Krestakos Trades On Experience

September 3, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — John Krestakos, director of business development for Columbian Logistics Network Inc., has spent his entire career in West Michigan.

It’s a career that seems to have covered all the bases: sales and marketing, management, budgeting, forecasting, financial analysis, purchasing, business plan development, supply chain management, and recruiting and hiring.

Krestakos was most recently general manager of Sterling Logistics of Michigan LLC, and served as the only active general-purpose zone operator of the Kent-Ottawa-Muskegon Foreign Trade Zone No. 189.

Columbian Logistics Network, a locally based full service logistics company, acquired many of Sterling’s accounts July 1. In conjunction, the foreign trade zone was transitioned from Sterling to Columbian on Aug. 1.

Grand Valley State University administers the trade zone program and oversees the zone’s activities through the Van Andel Global Trade Center.

Columbian is intent on developing the trade zone, Krestakos said. He believes there’s probably a better chance of that happening with Columbian at the helm because it’s a sound, stable operation with deep West Michigan roots.

“It’s a 100-year-old company, third generation family operated,” he noted. “We have 10 or 11 customers that have been with the company over 50 years. That’s just unheard of in today’s market.”

Columbian has four distinct divisions: Columbian Distribution Services, Columbian Express Services, Columbian Interstate Services and Sprinter Services. It has five facilities, four in metro Grand Rapids and one in Melvindale, Mich.

Among its major customers are Dow Chemical, Spartan Stores, Dannon, Gordon Foods, Meijer, General Mills, Keebler, Hershey Foods, Kellogg and Gillette.

“With Columbian, we have a customer base that lends itself more to the trade zone,” Krestakos said. “We have so many contacts out there that we can spread the word.

“The biggest problem with the trade zone is that it’s a secret to everybody. We’re going to put some effort into getting the word out. When you have a tool like this we’d be remiss in not making it known to the whole world.”

Krestakos is a good guy for Columbian to have in its corner, because he’s had extensive experience helping companies realize the benefits of trade zone usage.

Krestakos said Columbian will split the zone between the company’s 44th Street facility in Wyoming and its Dixie Avenue facility in Grandville.

The 44th Street facility lends itself to a different type of inventory, a lot of which is pallet- in and pallet-out business. The Dixie Avenue facility specializes in pick-and-pack type business, he explained.

“One of the biggest advantages of the zone is the ability to defer duties. You’re never going to eliminate tariffs and duties, but you can defer them until you bring the product into U.S. commerce.”

The big companies generally are aware of the zone. It’s the small companies that need to be made aware of what the zone can do for them.

“I think the smaller companies, if they would use the zone, could compete with the scale of the big companies in bringing their product to the market,” he said. “It would help their cash flow.”

Krestakos began his career as a teacher. After three years of teaching, he took a sales job at Commercial Equipment Co., where he spent 17 years in sales and marketing.

As manager of 40 sales and 20 technical service people, he grew the business from $1 million to $6 million in four years.

In 1994 he joined Funding Sources of Detroit and added operations and finance experience to the mix. There, he worked on a turnaround management team that consulted troubled companies on financing and reorganization issues.

He got the chance to combine and apply the expertise gained from those two positions when he joined L&D Adhesives as general manager, he recalled.

Under his management, L&D tripled sales and quadrupled profits in three years.

Krestakos later served three years as vice president and manager of sales and marketing for Grand Rapids-based Westing Co., which sold building materials to lumber dealers and home improvement centers.

He hired on as general manager of Sterling Logistics in 1999 and brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy to profitability.

He’s not involved as much anymore in operations as he was as general manager. He’s doing more sales and marketing and working with customers on logistics setup and supply chain problems.

Rather than a “peddler,” these days he’s more of a consultative sales person on the operations side.

As a representative of Columbian Logistics Networks, he sells all the services of all divisions. And at Columbian, he noted, he’s got 150 local employees backing his efforts.

Columbian has four divisions because it works with companies of all different sizes, he said.

Columbian Interstate, for instance, tends to deal more with smaller, pick-and-pack and distribution accounts, whereas Columbian Distribution handles a lot of pallet-in and pallet- out accounts for large companies.

Sprinter concentrates strictly on truckload services for Midwest customers and specializes in grocery and retail deliveries.

Columbian Express, on the other hand, serves a wide range of clients with warehousing, transportation and distribution services in Michigan, Northern Indiana and Northern Ohio.

A graduate of the former South High and of Hillsdale College, Krestakos is pursuing an MBA at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business.

“I think it’s the best way to keep my brain operating and broaden my horizons. In business you don’t know everything — ever. You can’t let yourself get too narrowly focused. You have to keep on top of what’s going on to keep your business healthy.”

Columbian is working very hard at moving to the next level and broadening its scope, he said. The company’s move into the foreign trade zone is one step.

“They’ll do other things where they take on services that are different from what they’ve done for the last 100 years,” Krestakos added. “They’re very optimistic. They know how to make money and that’s a key.

“And they’re willing to invest in whatever it takes to do whatever the task demands. That’s why the trade zone is going to be a popular thing here in the next year or so.”     

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