2002 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If education is possible, then good is not enough."
George Graziadio, born in 1919 in Connecticut, was the grandson of immigrants. His mother's parents, who were from Ireland, worked in the woolen mills of the Connecticut valley. His father's parents came from Italy and worked in New York as fruit peddlers, then moved to Manchester, Connecticut, to run a small grocery store. The Graziadio family lived above the store.
Graziadio's parents instilled in him a sense of helping others, especially during the Depression when so many were in need. During the Depression, his grandparents raised chickens and Graziadio often helped feed them. His father, who worked in real estate and insurance, added auctioneering to his list of jobs to help with finances. Often Graziadio went to work with him and occasionally served as the auctioneer. He also worked as a pinsetter in a bowling alley. As a teenager, he worked in plant nurseries doing weeding and picking strawberries for 2 cents a basket. In the summers he picked tobacco.
Active in athletics, Graziadio played basketball and baseball in high school. He graduated in 1937 and started college, but soon grew restless. In 1939, he bought an old Model-A Ford for $68 and traveled with a friend across the United States to California. Their plan was to return to Connecticut in time to start school in the fall. Soon after they arrived in California, however, Graziadio needed an emergency appendectomy. He had only $20 in his pocket when he entered the hospital. Upon his release, he owed $750 in medical expenses. He decided to get a job to work off his debt rather than go home and ask his parents to help him.
Two years later, Graziadio was still working full time in California. World War II broke out and he applied for the Air Force, but failed the physical due to poor depth perception. Instead, he joined the Flight Test Division of North American Aviation, which built the Mustang Fighter Aircraft and the B-25 Bomber. During this time, Graziadio joined the Active 20-30 Club, the American arm of an international group called World Council of Young Men's Service Clubs. Ultimately, he became president of the international organization, where he believes he received his "higher education" in business. "As president, I learned how companies should be run, how to raise money, how to involve the public, and how to effectively make a difference in the community," he says. Graziadio became focused on his goals and adopted a philosophy he still adheres to: TNT-Today Not Tomorrow. "I believe we should not procrastinate in our business, social, or family life," he once said.
After the war, Graziadio obtained a real estate license and soon progressed from sales to real estate development. He built a house, then a duplex, and then apartments and a few commercial buildings. He later formed a partnership that grew from real estate development to founding Imperial Bank, and went on to serve as chairman of Comerica Bank of California.
Graziadio's business career taught him much about life. One thing he learned early on is that success for the sake of being successful was not what he was after. "To me," he said, "success is not the destination or the goal. It's the journey you take and what you learn along the way that are important."
While Graziadio did not go to college, he felt it is very important for today's young people to pursue higher education. He established the George Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University in California. He once said, "I believe that all of us should give," he says. "This is where we make a difference. We should give part of what we receive back to those in need. If we all did this, we would accomplish so much. I learned this lesson from my parents during the Depression and I never forgot it."
Graziadio believed young people need a chance to be heard and that adults need to listen to them. He said, "There is remarkable talent among youth and they generally have a vision outside of the box. Those youthful visions will make a better world. They need a chance to explore those visions and the Horatio Alger Association gives them that chance. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this great organization that lets our youth strive toward making their visions a reality."* Deceased