Three generations, six decades and millions of tonnes of timber since Mangan Logging & Haulage began, the company is stronger than ever, thanks to a lot of planning and a bit of luck.

Michael Mangan was just a young lad when his parents Bert and Monica packed up the family from their home in Wyong on the NSW Central Coast and moved four hours west to Oberon to complete a logging contract for Bert’s then employer. They didn’t drive back. Instead, Bert and Monica took over the contract and Mangan Logging & Haulage was born.

Now, 60 years later, the company management has recently passed to Michael’s four kids. The third generation is guiding what is now the Mangan Group through continued growth – harvesting and hauling over 500,000 tonnes of softwood plantation pine every year.

It’s a story containing some luck, and a lot of dedicated hard work. And it’s one “we wouldn’t have any other way,” says Michelle Corby, née Mangan, company accountant.

Bert and Monica spent over 20 years building up the business in the early days. “It was basically people with chainsaws felling, pruning, and stacking the timber onto pallets that were winched onto Dad’s two army-style Blitz trucks and then delivered to the sawmills,” says Michael, who helped on weekends. As soon as he left school, he joined the family business.

In 1984, Bert’s health was failing, so he and Monica retired back to the Central Coast. Michael and his wife, Suzanne bought the business. “That first transition between Nan and Pop and Mum and Dad was necessary,” says Michelle, “because Pop’s health couldn’t hold up. But when it came time to transition the business over to our generation, we’ve literally been working with our external accountants, solicitors and more for between five and seven years. It’s only in the last 12 months that the final pieces are coming together with the structures, financing, shareholdings and so on.”

All four Mangan siblings work in the business, each specialising in a different area. Michelle, the chartered accountant and self-described numbers nerd runs finance. Matthew, who, like his dad, had been raring to get out into the wood since he was a boy, manages the forestry. Chris is passionate about haulage and has seen the truck fleet grow from a couple, to ten, “and now we’ve got 25 and we’re a leader in the haulage industry.” Business-minded Lisa managed the Mangan Group head office for 15 years before taking over the role of store manager six years ago.

“It’s no joke when they say that you need to prepare and take the time to do succession planning carefully,” Michelle says. “It’s a big change going from a mum-and-dad business to a four-sibling business. We’ve all worked hard for everything, but one thing Dad and Mum did really well was to set up the company with all the infrastructure it needs to keep that success going.”

This includes two mechanical workshops with a 24-hour breakdown service and parts store, employing about 15 of the business’s more than 70 employees. It’s a godsend for managing the fleet of harvesters, feller bunchers, forwarders, skidders, loaders and B-double trucking combinations.

“They do the repairs and maintenance on all our machines and trucks and vehicles and everything else, in the workshop or in the field,” says Michelle. “It saves us a lot of time and money whenever things go wrong.”

Riding the rough patches

Things have sometimes gone wrong. Michael and Suzanne were in the middle of a machinery upgrade cycle when interest rates soared to 29% in the 1980s. “We were lucky to secure a contract with CSR during that time. The banks finally understood that loans to get equipment meant we could actually do the work,” Suzanne says.

Natural disasters are a given, Michelle jokes that they seem to be on a three-year cycle, with recent floods washing out some access roads. “But we were lucky with the bushfires. We weren’t impacted, in fact we sent help to the guys down at Tumut who were impacted so they could get the timber harvested before it went rotten,” she says.

The other travails of 2020 were more up and down. While Covid worries affected only some of their smaller customers, “Our largest proportion of work is with Forest Corp NSW and their long-term contracts, which go up to five to six years. So the risks within our contracts with them are mitigated really well,” Michelle says.

“On the other hand, the China timber import bans have been a pretty big impact on us. It reduced our cut order more than Covid. And then that was followed up by the floods. But we’ve been able to steadily build and get back on top of both of those.”

The biggest challenge for a business operating out of a regional centre so close to the mining town of Orange is finding and retaining good technical and mechanical staff. “We can’t compete on the shifts and the penalty rates, but we can offer a family-oriented, long-term career, with training opportunities,” says Michelle. “We’ve been pretty lucky, 80% of our staff have been with us for about 10 years and we’ve got some guys who have been here for 25 or 30 years. There are sons and grandsons entering the business.”

While Mangans Group aims to train up younger generations across the business to combat the risks of an ageing workforce, they’re also helping to keep older workers employed in the region – which helps keep families from leaving in search of work. “In the last 12 months we’ve put on over-60-year-olds and they’re the most dedicated workers,” Michelle says. “Plus we get the advantage of their skills and their ability to help mentor our younger staff.”

Of course, some of the staffing needs are being filled by more Mangans. “Matthew’s son Riley has just started on as a mechanic,” says Michelle. “It’s going to be so much more complicated for the next generation – between the four siblings, we’ve currently got 10 children. But that won’t be our problem. We’ll do what we can and set it up for them and they can fight it out. For now, it’s nice to see Riley following very much in his dad’s footsteps. He’s got the right attitude and the passion for the industry.”

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Image: Two generations of the Mangan family. From left, Chris, Michelle, Michael and Suzanne, Lisa and Matthew.