Principal Jeffrey B. Graves is celebrating 45 years of a very distinguished career with Sedlak, a company which he has devotedly built into a premier independent supply chain consulting firm specializing in distribution and logistics.
Over his professional career, Jeff has been responsible for the conceptualization and development of more than 100 major projects that exceed 20 million sq. ft. of distribution space, with executive expertise in the functional areas of strategic facility and information systems planning, centralized and decentralized operations planning, organizational strategy, and productivity improvement. In recent years, he has forged Sedlak’s global presence by forming a strong supply chain partnership in China, leading several mainland China projects.
“It is my privilege to work with Jeff,” said company president Will O’Brien. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and, like our clients, I benefit greatly from his advice and business savvy. Jeff is a highly competitive, warm and caring person. I am truly fortunate to call him my friend.”
Jeff, who earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Architecture from North Carolina State University, joined the firm in 1972, not long after he married the daughter of the firm’s founder, Joseph A. Sedlak.
“He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Jeff said. “My wife Mary and I intended to live in North Carolina, but we were expecting our first child and Joe wanted to keep family close. By then Joe had been in business in Northeast Ohio for 14 years and had built up the firm to about 21 associates.”
In those early years, Jeff’s work on a variety of projects developed his skills in the business and gave him an appreciation of loyalty.
“When we made trips to client offices or distribution centers, they often displayed anniversary plaques on their walls,” he said. “I was always impressed to see how many of their people had worked at these companies for 30, 40 or 45 years. I realized how special it must be to find a job you enjoy with a company you enjoy doing it with, and have a sense of accomplishment to make you want to stick around.”
His early work with the company also taught him the importance of trust in client relationships.
“My first project as manager was for a cooperative in Brooklyn, New York, that serviced small, independent drug stores,” he said. “Joe was the project executive. I’ll never forget that project. I was on site in Secaucus, New Jersey, for about eight months, working with tough unions and tough contractors in what was then a pretty rough place. It really helped to shape my career in terms of understanding the different aspects of Sedlak’s services, and how to manage a tough client who had a lot of faith in Joe and a lot of faith in me.”
Despite the family connection, Jeff didn’t originally intend to spend his entire career at Sedlak.
“I thought I would be here about two years,” he said. “Not because of the company or the culture or anything else, but I was coming from the perspective of studying architecture and wanting to be a budding architect. This firm was not in that vein.”
However, over time he recognized many commonalities between architecture and Sedlak’s work in distribution and supply chain.
“One was discovery,” he explains. “You had to understand people’s needs, regardless of what you were designing. In every space there are elements of shelter and light, of warmth and energy, and function. They teach in architectural school that form follows function, so you need to understand the functionality of the space and how it will be used and provide for the most important features of the space. I pretty much found that’s what we do, just in a different way in an industrial environment.”
Another draw was learning the business environment. “In architecture school they taught you how to draw a line on paper or the theory of architecture, but they didn’t teach the business side – the relationship side,” he said. “I thought this would be a good environment to learn that.”
Jeff successfully grew his career at Sedlak from project management to sales to executive leadership, eventually serving as company president from 1989 to 2013. He has been involved in prominent industry organizations, including the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) and the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), and has been published in numerous industry magazines. As principal, Jeff is still actively involved in providing executive consulting on strategic and large-scale projects, strengthening the firm’s reputation in the industry, and supporting the needs of Sedlak’s numerous clients with whom he has developed long-term relationships.
The concept of strong relationships extends into other areas of Jeff’s life as well. Maintaining Sedlak’s culture, based on three founding principles of faith, family and profession, has always been a priority for him.
“That was imbued in me by Joe,” he said. “Always be open and honest with people – if you treat them fairly you can expect them to treat you fairly.”
The family aspect of the company is also important to Jeff. One great source of pride is that two of his daughters have also established successful careers with the firm. “It’s nice to see them take an interest in the business,” he said. “Hopefully, that will transition into management roles as their careers develop. Ten years from now, I hope we have another generation of family members involved with the firm.”
And the company ownership remains with the family: Jeff and two of Joe’s sons, principals Ned Sedlak and Patrick Sedlak.
“We are very appreciative of the great work Jeff has done,” said Patrick, “and we look forward to his ongoing involvement in the firm.”
After 45 years, Jeff expects to remain active at Sedlak for as long as he can add value. “I think when you’ve been with a company as long as I have, and in talking with people who’ve been with a company for a long time, some people struggle to find things to do after,” he said. “Other people can jump ship and move over to the golf course or whatever they want to do. As long as I can contribute to the firm, I’m happy to do that. But there are also plenty of other things I can find to do if I need to find them.”
Sedlak celebrated Jeff’s milestone anniversary with a congratulatory corporate lunch in May.