if unspectacularly) in its first three years – so that, by 2008, it had eight trucks on the road.
Also growing was the family involvement in the business: Ayna’s brothers Shane (now 28) and Shaif (26) had also started working for Angel, as drivers.
When the effects of the Global Financial Crisis triggered a downturn in Auckland freight volumes in ‘08, Angel found itself in serious danger: “We thought we were going to lose the business. It was one of those dreadful moments of all of our lives…
“We had to return three of our brand-new Mitsis back to (lease company) Custom Fleet…we just did not have any work for them.”
The company survived with the support of Mohammed’s wife, Faroz Begum – her savings used to pay bills and staff wages.
Also, the family members in the business worked without wages, “so we didn’t have a lot of labour costs. We just wanted the company to survive.”
What came out of it, Ayna reckons, was “the bond between the family: Me, my husband, my father, my brothers….we were like: ‘Hey, we’ll make this work.’ 
“We said ‘okay, we have enough food to eat in the house – we will use our savings as well. Let’s just concentrate on (repaying) the finance so the trucks we have got don’t go away….
“And hey, as soon as it was over, we were off again.”
To the degree that, after a couple of lean years, Angel Transport began to grow again. Until 2010, for instance, the company got by with operating from the family home in Papatoetoe. But then the level of truck comings and goings in the suburban street prompted complaints…and an ultimatum.
“The council gave us six months to get out and find some premises,” says Ayna. The result was a shift to its own yard in Tidal Rd in Mangere in 2010 – followed in 2017 by a move to a bigger base in Wiri to accommodate the ever-growing fleet.
Since recovering from the GFC, “we’ve usually added three or four more trucks each year.”
Now the fleet has grown to 32 company-owned trucks, plus two lease/rental units and 32 employees. They made a decision early on, says Ayna, not to pursue a business model involving mostly leased trucks or owner/drivers: “We decided we wanted to own our fleet and employ drivers.”
Most of Angel’s work is still in general freight – and that’s reflected in the current fleet makeup: Angel has 15 curtainsider trucks (all Mitsubishi/FUSOs – including six Canter or Fighter 4x2s, eight Fighter 6x4s and one Shogun 6x4), plus a Volvo FH12 8x4 curtainsider truck and trailer unit.
There’s a 2011 Western Star 4864FX tractor unit that works with a four-axle flatdeck semi-trailer, plus two FUSO Fighter flatdecks – a four-wheeler and a 6x4.
There are four Hiab-equipped crane trucks – two Fighters (a 4x2 and a 6x4), an Isuzu F Series four-wheeler and a UD six-wheeler. 
The balance includes two Iveco Daily vans and two Ford Transits and – catering for the light freight end of the market – there’s a Ford Everest, a Hyundai SUV and a Ford Ranger ute.
Services include same day pallet deliveries – provided the booking is made the day before – and handling dangerous goods.
The dynamics of Angel Transport management see the effervescent, bubbly and positive Ayna (who’s also not afraid to be tough when necessary) running the place on a day to day basis, while the 64-year-old Mohammed keeps a relatively low profile.
“Dad is the boss – even if at times I have to tell him to back off if we’re not getting the desired result. You have to learn not to take things too personally.”
Although Mohammed remains the sole owner and the director, Ayna reckons that “if you come into work you’d think he’s the yard boy!”
That’s because, as well as taking care of all the financial side of the business and the decisionmaking in that regard – including buying the trucks – he’s made fleet maintenance his baby.
That’s all-important, says Ayna, especially at a time when the NZ Transport Agency says it’s adopting a tough new focus on non-compliant trucking companies.
“I don’t have to worry about ‘oh, when is that truck up for its CoF or service or whatever?’ I only have to worry about ‘why does this truck have no work!’ ” 
These days the Angel responsibilities are being shared even more – by other family members: Ayna’s older sister Zyna now handles the accounts, cousin Mohammed Ifraaz is the main despatcher (and also drives when needed)…and Ayna’s husband Mohammed Dilshad has recently come on board as the operations manager – bringing with him past experience with courier and freight companies. 
It gives her more time to focus on other specific parts of the business: “I have to look for jobs….handle customer inquiries – anything like that.
“It’s just dividing the work up – and leaving me to function properly. You can’t be at all places at one time.
“This business is very family orientated – the majority of my family are in there and hey, they are awesome: The best person in my life, my father. Also my brothers, my mother, my sister…”
She credits Angel Transport’s success to the input and support of family and staff…..along with others: “We’ve learnt as we went along and we’ve had help from other people in the industry who have offered advice when we’ve asked for it.”
Ayna says candidly that there have been moments when the pressures of being in the business together has seen family members at loggerheads – with some “bad arguments,” in which she’s had to lay down the law – as the sibling with the most experience in the company. 
Those have been, she says frankly, “major dramas for me: I don’t like doing that because I’m a family person. I like working hand in hand with my family…
“But when the arguments happen I don’t want to do this any more – I just want to go away and work for someone else for eight hours…and at least sleep at night.”
In recent years Ayna says her Dad has asked her to join him as a director of Angel Transport – but she’s declined: “The reason is, I get paid for what I do – I don’t want to become the boss. 
“I want to work for the business – I don’t want to own the business. Giving my 100% level best for the business – 24 hours on call, seven days a week – I don’t mind, because I am getting paid for it.”
She’s justifiably proud that, at 34, she has four kids (aged between five and 12), she and husband Mohammed own their house and are mortgage-free.…and she now owns a Nissan GT-R – bought recently to celebrate her birthday…and her nomination for the RTF industry award.
She explains the importance of the high-powered Godzilla car: “I feel like ever since I’ve been married I’ve been bearing babies….and I’ve always been driving SUVs. So I was like, you know, ‘I feel like having my own car’ – my own personal car, that I can take out with no bloody GPS, nobody can know where I am…”
She says that husband Mohammed used to be the fast-car enthusiast in the family – regularly competing at the Meremere Dragway in his own Nissan GT-R. But now she too has got the bug – turning in an 11.1-second time in her first run down the dragstrip, earning her husband’s praise…
And helping her in her new ambition to go faster (as in a 10-second pass): “I absolutely loved it. It was such an awesome experience.”
The nature of Angel Transport’s business means that it is generally a five-days-a-week operation, but the company will sometimes work weekends on urgent jobs for regular clients – “because of the special relationship with them.” Normally though, Saturday is a truckwash day and the opportunity to catch up on truck maintenance at Angel’s own workshop.
Over the peak summer season, rental or lease trucks – usually curtainsiders – are used to meet increased demand. They’re dropped during the quieter winter months, when sometimes a third of the fleet can be idle on any given day.
“We always have times when some of our clients go a bit quiet. But others are busier,” says Ayna.
The dominance of Mitsubishi/FUSO in the Angel fleet is largely down to the “great support” the company gets from Keith Andrews Trucks – “just down the road.” 
Key factors, Ayna says, are the reasonable costs of maintenance and the availability of parts – something Angel hasn’t found to the same extent with some other brands it’s had experience with.
Recently the company has been buying some secondhand trucks in order to meet increased demand – because, says Ayna, “the price of new trucks has skyrocketed in recent years, so Dad has gone out selecting trucks that have perhaps only done 200,000kms.”
Included in the purchases is the eight-year-old Western Star 6x4 tractor unit – the only conventional and only North American truck in the fleet.
Unusually, Angel has never sold any of the trucks it’s bought – they’re all still on the fleet and in regular work. 
Seeing as the majority of Angel’s work is confined to the greater Auckland metropolitan area – as far south as Pokeno/Mercer, north to Orewa, to Muriwai out west and Maraetai in the east – the trucks don’t rack up big kilometres. 
Says Ayna: “We have gone as far away as Palmerston North and Kerikeri and made deliveries direct to the end customer so there’s no double-handling.”
But, like the weekend jobs, these out-of-town jobs are only occasional – taken on only to meet the urgent needs of regular clients. In November and December, for instance, the company had trucks based in the Waikato, helping a key client cope with the Christmas freight rush.
For the fleet’s trucks that are outside their warranties, the Angel Truck Repairs workshop at the company’s Wiri yard carries out all of the repairs and maintenance – using the EROAD electronic RUC and monitoring system to keep track of when maintenance is required.
For a while Angel also took in outside work….but that proved too popular! Ayna explains: “Other Indian transport operators were using us, as they liked the service. But we didn’t have the manpower or the space and couldn’t meet the demand, so we closed it down, rather than drop standards.”
Along with EROAD through the fleet, the Angel trucks are also fitted with Coretex dash cameras for onroad incident tracking and resolution: “We’ve invested in the technology so we don’t come under pressure from regulatory requirements,” says Ayna.
The company has a simple but effective livery. White trucks are highlighted by the Angel logo in green – a stylised pair of facing koru….which together also look like a heart. The curtainsiders come with the curtains in the same green, with the logo in white. Some of the vans and light trucks though are painted lime green. 
“People say our truck fleet shines,” says Ayna: “I take great pride in that. We ensure all our drivers are well presented and the fleet looks good. I think it says a lot about our business approach and the high standards we maintain.”
The look of the trucks was good enough for Angel to win the Best Fleet and Best Curtainsider awards at the 2017 Kumeu Truck Show.
The Angel driving workforce is quite diverse – with two women drivers, Kiwis of many ethnicities and a number of Fijians and Indians.
Finding good drivers is one of the biggest problems she faces, Ayna says – perhaps even more so than many in the industry: Since Angel is a third-party provider and is paid a premium rate, other operators and logistics companies “expect us to be truly an angel and tackle what their normal drivers wouldn’t be able to tackle.
“So we have to do major work on training if someone is going to sign up with us (as a driver).”
Ayna says that Angel has developed its own internal training system so drivers don’t get thrown into the deep end: “The first day they learn about our operation and processes and then we send them out with another driver so they get to learn it in practical terms.
“We don’t just let anyone in our trucks. They’ve got to make an investment in their job.
 “We need to make sure that whoever is behind the wheel is representing the company properly. Because at the end of the day that’s our brand at stake.
“It hasn’t been an easy 14 years – we have been blessed with all these nice customers, but I have had to work day and night for it. I have been traumatised at times and had sleepless nights….
“Next morning you’re up and running because you’ve got kids to drop at school, get them lunch, breakfast…and you’re answering phones at the same time.
“It’s a huge thing….a struggle. And I won’t let anyone jeopardise the brand that I’ve worked night and day for.”
Angel won’t recruit drivers directly from overseas – simply because Ayna believes new arrivals will require too much training to be comfortable and safe in Auckland traffic and be fully conversant with NZ laws and regulations.
She prefers Kiwi residents who “know the local culture.” The company has had some resident Indian job applicants who couldn’t speak English. Other would-be Angel drivers have “come with all the qualifications….but they can’t drive manuals – only automatics.”
She does have an affinity with Fijian Indian drivers, given their common background. And she’d like to get more women drivers to join the two already on the staff: “I really enjoy working with women. I find they are incredibly organised, very reliable and punctual.” 
They make very good professional drivers, she adds, and are regularly at the top of the onboard driver monitoring scores for safe driving: “I’ve also noticed that my female team members tend to be easier on the gear.”
She has already told her two young daughters that they could be driving for Angel Transport….if there’s still a driver shortage in 2030!
The women drivers seem content, she says, to stay in smaller vehicles: “I think they’re a little nervous about moving up, especially those who join with little experience. They need time to build confidence in their vehicle and in different situations.”
As a company policy Angel has recently stopped calling drivers, “drivers” – instead referring to them as “team members,” in an effort to engender a more collaborative environment.
“Having great staff takes a weight off my shoulders, as I know that they will complete what I ask and I don’t need to remind them.”
Angel encourages its drivers to upskill and gain higher licence qualifications, even though it means covering the costs….and then paying higher wages. It is, she says, important for job satisfaction: “Employees are encouraged and supported to grow with the business. If they show good skill at whatever level they start at, they are given the opportunity to train and secure a higher-level licence.”
Angel sees the costs of the exercise as a means of combating the industry-wide driver shortage: “I’m encouraging all my team to move up to the next class of license, for the business and their own growth.”
It’s particularly important since Angel has expansion in mind. Ayna explains: “My father has invested bigtime for the future.” He has just received resource consent to build a proposed 4000-square-metre company HQ on a property recently purchased on Tidal Rd, Mangere.
The facility, which Angel hopes to have completed by the end of this year, will be able to accommodate freight devanning, improved maintenance facilities, a truck paint booth and truckwash.
Ayna is looking to diversify the business – and, in areas where there is no conflict with any existing clients, Angel will consider tendering for some regular contracts of its own: “It will help smooth out the quiet times we have.”
The company has, she says, recently been offered the opportunity to quote on some big contracts but they were beyond the capacity of the company: “I just don’t want to grow too big, too fast. I don’t want to take it up, and fail…and have that bad name.”
The only regret Ayna has about winning the inaugural Outstanding Contribution by a Woman in the Road Transport Industry Award is that her father wasn’t at the ceremony to see her receive the award.
“He’s been a massive part of what is his company – and gave me the opportunity to get involved at the start.” She says all the family has contributed to its success.
She also believes, by the way, that other women – “if they are given the opportunity…they can do it.”
The award, she adds, “was such a privilege. I was over the moon to win – even though I was quite nervous about the whole event.”
It has been “crazy busy” since the award – and she says she’s ready to keep growing Angel Transport: “The recognition and appreciation of the work I’ve put in has given me a huge boost – almost a rebirth. I’m feeling very motivated.”
Ayna is clearly proud of what she and her family have achieved so far in the NZ road transport industry. Although three generations of her family lived in Fiji, Ayna considers NZ her home now: “This is my country. We don’t know where our family originally came from in India. 
“My kids are Kiwis: They keep correcting my English!”  

Marsh
Navman
NZ Truck & Driver Magazine
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