When I joined AV Dawson as an apprentice fitter in 1956, the haulage industry was totally different to what it is today; there was a haulier on every street corner. There was plenty of work and as vehicle fleets grew in size, many of the small family businesses either merged or fell by the wayside.
The industry was reformed with the introduction of Goods Vehicle Operators Licensing under the 1968 Transport Act. Previous regulation around licence grades that restricted mileage, operating area or only carrying your own goods had been lifted and as long as a driver had funds to purchase a £6,500 tractor unit (truck), he could leave the business, buy his own lorry and become a self-employed owner-driver.
At the time, we were also witnessing a major shift in the freight industry with the introduction of containers, which made transportation cheaper and more flexible. This supported the already increasing volumes of international trade; with global markets and global competition.
We saw the decimation of heavy industry in the recession in the early 80s when Thatcher closed the mines, this had a big impact on the haulage industry. We then had the arrival of Nissan which has helped to position the region as a centre for automotive excellence.
As a business, we recognised the volatility of the haulage sector. We had to run the company right down from 120 employees to 20 in order to survive. Since the late 70s, we started to diversify into other opportunities; renting out property and developing a rail terminal so longer distance tonnage could be transported by rail instead of road, providing increased efficiencies and reduced environmental impact. From 1985 we started loading ships on our first quay, Dawson’s Wharf, and gradually began to handle more freight over the wharf, including steel and fertilisers. With road, rail, land and now sea, this marked the start of the unique integrated transportation service we provide to our customers today.
We would need a crystal ball to predict what the future holds for the steel industry. It’s pleasing to see that new owners are hopefully coming in with fresh ideas to revitalise the rolling mills.
Our model has been about spreading risk; developing our property business, which was six acres when I took over and today covers over 100 acres. We now have five quays and are further developing our North Sea Supply Base. Over the last ten years we’ve been exploring new opportunities in the waste to energy sector including exportation of fuel derived from UK waste such as plastics and wood pellets, instead of it going into landfill. We’re anticipating that we will see just as much freight in the future but the mix of products will change as renewable and waste to energy sectors grow.
We know the future won’t be easy, but we’re strong and established, we’re spreading our risk and focusing our efforts on understanding how our markets are changing so that we can ensure we are well positioned for the future.
Teesside’s North Sea Supply Base is a 100-acre freight handling facility including shipping and rail terminals, warehousing and a supporting road transport fleet.
1956 Maurice started work as an apprentice fitter at AV Dawson at 15 years-old
1962 Became a long distance driver for the business
1966 Appointed as Transport Manager
1975 Took over as joint managing director with his mother (company secretary) after his father left the business at 55 due to ill health
1988 Michael Portillo officially opened AV Dawson’s new Ayrton rail freight terminal
1990 Maurice’s son, Gary, appointed to lead on business development
2000 Gary was appointed as managing director with Maurice becoming chairman
2013 AV Dawson celebrated its 75th anniversary
2015 Maurice was awarded an honorary degree from Teesside University