Joe Grano has done much more than prove a kid with working class roots can make it on the battlefield and in the boardroom. The former Green Beret earned his place with a front-row seat to events that have shaped our history over the last four decades. Today, he channels his energy and experience to inspire younger generations – including fellow vets – to find their path to success.
"In the last 40 years, there have been significant events, including Vietnam. And bull markets, bear markets, crashes, 9/11...For a street kid in Hartford – if you can rise to the occasion, you can contribute to the solution, that is the beauty of America. It is a meritocracy," he told Veterans Advantage in an exclusive interview.
Grano holds claim to being the last Chairman presiding over the legendary Wall Street firm Paine Webber, after posting a successful turnaround and subsequently engineering a multibillion dollar merger with UBS. No longer on Wall Street, he landed himself a successful second act as a corporate advisor through his company, Centurion Holdings, and producer of the wildly successful Broadway musical "Jersey Boys." He has been hailed as a great American patriot, serving with honor and distinction in the Army, leading a stock market restart after 9/11, and chairing President George W. Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council. In those precarious months and years after the terrorist attacks, the Council created, under Grano's leadership, a blueprint for organizing the concept of homeland security.
"We had a great group of people [on the council] that were very dedicated. And for me, who would hate to be sitting on the sidelines when we've been attacked on our shore for the second time [including] Pearl Harbor, it was a privilege to get engaged and do what I could. Frankly, if the uniform still fit, I would have been in," he adds.
Grano's unique blend of military, national security and business acumen helped define the initial objectives for our nation in the post-9/11 world. "If we don't get this terrorist situation right, from the point of prevention and reduction, what do you think that would do to our economy? Let something happen and see what happens to our consumer base. There's your threat," he told the New York Times in September 2002, soon after taking the helm of the President's Council.
Finding himself inspired after writing a heart-to-heart letter to his son, Grano wrote his recently published book, "You Can't Predict a Hero" to instill a sense of confidence and can-do spirit for the youth of our nation – those just entering business from college or the battlefield.
"It is more about life and inspiration," he says. "For kids and veterans getting back into civilian life."
Grano's commitment to helping our nation's youth runs deep. He's a long time supporter of the Yankee Foundation as a fundraiser Chairman, the YMCA of Greater New York, Police Athletic League, Inner City schools of the Archdiocese of the City of New York, Ronald McDonald House, and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among others. Dedicating his book "to the magnificent individuals with whom I have had the honor to lead in the course of my military and business careers," he thanks the "warriors" and "citizen soldiers" with whom he served in Latin America and Vietnam. As a spirited advocate for hiring veterans, Grano has lobbied hard with Washington for each corporation to commit at least 10% of its candidate pool to comprise military veterans.
POWER OVER YOUR MIND AND OPTIMISM
Grano's sense of service may have been designed in his DNA, although the path he took with those genes was purely his own choosing. His father served for nine years, including during World War II, and rose to master sergeant. One brother served in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, while the other was an instructor at West Point. His uncles served in WWII and Korea.
"Military service was always viewed as an obligation," he said. "One that was very well regarded in my family."
Grano was the first in his family to attend college. While military service interrupted his education, he went on to great success in business without the benefit of a bachelor's or master's degree. Overcoming enormous adversity, he proceeded to reach the very top of Corporate America, and created a uniquely American success story. Along the way he has been awarded five Honorary Doctorate Degrees and was named Business Leader of the Year by Georgetown University.
As a young Army captain patrolling the jungles of Vietnam, a booby trap built from a grenade and a 105 mm artillery round put him in the center of an explosion that led many of his men to believe he was dead. "If I had gone into shock, I would have been a double amputee today," he later reflects. Severely wounded with his left arm partially severed, he endured six months of operations and rehabilitation, but remained positive. Discharged from the Army with a 60% disability, Vietnam however provided valuable life lessons for the young captain. As he writes in his book:
"War also gave me the priceless gift of perspective. Ever since, I've been able to remain sober and dispassionate in the face of the most trying, traumatic, and potentially disastrous personal and business situations because I can honestly say, 'It's not Vietnam,' and mean it."
"The message that I would give to any wounded vet -- don't ever underestimate the power of your mind and the power of optimism," he tells Veterans Advantage.
Grano's Inspirational Book, "You Can't Predict a Hero"
"You Can't Predict a Hero" tells the story of a young man, a wounded warrior returning from Vietnam, "physically devastated, but psychologically more powerful than ever before." With a will to win and to overcome adversity, without the benefit of a college education, Grano applied his military background and lessons in leadership, and proceeded to put together his business career.
"I don't think there's any stress even in the corporate world that could match it [military combat], but more importantly, it allows you to assimilate and process information much more quickly than someone who has never had that experience, and it allows you to maintain a cool head when everyone is frantic and in a crisis. I don't know if I would have been able to deal with those challenges in that same way if I didn't have that experience."
Throughout his career, Grano provided an ingredient in short supply on Wall Street – inspired and dedicated leadership. Prior to joining PaineWebber, Grano held various senior management positions with Merrill Lynch, including Director of National Sales. In 1987, he was named the industry's best retail marketing executive in a survey conducted by Investment Dealers' Digest. He later served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the NASD and a member of the NASD's Executive Committee.
According to Grano, there are trappings of modern day life that run counter to good business sense and he remains on guard against these bad habits. Email is a detriment to getting work done. Direct communications is the best way to read the needs of those he works with. "Too much gets lost by letting the radio operators screen the dialogue. It's no different in business: you need a pulse, you need to read the signs," he says in "You Can't Predict a Hero."
THE BEAUTY OF THIS COUNTRY
"You couldn't pick a more challenging 40 years, but simultaneous to that, you couldn't pick a bigger opportunity for someone who wanted to jump in a foxhole. That is the beauty of this country, it is a true meritocracy," says Grano.
Anywhere, at anytime, ordinary people, according to Grano, are capable of extraordinary acts. While he maintains that "you can't predict a hero," Joe Grano is just that – a genuine Hero for our time.