How a family-based mover became a global leader
Graebel focuses exclusively on talent mobility and workplace relocation
Aside from a brief stint tuning skis at a winter sporting goods shop, Bill Graebel has never worked anywhere but his father’s company.
“My first involvement was probably when I was 7 years old,” Graebel says.
Established before Bill was even born, Dave Graebel launched a company in 1950, as an agent for Allied Van Lines in Wausau, Wis. At age 12, Bill became a laborer, taking things out of the garage and off the trucks. At 18, he started driving tractor-trailers and continued through his years at Colorado College.
In 1983, Dave launched Graebel’s international moving services and relocated headquarters to Colorado, a more central hub at the intersection of two major interstates.
“It was the ideal location for growing our national brand,” Bill says.
And grow it has.
By 1996, the company launched its relocation and assignment management services.
“This was an era when the mission was to expand our footprint, reach and brand of Graebel Van Lines,” Bill says.
From the mid-80s through early 2000s, Graebel materialized as the fastest-growing van line in the U.S. Bill ascended quickly in that two-decade span. By 1991, he took on the role of president of the van lines and storage network, which endured a period rapid expansion from 1983 to 1988, going from 13 branches to 40.
As Bill rose the ranks, he reported to Dave, who served as chairman. Bill calls his father an “extraordinary entrepreneur.” Bill’s brother Ben, who was six years older, also served as president antd COO in the early to mid-90s. He passed away in 2008.
In the late ’90s, Bill pivoted to expand Graebel’s international activity, calling the shift a “huge gamble.” Up until that point, “the preponderance of American companies’ activity remained in the U.S.” Bill recalls declaring, “As we approach the 21st century, it’s certainly going to be one that’s more global, with companies moving operations offshore and more outsourcing.”
He says the opportunity presented itself to build a brand at the forefront of expertise for moving people internationally. In 2008, despite economic chaos, Graebel expanded its footprint offshore with its first international satellite in Prague, later opening offices in Singapore and Shanghai.
“Our fresh approach was one of transparency,” Bill says. “At that time, the relocation industry was providing an adequate level of service, but few clients were really wowed by the experience or value of program management for corporate transfers.”
Graebel gobbled up new customers, moving up the food chain and acquiring larger clients. Bill says challenges have helped “galvanize team effort and create a resilient, enduring and positive outlook. It really forged a tight family feel.”
With a large and distributed work force, relocating people to and from 165 countries, capital and technological requirements for the business changed dramatically. In 2014, Graebel divested from its U.S. van line to focus exclusively on global talent mobility and workplace relocation services.
Today, Dave, who is 87 years old, serves as non-executive chairman emeritus. In 2016, the now 66-year-old company launched its new extended business travel and global consulting services.
Bill says compassion and empathy define his business dealings. Of his professional trajectory, Bill says, “It just seemed like the natural thing to do. There was never any pressure, nor was I was fast-tracked or pre-ordained.”
He recalls a particular conversation during which his dad explained: “We have an organization that can afford some of the best talent. The worst thing we can do is have family members take key roles who are not worthy of it. Having said that, he has been extremely proud of how we worked to earn the positions we have in terms of our legitimacy to be the credible face of the brand.”
Bill’s eldest son, David, 25, represents the third generation of Graebels moving into the relocation business. Last year, he worked with a company partner in Melbourne, Australia, gaining off-shore perspective in marketing and business development. He recently returned to headquarters in a direct sales position.
For a small family business to emerge as a global leader has been a “special journey,” Bill says, adding, “You might ask then, ‘What are the principles that have best served you?’ How Dave went from one truck to where we are today was simple – commitments made are commitments met.”
(This sponsored content was paid for by Graebel Companies.)