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Dogged determination, drive and eternal optimism - they're all qualities Don Braid exudes.

Mainfreight's straight-talking group managing director has an infectious zest for business.

Even Europe's ongoing economic turmoil fails to dampen Braid's optimism, despite the Kiwi logistics operator having spent more than $200 million buying a Netherlands-based freight firm earlier this year, giving it a European footprint for the first time in its more than three-decade history.

Since the acquisition of the Wim Bosman Group the eurozone has spiralled to the brink of economic disaster, but 52-year-old Braid says doing business on the debt-ravaged continent is nothing other than an "exciting" prospect.


He points out that 172 million people live within a 350 km radius of Wim Bosman's headquarters in's-Heerenberg, on the Dutch-German border.

"You can imagine what they need to eat, drink and use," says Braid in the boardroom of Mainfreight's building in Otahuhu. "That gives us an enormous amount of opportunity."

And he should know, having spent his entire working life in the freight industry.

After leaving Timaru Boys' High School Braid joined the New Zealand Shipping Corporation as a clerk in 1976. His father was a truck driver, but he says that didn't influence his career decisions.

"I probably wasn't qualified enough to go to university," Braid says. "I think I've always enjoyed business, from an early age, so to be involved like I am today has been great. I'm pleased I didn't do anything else."

Mainfreight shareholders would be similarly pleased.

In the decade Braid has spent at its helm, the company has become a global logistics player with operations on every populated continent apart from Africa.

In the 12 months to March 31, Mainfreight - which has been one of the top performing stocks on the NZX this year - posted record sales of $1.34 billion. The company is on track to go close to the $2 billion mark in its current financial year, Braid says, having already posted an almost $900 million revenue for the six months to September.


Bruce Plested, the firm's executive chairman who founded the company in 1978 with $7200 and a 1969 Bedford truck, recalls the day in 1994 when Braid - then a Freightways Group employee - had the job of pitching its Daily Freightways business to Mainfreight, which it acquired that year.

"Don gave this glowing account of [Daily Freightways] and I kept looking at him and thinking 'what a lot of bullshit'," Plested says.

"But I was fascinated that he could present this picture of a skeleton of a company ... and present it so brightly."

Braid, who joined Mainfreight through its purchase of Daily Freightways, says the company hasn't let the last few years of economic upheaval dull its ambitions.

"You need some energy and you need to be on the front foot," he says. "If you allow the recession to roll over the top of you there's a great chance it will."

While many of its NZX-50 peers have entered a period of stagnation, Mainfreight - it seems - thrives on hard times.

It has largely grown earnings and revenue since 2008 and tripled its share price between early 2009 and today.

"I think we're a better business because of adverse economic conditions, there's no doubt about that," he says.

Braid has been a beneficiary of the meteoric rise in Mainfreight's share price. He owns a 3 per cent stake in the firm, worth about $29 million.

The firm has earned a reputation within the market for being slickly-run.

New Zealand Shareholders' Association corporate liaison Des Hunt says Braid is one of the most effective listed company bosses in this country.

"He never talks about himself and always talks about long-term goals," Hunt says. "He never moans about the currency and is always positive."

Plested says that within a few months of the firm's acquisition of Daily Freightways, which became Daily Freight under Mainfreight ownership, he came to recognise Braid's strengths.

"He's sporting and tough and makes decisions quite fast," Plested says. "He implements things very well and you don't have to remind him about anything you're trying to achieve. He's got plenty of charm if he wants to have it ... and his leadership skills just stand out - people want to stand next to him."

Braid goes to great lengths to stress that the company's success is the result of the efforts of its entire, 5167-member "team" around the world.

"It's not about what I've done - it's about what we've done and what the business has done," he says.

Use of the word "staff" is banned within the company - one of a range of idiosyncrasies particular to the logistics firm.

Braid recalls with horror the memory of listening to a chief executive refer to her workers as "FTEs" - full-time equivalents - during a radio interview.

"I just think that's disgusting," he says.

Private parking spaces are also banned at Mainfreight - the group managing director has to find himself a spot in the carpark each morning after he drives through the front gate.

Offices are outlawed, even for Braid, whose desk is situated in the corner of a large, open-plan room occupied by the company's national team.

And analysts have been warned that they "won't get a second interview" if they make that mistake of calling Mainfreight a "trucking company".

Kiwis know the firm largely through its blue trucks that ply our highways, but the company also utilises sea, train and air freight to transport goods around the world.

"It's just a little rule that we've had because if they [analysts] keep calling us a trucking company they clearly haven't done their research."

Weekly operational reports are posted on the wall of the company cafeteria in Otahuhu, where all team members, including Braid, eat at a single, long table.

"There's no bureaucracy or hierarchy or superiority in the business. We're trying to break all that down."

Braid says the company strives to be de-centralised through giving responsibility to all individuals in the business and letting them make decisions.

Mainfreight people, he says, don't "live in question marks".

Like most Kiwi business leaders, Braid is self-effacing and doesn't fancy talking to journalists about his life outside the company.

"I don't think any of those things are really of interest to this," he says. "We need to try and paint the picture around Mainfreight here and what Mainfreight is, that to me is of more interest than whether I like rugby or cricket.

Why we chose Don Braid for top honour

Mainfreight's Don Braid rose above a solid field of finalists to be named New Zealand Herald Business Leader of Year.

His company has been a shining example of success amid tough global economic conditions.

Braid has earned a reputation within the market as a straight talker and one of the most effective NZX-50 bosses.

While many companies have been battening down the hatches this year, Mainfreight has been on the acquisition trail - purchasing a Netherlands-based freight business which operates in Belgium, France, Romania and Poland and Russia.

The company posted record earnings and revenue for its last full year and has continued to break records this financial year.

Braid said Mainfreight was on track to push close to the $2 billion sales mark by March next year.

The firm's shares have been one of the best performing stocks on the NZX, returning more than 20 per cent in the year to date.

Forsyth Barr analyst Rob Mercer said the market had confidence in Mainfreight after it managed to grow revenue and market share and outperform its peers during the global financial crisis.

Other finalists were: Briscoe Group managing director Rod Duke, NZX chief executive Mark Weldon, ex-Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier, Xero founder Rod Drury, LanzaTech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren, Ngai Tahu Holdings Corp chief executive Greg Campbell, TZ1 founding chief executive and former Microsoft New Zealand chief executive Helen Robinson, Farmers/Whitcoulls owners David and Anne Norman and Ryman Healthcare chief executive Simon Challies.