Steve Jordan takes a trip to one of Europe’s tallest buildings to interview Dale Collins of Graebel Companies, Inc.
Although the Graebel office is on the 24th floor of The Shard in central London, Graebel’s time in Europe’s tallest building is ending this December. While The Shard certainly has a view that is spectacular, Dale Collins, Chief Strategy Officer and EMEA Managing Director, said it cannot accommodate Graebel’s growth for 2020. Graebel’s London office, the company’s EMEA headquarters, will be moving to Blackfriars, just along the river, at the end of the year. The new location was chosen because it’s more central for clients and employees and provides the accommodation needed for Graebel’s expanding workforce.
As a member of a dynasty in the mobility industry, Dale has spent almost all his working life in the moving and relocation business. In addition to his almost twenty years at Graebel, his grandfather was in the business and his dad, Donald Collins, owned The Viking Corporation in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands for 40 years. Dale’s entry into moving was almost a formality.
The early years
After university Dale joined North American Van Lines in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before completing an MBA and switching to Mayflower. Hungry for the expat life, he spent time working in Milan and Paris before re-joining North American in Houston. In 1997, fancying a change of direction, he took a job in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, working with the nascent Internet, but two years later returned to the States and the moving business with Matrix in the New York area.
The Graebel connection
Soon after his return to the US, Dale first met now Chairman and CEO Bill Graebel and quickly hit it off. “We had a great connection,” he said. Over the next eight years, eventually taking over as head of Graebel International, Dale helped the company grow to become a leading provider of global talent and workplace mobility solutions for Fortune 500 and Global 1000 firms.
When Dale accepted an invitation to work for Interdean in London in 2007, Bill was very understanding. “He just gave me a high five and wished me well,” said Dale. In 2015, after Interdean morphed into Santa Fe, Bill recruited Dale back to Graebel. Upon his return to Graebel, Dale moved first to the USA, and in 2018, back to London, a place he and his family loved and a rapidly evolving region for mobility. His new title: EMEA managing director, chief strategy officer and president of global transportation solutions – try fitting that on a business card.
Graebel was founded almost 70 years ago by David Graebel, Bill’s father. David started with one man and a moving truck as a Mayflower and later Allied Van Line agent. When the US transport industry was deregulated in the 1980s, it became clear if the company was to continue to grow it had to become independent. Graebel broke away from the Allied network and started Graebel Van Lines, its own van line with offices throughout the USA, around 3,000 employees and a turnover in the region of $500 million. It was a big company.
In 2015, however, Graebel made the decision to divest itself of Graebel Van Lines, its transport operations, to focus exclusively on global talent and workplace mobility solutions. Today Graebel is the largest family-owned, privately-held relocation management company (RMC), employing some 800 people with offices in the US, Prague, London, Ireland, Shanghai and Singapore and a presence in Latin America and the Middle East. Plus, Graebel will soon be opening an office in Munich with plans to expand into India.
What makes Graebel different?
Relocation companies were born out of the need to handle the real estate sale aspect of relocations. Now it’s become a competitive advantage for global companies to partner with RMCs to administer end-to-end talent management programmes. It was that challenge that was attractive to Graebel, driving the company to evolve and innovate to address every part of the mobility lifecycle. “While we support global companies and their transferees throughout the entire relocation process, movers are the closest of our supply chain because that’s where we come from,” said Dale, “that’s our DNA.”
I asked Dale what made Graebel different in a very competitive environment. He said Graebel’s heritage meant it was very engaged with individuals with an exceptional level of care and trust. “We focus on our duty of care and strive to provide exceptional experiences for every one of our clients and their transferees,” he said. “It’s the Graebel way of doing business.”
He also explained the company was employing data scientists and former in-house corporate mobility leaders to help clients create strategic and efficient global mobility programmes. “We proactively offer services like our Mobility Strategy Services to help our clients tailor their mobility programmes around their business needs and the resources they have.” This ability to adapt programmes and strategies to individual clients is another trait that sets Graebel apart. Clients have noted they appreciate Graebel can see the human side of relocation and is willing to mould policies around them, rather than expecting clients to conform to standardised policies.
Of course, that level of flexibility is usually the domain of the smaller RMCs. But for Graebel, they occupy this optimal position in the market to scale and serve the largest accounts yet to adapt to each client’s needs. “Are we the smallest of the big guys or the biggest of the small guys?” said Dale.
Graebel has some unique tools to help clients. One is the Graebel Mobility PathBuilderSM program aimed at helping companies define a mobility strategy, quantify mobility’s values through data, and gain enterprise-wide alignment and support. Another is the Graebel Mobility Quotient Insight®, a diagnostic tool that allows clients to assess the impact mobility has across departments and see where mobility has the greatest effect by identifying pain points and showing where things are going well. It was launched around three years ago and can be supplied to corporations as a stand-alone product.
Additionally, Graebel globalCONNECT® is a proprietary technology platform that has been customised for Graebel to provide clients with a wide range of services and connects the company with its customers, assignees and suppliers. “It’s the blood line that connects everything,” said Dale.
Graebel has also developed its own index to compare its clients’ performance with the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Dale admits that it’s not possible to compare the indices directly, but business performance can be assessed. “Over the last two years we have been happy to see that Graebel companies have out-performed the Dow,” he said.
Technology, especially Blockchain, has the potential to revolutionise operations within the industry and Dale agrees the mobility industry is a perfect application. FIDI has been talking about it and there is a major business session during IAM this year on the subject. But Dale has his doubts as to whether the historical mistrust of everyone in the industry is likely to prevent it from becoming ubiquitous for the world.
That said, he acknowledges that the decision might be made elsewhere. “Our industry is a small part of a wider industry,” he said. “Sooner or later we will realise that we are not the dog, but the tail. We will be forced to comply. We will be directed by clients and we’ll have to decide what’s the return or even, if we don’t invest, what will be the consequence. If you do not adapt to the technology demands that clients require you simply will not survive.”
Every RMC relies on its suppliers. Graebel has legacy relationships with many high quality, high performing, financially sound companies, all of which meet its strict Service Level Agreements (SLAs). “They have to comply with all regulations within their own country and globally,” said Dale. “We ensure all the people and organisations are compliant with local regulations and meet high quality standards. We turn to our Graebel Partner Alliance of trusted, proven partners that are well-equipped to serve our clients and their employees. Every supplier goes through a rigorous vetting process.”
Graebel wants its suppliers to be highly satisfied. “We want to be the customer of choice for our supply chain, the employer of choice for our staff and the global brand of choice for our clients,” said Dale. “We want our staff to think this is the best job they have ever had and to be fair and equitable with suppliers. We pay on time and reward people when they do exceptionally well. Everything is measured and we even survey our own employees to get their perspective about our supplier relationships.”
Graebel has long been considered one of the ‘Thought Leaders’ in the industry. I asked Dale how he felt about that and how it showed itself within the company. “At Graebel we are making the movement into the science of relocation. Our aim is to help our clients make the best decisions, reduce risks and mitigate negative circumstances. We want to make the lives of the people we engage better and more prosperous. They are scientists, high-level business executives, they are leaders in their field, they are making a difference, bettering the lives of individuals and helping the human spirit to thrive anywhere in the world. We feel a lot better for being part of that. It’s a value that is more than just money.”
Photo: Dale Collins, Myles Johnson-Ward and Ingrid Stroblin in The Shard Office