Growing up, Sue Tellier entertained the notion of being elected President of the United States so she could right some wrongs.
“When I was young, I would see my single mother being treated differently by employers, by our church and sometimes by our own school … at the same time,” said Tellier, president of Grand Rapids-based JetCo Federal. “It gave me a sense of fair play that other women had chances, too. And so part of what I take very seriously here as a leader in the company, is I want our younger employees — not just women, but our younger employees — to see that they don’t have any career obstacles in their way. I really wanted to be (U.S.) president because it seemed like somebody was telling me I couldn’t, not necessarily because I wanted that job.”
Tellier and her husband, Jon, launched JetCo Federal in 2007 following her near two-year stint as director of business outreach for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget, a job she had a bit of a love-hate relationship with.
“I decided I wanted to be in a supportive role in the public policy world and then I was kind of recruited for marketing for the state of Michigan (director of business outreach, 2005-2007),” Tellier said. “I didn’t want to take the job because it sounded so boring, but I did it because of a kind of double-dog dare you approach.”
In the end, Tellier has no regrets about taking the job.
“My job was to represent small and underrepresented companies to bid for state-level contracts and to help them not waste their time,” Tellier said. “My challenge was: Here’s a 160-page solicitation, and I understand as a small business owner you have 20 other things on your plate, but how about you drop everything for the next 30 hours and just work on this? (My) job was really about helping them make those evidence-based decisions about whether or not to move forward in that vein. And if they decided to go forward, they had the tools to do it well.”
Tellier’s previous stints include director of marketing for United Methodist Retirement Communities, director of annual giving for the Michigan Humane Society and director of events for College for Creative Studies.
Organization: JetCo Federal
Residence: Gaines Township
Family: Husband Jon, 21-year-old son Ethan, three dogs that come to work with Tellier
Business/Community Involvement: Board member of the Small Business Association of Michigan, Women in Defense and the Michigan Strategic Fund
Biggest Career Break: Becoming a small business owner of JetCo Federal. “It felt like a lift to me to become a small business owner and take that leap. As soon as my husband and I made that decision we realized it was the right one. It was a deliberate decision. We feel like we have a lot more ownership with our future than we did before.”
Her pathos for animals needing to be adopted is palpable.
“For me at the time that seemed like the best job ever,” Tellier said of her job with the Humane Society, “except for the fact I wanted to cry myself to sleep every night because I care a little too much to make it a career.”
Now, in her current role, Tellier said JetCo Federal’s specific focus is helping warehouses achieve and maintain operational efficiency. Her company supplies high-quality products for both commercial and government clients and solves complex supply chain challenges for both sectors by using multiple well-vetted manufacturing partners and reliable carriers.
“We started as a wholesaler of corrugated and flexible packaging supplies, and we were basically a conduit,” Tellier said. “As we morphed, we realized we didn’t like boring stuff. We wanted complex, hairy challenges. The best contract I love is a contract where I have to deliver 110 different line items that could not possibly be made by a single manufacturer because it’s all different types of materials. They have to be delivered to 82 different locations across the country with no break in fluidity in the ordering cycle. It’s not about making a box. It’s not about making mold or plastic; it’s not about making a heat shield bag. It’s about combining all those things and getting where it needs to go on time. The short answer is we deliver warehouse supplies. But that’s not really it. It sounds like we’re stocking a bunch of boxes, repacking and delivering them, but that’s not who we are.”
Tellier and her husband were newlyweds when they took the plunge and launched JetCo Federal — a decision that when she looks back at it the rearview mirror of her life concedes she would temper her entrepreneurial zeal.
“We had been married five months when we decided to start a company together, which in retrospect, knowing what I know now, I recommend against it,” Tellier said. “One, because you have a young marriage and then you decide you’re going to work together, which added a layer of intensity to our relationship, certainly.”
Her husband later started another business, which resulted in the couple separating the ownership and operation of their two companies in 2018.
Even so, JetCo Federal started with firm leadership as it sought to work out the kinks and find its footing in the business world.
“We were lucky,” Tellier said. “We found our skills were complimentary, not in conflict or competition. Eventually I’m the 100 percent owner of this company and he’s the 100 percent owner of his company; we just happen to share space.”
Tellier punctuates her rapid-fire dialogue with straightforward aplomb and humor. Translation: A listener need not scratch her head puzzling over Tellier’s intended message.
Go to JetCo’s website and readers will take note under the “leadership” button that “no damn whining” is allowed, but photographs of canines of various breeds are welcomed with open arms. Yes, that does mean dogs do inhabit JetCo’s workspace during work hours, including the three Tellier owns: a black Labrador retriever, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and a yellow lab, golden retriever mix.
“The dog-friendly workplace is something that makes our culture,” Tellier said. “We are very sensitive when visitors come to our offices. We like to let people know in advance that we’re dog friendly if they have an allergy or an aversion because they were bit as a child. I don’t want somebody to have a bad day because we’re dog friendly. We have space in our office where the dogs can go. Our three come to work with us every day and then one of my employees usually brings her dog with her. I think we’ve had eight dogs at a time in the office and they were all dogs that belonged to our employees.”
The Telliers also own a tabby, but that one stays home.
“We never talk about him,” Tellier said. “He just really irritates us. The only reason I’m on Twitter is just so I can look at pictures of dogs and videos of dogs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic’s tentacles have wrapped itself around people in unexpected, positive ways, and Tellier is no exception.
“The ability to be appreciative in the moment is something I’m not great at,” she said. “I’m definitely more of a destination person than I am a journey person. You know, the joy is the journey? Nah, I really want to get there. It’s kind of where my brain has been. In terms of my own progression through life, I definitely want to learn how to slow down and enjoy life and the moment instead of looking ahead at the next 10 minutes or looking ahead at the next hour or the next day. People have bucket-list things they need to accomplish. I don’t have one.”
Tellier may be sans a bucket list, but she’s not without a vision of how she wants her life to be successful.
“It’s definitely not about the business growth or money but those simple elements of life,” Tellier said. “How am I helping other people? Am I living values that I’m proud of? Am I treating people with kindness but in the way that lifts them up and challenges them to do things better? If you ask my son if I am kind, he would say I encourage him, push him and I would prefer that with the people I love when they need a shoulder to cry on.”
In her earlier days, Tellier worked a string of restaurant and bar-related jobs where she honed her people skills and work ethic. Such restaurant/bar skills attract her attention when reviewing the resumes of potential hires.
“Now, if a resume comes through that shows they’ve had successful restaurant experience, they get an interview,” Tellier said. “I know it takes tenacity and a little bit of grit to accomplish a short-term goal kind of mindset successfully whether it’s in the front of the house or the back of the house.”
Her bartending acumen remains with Tellier today when it comes to favorite mixed drinks, brands and the seasons of the year for quaffing them.
“I was a vodka person forever and then I appreciated bourbon a bit more,” Tellier said. “I like a really well made Old Fashioned, but then I can go for a super dry vodka martini but I don’t want olives in it, and it has to be Belvedere. I can do the whole gamut. It (also) depends on my mood. Winter is totally different than summer for cocktails. If it’s going to have olives in it, it has to be Detroit-made Valentine Vodka.
“I’m still a bartender at heart.”