Merry Manton has been involved with the road transport industry for more than four decades.
During this time she has consistently shown dedication to improve the circumstances of those involved in trucking, while also working to enhance the industry’s image and to attract and support new talent by acting as a leader and role model.
“I’ve always worked in transport and my husband Bill would say it’s a lifestyle choice and for us it certainly has been,” Merry says.
She has never shied away from working within various industry bodies and was the first female director on the board of the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) where she also served as the organisation’s treasurer.
Merry also spent time as Chair of Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL).
“It’s always been my belief that everyone’s got a role to play and it’s about getting off your bum and doing something and making a difference,” she says. “If everyone makes just one positive change it makes a big difference for a whole industry.”
Merry was involved with safety and compliance for many years in roles with a number of operators and she capitalised upon her experience to establish MBM Insurance Solutions in 2012 with the aim to provide personal and professional service from “people who live and breathe the industry.”
MBM’s staff includes Merry and Bill’s daughters Emma and Holly.
“I’m not an operator any more. I’m a supplier to the industry,” she says. “It was a good business opportunity, and it was something I saw where I could provide value to other people.”
In December 2022 Merry was presented with the TWAL’s Trish Pickering Memorial Award which is given to a woman in recognition of continuous contribution to the transport and logistics industry.
Based on four pillars of strength, leadership, being a role model and encouragement of others, the award bookends Merry receiving the 2003 ATA Industry Woman of the Year a decade ago.
“I’m honoured to get a recognition like the Trish Pickering Award but I don’t see that I did anything which deserves it because there’s lots of amazing women that do the same thing,” Merry says displaying her genuine humility.
“I just do what I do because I like to do it. It’s not because of the accolades, it’s just that it needs to be done. People say ‘why me?’ Well, why not? Someone’s got to do it and if you’ve got the means then you should. Going forward, the industry associations will have to manage the process to recruit directors because people’s lifestyles have changed so much and finding directors can be a challenge. People aren’t ‘joiners’ anymore and they leave it for someone else to do.”
The phenomena of social media can be a powerful tool, but Merry sees a darker side when it is misused.
“These days we have, for want of a better term, keyboard warriors who love to show everyone else’s mistakes,” she says. “If someone’s having trouble backing onto a dock there is no point in everyone having a laugh and pointing the finger. Someone has got to go out and say, ‘let me show you’. Everyone forgets we all have an ‘Oh dear’ moment, and everyone makes mistakes.
“The general public are seeing it as well, so it’s embarrassing for the entire industry. No one likes their mistakes plastered on social media, but that’s what it’s come to now. We’ve always had misinformed bush lawyers, but now they’re all accident investigation experts as well. They’re quick to criticise everyone else, but clean up your own backyard first.”
Everyone, according to Merry, has got good and bad points, but that has been swept aside by digital swarms who like to criticise the mistakes of others and then make it public knowledge. People need to press ‘pause’ before they go sharing stuff.
“We’ve got drivers who take photos of themselves and post them and you think ‘mate, two hands on the wheel,’” adds Merry.
Throughout her career Merry has been keen to show that leadership involves empowerment of others.
“I’ve always tried to encourage the people who work with me,” she says.
“If they don’t know how to do a particular job or if it’s the first time, where do they go to find the information? No one is indispensable and you build better teams that way.”
It’s important, she believes, to teach someone else.
“What I’ve always found good is if you’re a manager and you can leave work and someone else can pick your job up and do it, that’s a lot easier than coming back to 500 emails,” she says.
Merry reiterates the importance of supporting others in order to achieve mutual goals.
“I don’t consciously mentor people, it’s just that someone taught me to and everyone else should know that too,” she says.
“I suppose that comes back to my core values where you can’t set people up to fail, you should be setting people up for success.”
If someone in a position to do so is not prepared to teach people, Merry says, it’s tantamount to setting them up to fail. That means, in her way of seeing it, that you’re not a good employee, or boss, or friend.
“We should always help people make better informed decisions and that way we have a better collaborative work group,” she explains.
“By giving them the tools and the confidence they should even be able to say they feel something is wrong. They’ve got to be able to say to management ‘I appreciate your feedback but you’re wrong.’”
Merry does acknowledge that not everyone is prepared for the commitment now required to be involved with industry representation.
“There is some amazing talent in our industry and in our era people got involved with a board or whatever and recognised the commitment was outside their normal job,” she recalls.
“These days, unless they’re people coming from their own business, they don’t understand the concept of going that extra mile. Our daughter Emma was in a pram and she got carted off to strawberry festivals and Convoys for Kids and all that sort of thing. But that was what you did for the benefit of the industry.”
Merry also regrets that the relentless pursuit of efficiency can have some negative social effects on the grass roots of the industry.
“Back in the day we stopped and helped others change tyres. It was also a form of welfare check and making sure your mate is OK and keeping track of them,” she says. “But they don’t have time for that any more.”
In the more immediate tense, Merry believes more work needs to be done to make the transport industry better for those already involved, and to attract new people.
“Toilets and things like that can be an issue for women but they need to be addressed because they are equally an issue for men,” she says.
“As is having adequate resources such as parking bays as well as sufficient training for people and proper licence standards.”