Conversation with Imperial Bank’s George L. Graziadio
GBR Editor Scott Sherman and GBR Managing Editor Frieda Gehlen had the opportunity to discuss the importance of lifelong learning with George L. Graziadio, Chairman and Co-Founder of Imperial Bank and benefactor of the George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University.
A visitor immediately notices that George Graziadio’s office is not located in downtown Los Angeles but on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport. A steady hum of activity penetrates the elegant corporate offices as a stream of executives moves briskly through the hallways managing the bank’s nearly $5 billion in assets. Near the center of this milieu is Mr. Graziadio’s office.
Visitors are cordially greeted by Mr. Graziadio, who elicits smiles by talking of his fondness for garlic as he joyfully announces “it’s chic to reek.” No garlic odor is detectable. Savvy visitors soon realize they are in the presence of a man who is proud of his Italian heritage and the organization he helped build, and is also a very gracious host who works to put his guests at ease.
It also becomes evident that he is an avid collector of “wit and wisdom” sayings. These proverbs are more than just interesting bits of historical wisdom for him. Many are consciously and firmly embedded in his approach to life and work. In particular, one cannot talk long with him without realizing that the drive and energy that is so evident is reflected by one of his favorite aphorisms, “TNT — Today, Not Tomorrow.”
Graziadio Business Review: Pepperdine is committed to lifelong learning. What are your current learning goals?
George L. Graziadio: I have a number of them associated with our business here. High on my list of goals is preparing our organization for the new millenium. Part of that is to understand the issues related to updating our computer operating systems and programs. This institution has 245 different programs. We need to be sure that all are functional in 2000, and in compliance with the requirements of our various regulators and clients.
I think that we have a number of different goals as we go from one stage of life to another. At this time, another one of my goals is to learn more about Pepperdine — especially about the Graziadio School of Business and Management — and to determine how we can expand efforts with our various partners around the world. Last July, we entered into a partnership with the Bocconi School in Milan, Italy. I’m interested in how these partnerships can enhance the position of the Graziadio School.
GBR: Going back to the Year 2000 issue, some people might suggest that you, as the chairman of Imperial Bank, should not be worrying about the details of the Year 2000 project.
GLG: That’s very true as far as worrying about details is concerned, and we have delegated responsibility to a person who heads the Year 2000 project. But the Management Committee is overseeing this, and it is fresh on my mind because we have just been talking about it. It is a learning curve. I was frankly surprised that we had 245 programs in use in the organization. We need to get them checked and rechecked and be sure they are converted, replaced, changed, or whatever is necessary.
GBR: When you set out to learn about something at the bank, such as the Year 2000 task, how do you go about it?
GLG: Here at Imperial Bank, we strongly subscribe to collective wisdom. It is a major part of our on-going success, I think. We draw on the experiences of others both internally and externally.
We are a unique bank because we are solely a business bank. We do not dilute our energies with retail or consumer business. All of our energies are spent on our core business. All of our bankers are business bankers. Because of that dedication to one segment of the banking market, we have a broad understanding about each other’s positions and responsibilities. We interchange those ideas with each other. This implies collective learning. Certainly you can learn from the experience of others.
There is a great Chinese philosopher — or at least we will credit him with this — who said, “If one fails to drink at the spring of experience, he will die of thirst in the desert of ignorance.”
The experience of others is very important. I do not have a formal college education so much of my learning has come from the experiences of others.
As you know, my partner and I founded the bank in 1963. It was initially housed in a little store building in the southwest section of Los Angeles. Whenever I talked to our employees back then I always emphasized service. The necessity of good service is so important. I would pull out my wallet and say, “Do you see this. The money is all green, isn’t it? And do you know it’s green at the bank down the street, also?” Therefore, at Imperial Bank the difference is the special service we provide our customers.
GBR: What advice do you have for Graziadio students?
GLG: You already know that I am a firm believer in the use of time. As I have said before, the biggest thief of time is procrastination. I have a motto that I have used in my life, “TNT — Today, Not Tomorrow.” What I would recommend to students is that they use their time wisely. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing today.
We each have 86,400 seconds deposited in our personal time bank every day. What we do with those precious seconds determines our future.
I think that if you go through our bank and ask our employees what one word would describe Imperial Bank, they would respond, “Urgency.” We also feel that if better is possible, then good is not enough.
GBR: What keeps a successful man like you active in business at age 78?
GLG: What keeps me going is the enthusiasm I see around me, especially in my colleagues. That rubs off on me, and I share my enthusiasm with them. I find the business I am in, and this school (Graziadio School of Business and Management), exciting, interesting, and challenging. If I wasn’t still learning, I would retire.
About the Author(s)
W. Scott Sherman, PhD, earned his doctorate in Business from Texas A&M University after working for more than 20 years in the newspaper industry. Dr. Sherman has taught at Texas A&M University, Pepperdine University, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Sherman has published in the Journal of Business Entrepreneurship, The Academy of Management Review, and as a contributing author to several books on leadership in the 21st Century sponsored by the U.S. Army. He is also the founding editor of the Graziadio Business Review. Sherman now lives in his native Texas, teaches strategy and organizational change at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, does research and consulting with a variety of organizations and follows his avocational passion of landscape photography.