Eelco de Graaf: Four-Continent Career

Eelco de Graaf: Four-Continent Career

Eelco de Graaf is vice president, supply chain operations at Lewis-Goetz and Company’s corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh. He has held this position since August 2014.

Responsibilities: Purchasing, shipping, manufacturing, and operational excellence.

Experience: Management trainee, Fortis Financial Group; distribution channel manager, Fortis Investments; key account manager, Fortis ASR; assistant to chairman, executive board of directors, SHV Holdings; buyer/product manager—purchasing department, store manager, Makro Malaysia; store manager, regional sales, and operations manager, Makro Indonesia; regional sales and operations director, Makro Brazil; sales and operations director, chief operating officer, Makro Colombia.

Education: Masters, law, University of Utrecht, 1998; Post Masters, sales management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2001.

I have worked for the same parent corporation, SHV Holdings Company based in the Netherlands, since 2004. After serving one year in the head office, I joined one of its divisions, Makro—a chain of warehouse clubs with branches on several continents. That job took me to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and Colombia.

In 2014, I joined the North American company Lewis-Goetz, owned by Netherlands-based ERIKS, which is part of SHV. Lewis-Goetz distributes hoses, conveyor belts, sealing products, and valve products used by industrial customers.

You’d think this would be a big change from my work in retail. But the two supply chains are not all that different. Selling a hose or conveyor belt is not like selling shampoo or rice, but the distribution flow from vendor to the point of sale is similar. So is the way we do business with suppliers, whether we’re talking to Unilever in Indonesia or to Goodyear in the United States.

As head of supply chain operations, I oversee our purchasing and shipping groups. My team works with the marketing department to make sure we’re providing the products our customers want.

I’m also responsible for implementing a uniform set of best practices at our 90 branches across North America. At Lewis-Goetz, a branch is the facility that houses local warehouse and sales operations. Branches range in size from 5,000 to around 75,000 square feet. Each facility uses a private fleet to deliver product to customers.

Because Lewis-Goetz has grown largely through acquisitions, different branches or clusters of branches have been operating independently. One current project is to combine the buying power of all those locations to improve pricing and product consistency. We’re also implementing a single bar-code system for all locations.

In 2015, we’ll start redesigning our distribution network. We plan to concentrate stock in larger, regional warehouses, complemented by smaller satellite facilities. Because each regional facility will serve a bigger area with more inventory, it will be easier to guarantee stock for customers. In addition, we’ll open new warehouses to be closer to customers.

One of the biggest challenges Lewis-Goetz faces is finding reliable suppliers. We source product from Asia, but we can’t always find suppliers there that offer consistent quality and deliver on time. We would like to work with more American suppliers, but it’s hard to find strong domestic sources for all the products we need to buy.

Among other achievements, I’m glad that my career has given me a chance to implement sustainability practices that make solid business sense. There are many ways to improve supply chain sustainability—using lighter packaging to cut truck fuel usage, combining deliveries to reduce trips, and installing new systems to conserve water and electricity. We accomplished those processes at Makro in South America, and we’re starting to implement them at Lewis-Goetz as well.

The Big Questions

With whom would you like to change places with for a day?

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hockey is the coolest sport in the United States. I’ve gone to some games in Pittsburgh, and it’s nice to experience the atmosphere in the stadium.

What book have you read lately that you would recommend to others?

Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink by Jonathan Byrnes. The book offers a structured process for analyzing and increasing profitability. It’s a comprehensive guide to growing a business and improving all parts of an organization.

What advice would you offer to people pursuing a career in supply chain?

If you really want to understand a business, work on both sides—in the purchasing group and in the field, in operations or sales.

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